It is nearly impossible to give a complete assessment of the city of Havana, with its complex history, based on one eight-hour tour. What I can do, is share that tour with, through the eyes of my camera lens and the interpretation of our tour guide.
We began our tour at Revolution Square, a plaza known for its many important meetings, political and otherwise. It is surrounded by government buildings honoring important Cuban historical figures. The José Martî Memorial features the city’s highest building. Famed revolutionary Che Guevara is represented on the facade of the Ministry of Interior Building and the image of Cuban hero Camilo Cienfuegos is featured on the Telecommunications Building.
As we wandered around the square, observing other important sites such as the National Theatre of Cuba, home to the National Ballet of Cuba, it was hard not to notice the abundance of vintage cars. This step-back-in-time is due to the decades long ban on foreign vehicle imports. The most classic cars are used as taxis and for tours.
We dove through several different neighborhoods on our way to the next destination. We passed by the historic fort walls of Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. Several high-end hotels lined the shores of the Caribbean sea.
Only blocks away, the residential areas ranged from colorful and flower-framed to run-down and in obvious need of repair.
Our next stop brightened our day - literally! Fusterlandia in the district of Jaimanitas is a street-art extravaganza, courtesy of Cuban artist José Fuster. This on-going art project began in early 90’s, as Fuster began decorating his home in bright, colorful mosaic tile artwork - today that art covers several blocks, ground to rooftops in whimsical sculptures and more!
Our tour continued at one of the most popular museums on the island - and it’s not what you’d expect! Ten miles east of Havana is Finca Vigîa, Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home from 1940 to 1960. It was there where the famed author wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, along with other novels and short stories. Visitors are not allowed inside the house, but the view through the windows gave amazing insight to Hemingway’s Cuban life.
At this point it was time for lunch. We ate at a lovely restaurant called El Talisman, then on to our final stop - shopping! We swung by a local store for cigars, Rum and coffee, and then on to the San José Market. Guess where I spent my CUC pesos?
My takeaways from this brief visit - the Cubans are a proud and resilient people. They do much with very little. I found it difficult to understand how, according to our tour guide, the average person working for the government (which is the majority) earn the equivalent of $40 dollars - a month!
I became anxious at times, not having access to the internet. I was saddened by the fact that water is not available 24/7. Many homes and buildings have water towers on the roofs to collect rain water to stockpile.
Am I glad I went? Absolutely - it was eye-opening. Will I return? I don’t know. I’ll have to see what the future holds for a country where time stands still, yet has so much hope for the future.