Surprising Havana

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Central America Caribbean » Cuba
October 14th 2019
Published: October 28th 2019
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We have three full days scheduled in Havana and today was the first one. On the go from 8:30AM until just before 5PM, we have visited a daycare center run by nuns for two to four year olds, stopped to see Del Morro fortress (bookending El Morrow Castle in Santiago de Cuba), and the eighteen meter high sculpture of the Havana Christ; we walked through and enjoyed the beauty of Havana's four main squares, plus explored parts of Havana Vieja, Old Havana. But that's not all! After a disappointingly mediocre lunch at another paladar (a family run restaurant - where most meals had been exceptionally good), we went to the large arts and crafts market. Most of us had already completed our shopping, and soon grew weary of all the shopkeepers seeing us and calling out, "Hey lady! I have been waiting for you! Come see my shop." I am certain they have been waiting for customers, but we weren't the buyers they were hoping for.

One woman sitting at the back of this market stopped us and asked if we were American; I said si. She pointed to my blouse and we understood that she was telling us she needed clothes. Then she quickly realized what I was wearing could not possibly fit her, so she turned her attention to a larger woman in our group, much more her size, and plucked at this woman's shirt. That didn't work either, so she tried asking for soap, for lotion, for shampoo. Every morning I take these supplies from my hotel room and give them to our guide to distribute to the poor, but never remember to carry some with me to give away to the street women who ask. Maybe I'll remember tomorrow.

Most people have heard of the excellent health care in Cuba. On Tuesday morning we visited a local clinic and were guided through all the rooms for various treatments. A surprise for me was the Naturopathic treatment room; when I asked if they used homeopathy I was amazed to hear that they do! We happened to be with the doctor who also knows and uses homeopathy with her patients, and when I told her I am a homeopath she seemed delighted, and asked if I also use Bach Flower remedies. I was pleased to tell her that I do, and herbs as well. Plus, in addition to all regular allopathic therapies (as well as homeopathy!) their clinics also offer reiki and reflexology. One elderly man was sitting in their small, end room smiling while having his feet worked on. What an educational visit this turned out to be.

After the clinic we went to a local doctor's house, something unheard of in the States. The head doctor lives in the same building, upstairs, and spends his mornings seeing patients on the first floor; in the afternoons he and the rest of his staff visit patients' homes. Daily. Can you imagine such a thing in the US? As a little girl I remember our family doctor, Dr. Gabos, coming to our house when one of the five of us children was sick, but house calls were rare, even back then. This doctor has lived there and practiced this way for eighteen years, an incredibly fine service he has provided to the community, but this is how health care is offered in Cuba.

Because the weather continued to be very fine, in the afternoon we drove to the outskirts of Havana to see Ernest Hemingway's house and lands, his Finca Vigia. Frozen in time, it is still beautifully kept up; now it's a museum. Visitors are not allowed to enter the rooms, but when I said to one of the attendants she was lucky to be inside, she motioned to take my camera, took it and went away; I watched her leave, then saw her going room to room taking photos for me. At first I wasn't sure what she was doing, and a few of my fellow travellers were a bit concerned about my camera, but it ended well. I tipped her for her kindness. Hemingway even had a special room for his fifty-four cats, although they were allowed to roam throughout the compound. I hadn't known he was so fond of cats! (We did not see any while we were visiting.) His swimming pool and boat are there, but roped off so they are not open to closer inspection. I did climb the stairs to his writing aerie, his private tower room, but learned Hemingway preferred writing standing up (as did Thomas Wolfe, being so tall he wrote on top of his refrigerator), working on novels in his bedroom below. The finca is lush and green, still feeling very much like a private compound, but we could hear children playing far below; a school now exists where once there was only silence except for Hemingway and his cats, his third wife, his visitors, birdsong, and the wind in the trees.


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