An unplanned day in La Habana, Nov 11
So we wake up today with no planned tours, a day to ourselves! We find breakfast in a local restaurant because our Casa does not serve breakfast here. But the is Havana and there is food everywhere! We walk around marveling at the old construction and all the old classic cars. This place is a step beck in time.
Without much difficulty we find a street fair we have heard about on Paseo del Prado, otherwise known as Paseo de Marti, and we walk along checking out all the local art on display. It is just few steps away from Telégrafo and Parque Central hotels, this is a place that grabs passerby’s attention, not only by its privileged location but also by the items on sale. We see tons of vivid paintings that depict the Tropical feeling around us. There are street landscapes full of Old American Cars and lovely people walking, portraits in watercolor, charcoal drawing and much more! At the end of Paseo del Prado, we come across the Malecon (A seawall and walkway along the coast) and an interesting old fort, ‘La Punta Fort’. We cross the boulevard and walk around the fort after paying $1 each to go inside and my camera stays happy. Views of the fort overlooking the modern part of Havana give striking contrast to our surroundings.
We cross back over the boulevard and walk back along the street fair on Paseo del Prado where we buy our obligatory art piece from an artist that, in our opinion, best represents Cuba. But we ask the artist to remove the canvas from the stretcher frame so we can transport it in our luggage and she does so happily.
We take the painting that the artist conveniently rolls up and puts into a tube for us and we walk back to our Casa to put it in our luggage so as not to have to carry it around. Interesting graffiti on walls and doors abound here. Parking lots of old classic cars where, for about $30/hour, you can get a tour of Havana. We did that yesterday. We pass by ‘La Florida’ again and true to the info on our tour yesterday, this place is hopping and it isn’t even noon!
Okay, painting put away safely. on to walking in a new direction and new, or is that old, sights to see. A street vendor’s cart full of produce, this is how it’s done in Cuba! A very old church and a park and we come across El Chanchullero where we’re told we can get the best and cheapest cocktails in Old Havana! So we go in, being lunchtime, and go upstairs for a view, lunch and cocktails and beer. We only had to wait for 5 minutes to get a table, but when we came out an hour later, there was an hour long line to get in! I guess timing is everything!
Back into the streets of Old Habana, we walk around with our cameras happily snapping away, street scene after street scene of colors and textures greet us. It is common to find artistic murals on walls and sculptures on the sidewalks as we take in this wonderful place. The old classic cars make you wonder if you have really taken a time machine ride!
The people are as colorful and different as the architecture, from young children playing in the streets to street musicians trying their best to make a buck to bicitaxis with interesting names to policemen comparing notes on their cell phones to school children in uniforms to random workers taking breaks in the oppressive heat. School is free to all in Cuba all the way through University! But, as evidenced by what we see in all cities and towns here, all students wear uniforms. It appears that the color of your school uniform denotes the section of school you are in. Blue is the youngest, then gold, then to the teenagers in brown and University Students wear Blue & White.
Looking at my pre-travel notes, I am reminded of a place to visit that is not open tomorrow so we hire a bicitaxi to take us over into the newer part of Habana to a place called, “Callejón de Hamel” (Hamel Alley)
This is a cultural project that is an entire street of poetic images and sculpture that you have to walk through, a place for dancing rumba (which, unfortunately was not going on today) and experience the authentic presence of the African roots in Cuba. “The Hamel Alley” is an explosion of Cuban creativity, colors and Cuban Pop Art.
Our eyes and camera lenses saturated with all the magnificent colorful art displays and buildings, we pass by a local schoolyard where the students seem like animals in a cage just waiting to be set free.
We come to the Malecon and start walking the few miles back towards Old Habana. The ocean scenery, old cars and architecture take us back again in the time machine. The architectural richness of the Malecón is expressed through 18th- and 19th-century stately homes, followed by a row of 20th-century buildings with an unusual combination of styles and profusion of portals, columns and pilasters that loosely follow classical lines. But beyond the architectural values of the buildings, its greatest charm lies in being somewhere to stroll or hang out on a stiflingly hot day. We see couples making amends, and many children and fishermen. It is Havana’s outdoor lounge.
A couple hours later, we make it back to Old Habana but the time machine has left us in the past with the old classic cars and more old architecture.
Walking back through Old Habana towards the shipyards, horse drawn carts are everywhere and outdoor cafes abound because it is more pleasant to be outdoors than in unless you can afford air conditioning here. As I have pointed out before, glass windows are an expensive commodity in Cuba that only the wealthy can afford. Open air stored for the most part some with security bars for protection, but very few glass windows. We get lucky and find a bar with glass windows AND air conditioning and we stop for a brief respite for a cool Mojito and a cold beer. It is also our luck that within a few minutes of being there, a guitar player walks in and starts practicing his craft with some salsa music! So my camera is happy with more up front and personal photos and our wallets are unhappy, but satisfied with less tip money in them!
Back out in the streets, the scene is a bustling art show. Art stores all the way up this street and artists that try to pull you in for a sale. Some are willing to pose for free, but most of them want you to buy something first.
We found an old cathedral to check out! We don’t pass up the chance to get some photos both inside and out.
Then back out onto the streets to see the sights… Old Cars, Bicycle delivery carts, A building I dubbed, “Halfdome”, cruise ships in the harbor, a train that claimed to be Cuba’s first train and live music in the streets!
We come across an old Rum Factory that still functions and they offer tours. So in we go and we sign up for a tour that start in a few minutes. We are taken through the factory and shown how the rum is made. There is even a model train layout of the factory in it’s heyday! Vats of aging rum are on display and the smell of rum and oak are heavy in the air! We finish the tour in the gift shop, where we buy Cuban Rum and find a few more cigars to bring home!
Our Cuban connection that helped us plan our trip has made reservations for us at a place called “Habana 61”. We show up at the suggested time and find the place is reservation only. We are seated and they take the best care of us. The food is splendid and we dine in luxury. Well, luxury for Habana anyways! The price is very modest and we get out of there without any major rift in our wallets. Thank you, Yilliam!
Back into the city for the rest of the night, we go into El Floridita for drinks. But my camera calls and informs me that it hasn’t had much of a chance to take night photos in the city and it is starving for attention! So I leave Elee with two bright and vibrant your ladies to visit with and I take a stroll with the camera and tripod. An hour later, I come back to enjoy a cool libation with her and find her happily chatting away with these new friends!
This day complete, we walk the 2 or 3 blocks to our Casa and retire for the evening!