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recaro94 Havana - A travel report by Cody
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Havana,  Cuba - flag Cuba -  Ciudad de La Habana
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recaro94's travel reports

PT Boat On The Way to Havana

  7 votes
The culmination of our 3 week trip through Cuba ended in it's capital and largest city - Havana. Long ago the Paris of the Caribbean, Havana's old beauty still seeps through.

Compared to Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, Havana is an enormous city. Both Santiago and Cienfuegos reminded me of rural Alberta towns upon first approach, but Havana reminded me of Seattle. We followed the ocean through Havana suburbs and seaports for about an hour before we got into actual city. Havana was the only place we drove where the roads improved somewhat consistently, even in narrow alley-like streets, and where we stopped seeing horses pulling wagons of fruits, vegetables and commuters everywhere. Major feeder roads on the outskirts are very confusing at times, but the majority are lined with beautiful trees that were in bloom making this drive unforgettable. We spent three days in Havana, most of it on foot after returning our car. Havana's streets reminded me of New York as well. Similar smells, the abundance of baseball gear, bustling people and constant honking. Havana is a beautiful old city, but unfortunately it becomes clear when you walk through its streets how beautiful it actually used to be. I appreciate its condition for what it is and I'm glad I saw it when I did, but it's also a shame when you peer down both large streets and tiny alley ways and can see just how dilapidated the area is. Despite the decay, the beauty shines through. It's not hard to look down a crumbling street or at the skeleton of a building and see it both as the ruin it is and the spectacle it was.

Favourite spots:
El Capitolio
El Capitolio
I knew what my favourite spot in Havana was before our plane left Canada: El Capitolio. I've never been to Washington D.C. to see the structure it was modeled after, but this is the most beautiful building I've ever seen in person. Like I said, the decay is plainly visible on its facade, its dome and on its sidewalks, but its impressiveness blasts through unfaded in spite of its obvious age. Also in El Capitolio's immediate surroundings are numerous other landmarks and easily the most bustling streets. Gran Teatro sits to the Capitolio's immediate north, and the main cigar factory in Havana where we took a tour is to its immediate west. Parque Central and Parque de la Fraternidad surround the rest of it, both tree covered squares which offer a refuge from the sun. In Parque Central we stumbled upon the famous corner where locals gather to argue about baseball. If you didn't know what they were doing you'd likely be a little frightened by the heated yelling.

What's really great:
The Malecon, a great walk. I regret not copying the locals and running up to dive off.
The Malecon, a great walk. I regret not copying the locals and running up to dive off.
After having traveled the whole island it was nice to be rid of our car and just be able to wander the streets of Havana. My favourite part of travelling has always just been to wander aimlessly, lost or not. As Havana's streets are very old world, large pedestrian boulevards are rare in Old Havana (Vieja) and the majority are skinny single lane roads that would be dubbed back allies elsewhere. People are everywhere: in the street, hanging over their balconies yelling at passers by, in shop windows and playing baseball in the street with twigs and bottle caps. Bikes and old cars whiz by with a honk, but by this point we began to understand the constant honking as more of a greeting and a friendly warning, different from the North American honk's connotations. Despite the obvious increase in beggars and panhandlers, Cubans are an immensely friendly people and that was evident best in Havana Vieja when wandering around as a visitor to their daily lives.

The expanse of Plaza de la Revolution and its backdrop
The expanse of Plaza de la Revolution and its backdrop
Two places offer you the best views of Havana; La Cabana across the entrance to the bay and the Jose Marti Memorial in Plaza de la Revolution. The Jose Marti Memorial is a white tower on the south end of Plaza de la Revolution with an observation deck at the top. I believe it cost us 3 CUC to get to the top, and it offers a 360 degree view of Havana. The square itself is best seen from here, as it is just a giant paved empty parking lot. On the other side are the government buildings with huge images of both Cienfuegos and Che's faces on the sides of the buildings. Seeing the vastness of this square makes the images you see of people gathering here much more impressive. La Cabana was a large fort complex across the bay. We went there for the 9 o'clock cannon shot which happens every night. It is absolutely deafening up close. but definitely worth the 8 CUC to enter. The views of Havana are spectacular from here and the fort itself is partially a museum, large and impressive.

Our quirky Casa
Our quirky Casa
A mistake that we made before leaving for Cuba, but that turned out to not be a big deal at all, was that we never wrote down the addresses to any Casa Particulars. Cuba-Junky is a great site for finding information about Cuba before you leave, one we sadly under utilized. The one thing we did do is book a Casa in Havana the day before we left. Unfortunately we couldn't find it as I couldn't access the email on my phone. Not only is wifi impossible to find anywhere, but Cuba's cell network was unable to transmit data for my phone at all. We paid 8 CUC in a hotel to use it's wifi for an hour. Luckily our hosts in Vinales recommended their friend's Casa in central Havana Vieja. They had a lime green Beetle parked under the stairs that led to our room above their tiny garage. For two beds they asked for 45 CUC a night but we managed to bargain them down to 35 CUC, the most we paid in Cuba. It should be noted these prices are per room, not per person.

We spent the majority of our time walking the streets of Vieja, mostly around the Capitolio area and along Obispo. At the west end of Obispo is Plaza de Armas, where early in the morning locals set up a market for Cuban books, English books, Cuban propaganda material and old Cuban money. Here I bought a comic book detailing Camilo Cienfuegos' contributions to the revolution as well as the third of three volumes in Che's diary. The square is near both la Fuerza and Catedral de San Cristobal. Looking back I think it's unfortunate we spent so much time on Obispo. The street is gorgeous to be sure, but rather touristy. I got the impression that it was decided the beggars and panhandlers couldn't be controlled, so they decided to focus the tourist police here as to make this street totally tourist friendly and leave the rest. Elsewhere we were constantly hassled to buy cigars, drugs, and hookers. I didn't mind it too much but I feel like because of that we spent too much time on Obispo.

Havana travelogue picture
As with almost everywhere in Cuba, we ate massive breakfasts and dinners prepared for us by our Casa hosts. This may have been the best thing about Cuba. Not once were we served a bad meal staying in a Casa and they were always cheap. This most we paid was 10 CUC for the best lobster I've ever eaten, along with potatos, rice, beer, beans, a vegetable platter and bread, all in quantities me and my two friends were incapable of finishing off. All meals were pretty much the same as this, the only variation being the meat you chose. We were offered chicken, pork, fish and lobster everywhere we went, usually for 8 CUC. Breakfast was equally impressive with huge amounts of fruit, coffee, fresh juice, bread and eggs for 3 CUC. We ate out once in Havana, and paid 12 CUC for a sandwich and 4 CUC for juice from concentrate. Just a side note, I got the title of this article from a Ramones song beautifully covered by John Frusciante, one of our trip theme songs.

Other recommendations:
View from the top of la Fuerza. Its tower in the foreground and El Capitolio in the distance
View from the top of la Fuerza. Its tower in the foreground and El Capitolio in the distance
We also visited Castillo de la Real Fuerza and the Museum of the Revolution. Both are basically museums and although museums tend not to interest me these were unmissable. Having seen them now, they were slightly underwhelming. The Revolution museum is just endless glass cases of clothes, stories, weapons and propaganda relating to the revolution and beyond. However I did like the narration, as at times it was just a list of everything bad the CIA has done to Cuba. Some shocking (killing citizens outside Guantanamo) and some ridiculous (blaming tobacco mold on them). I also liked the Granma boat outside encased in glass and the labelled bullet holes still in the building from when it was taken by Che. La Fuerza is a beautiful and impressive fort, but inside just filled with glass cases of weapons, pirate gold and some models of Spanish ships. The views were nice but its tower is off limits. Most of these sights are best enjoyed on a meandering walk through the city and its people.

Published on Monday May 30th, 2011

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Mon, Jul 18 2011 - 02:14 PM rating by bootlegga

Interesting info and cool pics!

Mon, Jun 13 2011 - 12:04 PM rating by mistybleu

A really great read. Thanks for shari

Mon, May 30 2011 - 12:56 PM rating by krisek

Great report again! Great narrative, cool style and excellent photos! I cannot believe that they still sell those books in the street! I loved that when I visited La Habana ten years ago!

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