Heavenly Havana, a city lost in time.


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Central America Caribbean » Cuba » Oeste » La Habana
January 5th 2013
Published: January 17th 2013
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What’s new in Havana? Not much actually.



Imagine taking a trip back in time….where the time on a clock actually is not a major factor, but living life to its fullest takes on an importance all its own. You look at the buildings and the vehicles on the streets and come to the conclusion that time has almost stood still…and for the most part it has. Welcome to Havana, Cuba.

When you get off the plane in Havana you look at the clock and it says 1960, time seems unimportant.



A bit of history



In the late 1950’s, Fidel Castro and his band of socialists took control of this island in the Caribbean supposedly in an effort to thwart the Batista regime, which was in the throes of major corruption. Havana was being infiltrated by the mob from the United States and was threatening to turn this beautiful island into a hedonist brothel. Castro’s efforts succeeded, all businesses became property of the government and life changed dramatically for all Cubans. For some, escape to the United States, Spain or other countries provided safe haven, especially if you had the means. For
A jaguar!A jaguar!A jaguar!

simply a breathtaking automobile
everyone else, the revolution placed everyone on somewhat equal footing, as citizens no longer had private ownership.

The United States failed to overthrow Castro in 1962 in the highly publicized “Bay of Pigs” fiasco and the U.S.S.R. partnered with Cuba and parked nuclear missiles less than one hundred miles from the U.S. The ensuing 50 years saw a long-standing U.S. embargo on almost everything. The fall of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century plunged the country into a deep depression, yet the spirit of the people remains, just as it had through the decades of Spanish rule and continues to shine through despite all obstacles in it’s way. It is a seemingly tireless “joie de vie” that can be seen in their faces and their actions….welcome to Havana, where the music and the spirit of Cuba lives on.



Americans and a visa

For Americans, travel to Cuba was prohibited for many decades. If you wanted to travel to Cuba, you first had to go to Canada, Mexico or some other country in order to enter Cuba. Tales were told of offering customs officials something akin to a small bribe not to stamp your
Ambos Mundos HotelAmbos Mundos HotelAmbos Mundos Hotel

Where Hemmingway lived for 7 years.
passport. Fortunately for us, the current administration has somewhat eased the travel restrictions and we were allowed to enter on a “people to people” visa.

For us, this was a perfect opportunity to visit a land that was “forbidden fruit” for U.S. citizens. Leaving the U.S. from Miami to enter Cuba was legal but still felt “strange”. We giggled from time to time as so few Americans can legally travel to Cuba that we felt like we were slipping in.

Our arrival provided us with a bit of apprehension. Growing up in the Cold War era, we were basically indoctrinated that while Cuba was not necessarily an enemy of the U.S. (due to it’s size), it was essentially “persona non grata.” Even though it was some 90 miles from Key West, it essentially did not exist in the minds of most Americans, with the exception of Cuban-American contingent in Miami.

All fears were dispelled immediately upon arrival. We were made to feel welcome by all that we encountered. Staying in Old Havana put us in the heart of the tourist section of the city, but also allowed to drink in the flavor of the history and people of the city. On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated with both foreigners and locals alike by visiting the establishments on Obisbo St. and imbibing Mojitos, Cubatas and beer, all while listening to the many bands playing in the bars.

Seems that one of the local customs is to throw water out of windows above the street as a sign of good luck. We managed to catch some of this luck on our way back to the hotel. Not one of our favorite local customs…..




Music

The Old Havana air is filled with the sounds of Latin music and the aromas of Cuban cigars wafting down the streets. Nary an establishment or bar is without the wonderful sounds of Cuban music. The musicians also circulate among the customers trying to sell their CDs or soliciting tips. Either way, they do fairly well considering Cuban standards, where physicians, engineers and other well-schooled people can only expect about $50 per month. We’re told that many well educated Cubans work in the tourist service industry, as they can be much more successful financially than in their “chosen” profession. The musicians play wonderful music and
Local hurlerLocal hurlerLocal hurler

Pitched seven shutout innings.
are many self-taught.



Antique Automobiles

This is also a great place to see older automobiles. As a result of the embargo from the U.S., you can see a plethora of pre-1960 automobiles, many in very good shape due to some very creative mechanics. Most have either been re-painted, had a new (but not American) engine installed, or both. They may spew some smoke, but an estimated 60,000 are still running according to some. Amazing. You can also see some late model Soviet machines out on the street. It is a rarity to see either a new vehicle or an expensive one as in theory, no one could possibly afford a car of this stature. It does make you wonder if antique car enthusiasts will flood to Cuba when the borders open and buy up these beautiful and amazing cars. Hopefully, the Cubans will be aware of the value and bargain wisely if they decide to sell.

Many or most of these cars are now taxis for both locals and tourist.



Evening entertainment

Now sometimes you are at the right place at the right time and benefit from it out of shear
Taxi ride?Taxi ride?Taxi ride?

a ride in history
luck. Our good fortune came in the person of Gerardo, a cab driver. We had arranged to go the Tropicana with a cab driver that we had used to tour part of Havana the day before. She even called that evening telling us that she would pick us up at the appointed time. Alas, she did not show. After standing on the curb waiting for her more than 15 minutes past her expected arrival, we took the first available cab and met the most wonderful Cuban gentleman. He provided us transportation to the Tropicana, found us after the show and we utilized his services the next two evenings. He was timely, friendly and ensured our safety.

The Tropicana was an unbelievable show that involved singing, dancing, acrobatics and the most innovative costumes since the glory days of Las Vegas. The two-hour show was well choreographed and well performed by the large troupe of performers. We left amazed by the performance, dazzling costumes and the energy.

The very next evening, we went to a baseball game and Gerardo joined us. For the non-fan of this sport, we need to let you know that baseball is extremely popular in Cuba.
Posing for tourist photosPosing for tourist photosPosing for tourist photos

Hoping for a couple of pesos.
It is told that Fidel Castro once had the opportunity for a tryout with the New York Yankees. His love of the game no doubt has influenced this nation, which definitely has a thirst for the game.

We sat among some 20,000 fans in a half-filled stadium as they thrilled the local fans with a well-played game. Although the game is the same as it is played in the United States, the milieu makes all the difference, as we watched the fans cheer, blow small horns incessantly as drums played all while local vendors plied their culinary treats to the noisy crowd. In America, the scoreboard and sound system treats the fans to many sights and sounds. Here, the crowd entertains itself in an almost throwback way during the game. A most enjoyable evening.

We got a taste of the finer arts the very next evening, as we attended the Nutcracker at the Teatro Nationale de Habana. The performance was strong in the dated, but well-designed theater. The dancers excelled at their craft, backed by a full orchestra in what was a delightful performance of a classic. The crowd was enthusiastic in their applause of the troupe’s work.

We left Havana the next morning somewhat sad, as we knew we might never see it this way again. Sooner or later, the regime will change and more foreign investment dollars will float in, most likely from their neighbors to the north. The thought of Starbucks on many corners along with MacDonald’s and American hotel chains may rob this nation of the very essence of what makes it so terribly unique, its Cuban soul.


Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 27


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Amazing costumesAmazing costumes
Amazing costumes

The Tropicana
Strutting her stuffStrutting her stuff
Strutting her stuff

Vibrant colors
Smiling facesSmiling faces
Smiling faces

Cubans have an amazing energy
Spanish ArchitectureSpanish Architecture
Spanish Architecture

San Francisco Square
Taxi anyone ?Taxi anyone ?
Taxi anyone ?

frozen in time
Street musicianStreet musician
Street musician

music on every corner
Beautiful buildingsBeautiful buildings
Beautiful buildings

Spanish architecture
Mojito expressMojito express
Mojito express

Welcome to Cuba....time for a beverage?


17th January 2013

Well done
I'm gathering you were not disappointed
17th January 2013

Indeed we loved Cuba
More blogs to come! Thanks for all of your suggestions and information.
17th January 2013

Wonderful!
Was really waiting for the American point of view (those of course that remember all the hoopla) I'm so glad you got to enjoy the baseball game and see a tropicana show - I saw a cheaper sleasier version in Santiago de Cuba but was told same same. Isn't it just a photographers dream? You got so many great pictures. I so want to go back now!
17th January 2013

A photographers dream
Yes there was so much to see, to do and to photograph! What lovely and vibrant people. We had a great time.
17th January 2013

Muchas gracias!
Great writing and even better pictures. I'm anxious to hear how the remainder of your trip through Cuba went.
17th January 2013

Hello Lee,
Loved the trip. I will give you a call soon. Thanks for everything.
17th January 2013
Exploring Cuba

A Hollywood-ish Pose!
Hey, Dave.... You look like the Director just barked "CUT!" but you're ready for the next scene. Lol.
18th January 2013
Exploring Cuba

A Hollywood-ish pose.
If only I could get them to do what I wanted them to do. Such is the life of a director.
17th January 2013

Hey MJ, where's the food photos?
Havana. You sound like you had a wonderful time. And those cars! I'd like to hail a cab there and get on those. Nice blog. But where are the food photos? You know I'm always watching out for those. [:)]
18th January 2013

I'm glad you asked about the food photos
The photos will be in our next Cuba blog. More to come. The food was not as good as I would have liked it to be-- it was not consistent.
18th January 2013

GREAT VIBE
Dancing to the Cuban rhythm in your blog and great pics. Glad to see you extending the hand of friendship to the Cubans. Does the USA trade with Cuba? I was told recently the USA still applies trade embargoes against Cuba. Is that right and if so, why?
18th January 2013

Cuban embargos and other mysteries
Hello Dancing Dave, Our trade embargo is 50 years strong. There are many reasons it continues in my opinion and most of them are political. America has a long memory and important and wealthy Cubans who left and living in America have friends in Congress. We will do another blog where we discuss some of those issues. They had a few American products- an example was a Dell computer. It is an international company so it can trade. They have some American food products which is allowed. The Cuban music fills the air, the swaying hips enjoy the beat and you should go take some amazing photos.
18th January 2013

tourareas
Thanks for your grateful informations, am working in Tourism Portal, so it will be helpful info for my works.
18th January 2013

Still traveling, I see!
Great blog and such colorful photos! I\'ve been out of internet range for a long while, but the last I read, you\'d finished your RTW travel and were going to be looking for work. I\'m so thrilled to see that work hasn\'t stopped you from traveling and sending us adventures in exotic places. Keep up the good work!
18th January 2013

Hello Tara,
Jobs were not easy to come by just around the holidays so we ran off to Cuba. Now, we really will go back to work.
18th January 2013

Gracias
Thank you for this great review of Cuba! So glad you got there and shared!
19th January 2013

Good to hear from you
Cuba is an interesting place to visit. Another Cuba blog coming in a few days.
18th January 2013

Thanks for your wonderful perspective on Cuba...
it hasn't been high on my list due to the politics making travel there difficult. I have enjoyed reading yours and others (Slowfeet) blogs, and my interest increases each time. I saw an add from Traveling Nurses in Colorado Springs...hmmmm.
19th January 2013

Hello Bob & Linda,
I think you would like traveling to Cuba. The politics are complex. This is a country that may go through many changes in the next few years. Changes are afoot.
21st January 2013
A jaguar!

oh I love vintage cars! . lucky for you to have seen all these before 'modernization' change everything.
21st January 2013
A jaguar!

Vintage cars
Cuba is a time warp. We had a great time.
22nd January 2013

You Have Done it Again
It is lovely for us to be reminded of Cuba. We had a great time there travelling with a group of friends exactly 2 years ago. It is an interesting country and one that belies some of the myths that have developed. We loved the lack of reverence for their government on the part of most we met. Made us feel quite at home at the time.
22nd January 2013

Irreverence indeed
Glad you went down memory lane. A good road to travel.

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