Monday, June 15, 2015

And so To Cuba

Havana in Cuba is only a 50 minute flight away from where we are here in Cancun, Mexico. The others did not want to go but I was determined to make the effort so I hoofed it a couple of blocks down the road to the Cuba Airline office and by 1.30 that day I was off to Cuba. The woman at the airline desk in Cancun assured me that I did not need a 'package' tour; an airline ticket would be just fine. Well, you can imagine what happened; I get to Havana and there is no accommodation to be had because there is a big convention in town. Eventually I luck in at 110 cop a night - gulp!. The COP is the Cuban convertible currency for tourists and roughly equal to one US dollar, the locals use the Cuban Peso.
Next day I took the bus into the 'old' town. Havana is made up of the old historical town (the tourist trap) and the new town for everyone else. I had intended to do a tour of the city in one of the many old american cars that tout for trade but they would have been difficult to see much from and in the absence of any convertibles being available I opted for a horse and trap. This proved to be a good choice because it was slow and stopped often. The guide told me Havana is about to celebrate 500 years of existence and while all the buildings are old, none are that age. Most look like early 20th century stuff and sadly many are in a bad way. They are either abandoned or frankly should be and as a result some areas are quite run down. That said these are archetypal of scenes of Havana - old cars, narrow streets and un-cared-for buildings. What is encouraging however is the amount of refurbishment being undertaken on some the these buildings. The ones that have been done are excellent - the Cubans have done a nice job of keeping the character of the old town alive.
Everyone in the old town is on the make and you cannot walk 5 paces without someone calling "my friend let me help you" or "where are you from". This aspect of Havana is no worse than a number of Central American cities we have been to on this trip. It's the rainy season and true to character it rained quite hard once during the afternoons tour. It was warm and no one worried too much about getting a little wet. During one episode of rain I ducked into a restaurant and had a bite to eat and 2 cups of the most wonderful coffee.
The revolution was in 1959 I was told and that is evidenced by the cars on the road. The iconic American cars are all of a common era. Some are pieces of junk whilst others have been nicely restored; all appear to be for hire by both tourists and locals alike. The original engines are long gone; replaced by diesel ones. I never did get to ride in one of the old Yank Tanks. There are old trucks still in service as well. There are tons of old Russian Ladas also but mostly the cars are new European or Asian ones we are familiar with. Of the two taxis I used, one was a Hyundai and the other a VW.
I was quite surprised by Havana. I got to see the old cars and buildings as I expected but what I did not expect was all the modern stuff, motorways, flash hotels, excellent food and American TV such as CNN and English language music videos. There is no doubt the general population is poor and highly qualified professionals, I was told, are poorly paid. But the population dress well and appear to be healthy. Their housing is crappy and I don't know how much social discontent there is.
And before I knew it I was back in Mexico - wonderful Mexico. This is another country full of surprises.
My flash $110 a night hotel

One of the nicely restored late 1950's American cars

Apartment block

Fruit seller - I didn't see many of these street stalls 

Typical car line-up at the traffic lights

Oldest church in Havana - 200 years I think he said

The inside of the church above

Once the residence of the richest person in Cuba. The revolution fixed that.

Cuban envy - the White house and American cars.

The home of the oldest and most prestigious cigar manufacture in all Cuba

This is Havana (Habana) as I expected.



Abandoned buildings are common

What did you expect for street art - graffiti?.

Motorcycle and sidecar are common. This is a Russian Ural.

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