Cuba as it is, with Fidel still alive, and the system working as it has done since the revolution. That is what I wanted to find on my three week trip to this intriguing island in the sun. Did I find it? My conclusion follows at the end of this story in five chapters.
A photographic remark: My camera was stolen on the last day of my visit along with the memory card(s). The pictures featured in this series from Cuba are stills captured from my video. Hence the rather poor quality. My camcorder was also stolen but I kept the first film separately so I was able to keep at least some photographic evidence of the trip. Read more in the last part of this trip.
The text in this series is a transcript of my travel diary in 2003.
These were the guidebooks I used, particularly the first.
Sunday 22.6.2003, Stavanger – London – Havana
My 8-year-old son and I said goodbye to our family in the morning and flew SAS to Heathrow, London. We had plenty of time to relax before Air Jamaica took off towards Havana and a 3 week around Cuba journey. The service on board was fair, but not more. The flight took 10-11 hours and my son was boring himself and had aching ears during landings.
On our arrival at José Martí International Airport we passed through all formalities with ease and stepped out in front of the terminal. The heat and humidity was oppressive.
We took a taxi (18 USD) straight to the pre-booked hotel right by the seaside promenade, Malecón, and one of the main streets, La Rampa. Alright room, a little dark and zero view. A dollar to the mozo led to the TV being fixed. The first we saw was Cartoon Channel and Tom & Jerry’s great “nnnnnnephew” sketch Pecos Pest from 1953. We’ve got that one at home.
Monday 23.6.2003, Havana
Six hours’ time difference and a long journey made us go early to bed. Norwegian time is 0400 the “next” morning and here in Cuba it is 2200 the same day we left.
We slept well and had breakfast at the hotel with lots of fruit, some sweet baked objects and yellow buns (maize?).
Afterwards we took a coco-taxi to the old town, Habana Vieja (3 USD). A coco-taxi is a kind of taxi made of a motorcycle built into a yellow eggshell with two seats aside in the rear end. We drove along the Malecón. Funny to observe what we at home had watched on video and books: Big seafront, worn-out old colonial buildings, discarded (but not in fact) old American cars from the fifties and Ladas from the eighties, multi-ethnic people, and not too clean and tidy. It was exciting in other words.
We wandered around in the old city. It consists of a few broad avenues, a number of plazas and for the most part narrow streets and alleys. The sweat was pouring as we had not yet acclimatised our sweat glands. There were fascinating crowds and architecture, a large blend of everything. We took a rickshaw (2 USD), constantly making detours into the small streets. At first I could not understand why the driver did this, but I eventually realised that it was to avoid the police. Not everyone has a permit to take foreign passengers apparently.
An ordinary taxi took us back to the hotel (3.8 USD). The rooftop swimming pool was delicious and offered great views.
The famous ice-restaurant Coppelia next to the hotel was unfortunately closed. Instead we had a poor chicken at a restaurant. The musicians at the place had a break most of the time. Early to bed.
By the way, my son bought a Che-pin.
Spent today: 39.5 USD.
Tuesday 24.6.2003, Havana
Into Habana Vieja again. This time we entered a few museums as well, including the old National assembly, Capitolio. My son got the opportunity to climb the rostrum.
When we got too hot we entered the old stylish Hotel Inglaterra for lunch and drinks. Two brands of beer seem to be popular on Cuba. One is the Bucanero which is a bit strong on alcohol and with a rich body. The most advertised is Cristal, a light beer. Both are tasty.
After this we looked into the glass cage containing the boat Granma which Fidel & Co landed at the start of the revolution. We took a coco-taxi via the Revolution Square to Necropolis. The first is a gigantic and grotesquely ugly open square which is filled with tens of thousands when Fidel holds his 9-hours long speeches. The square is surrounded by Fidel’s offices, ministries, the monument to José Martí (hero of the revolution or freedom fight in the 1800s) and a huge metal portrait of the hero from 1959 – Che Guevara.
Necropolis is a huge cemetery with exquisite grave monuments and mausoleums.
Back at the hotel we spent time in the pool again.
According to my guidebook this part of the city – Vedado – is full of paladares. They are small, family-run, private-owned restaurants. Yesterday we wandered the streets without finding even one of them. Today we went straight into one which is listed in the guidebook. Homely, private as a paladar is meant to be. Good food, but too expensive (32 USD).
Spent today (80,5 USD). Remark: The hotel stay in Havana was paid at home and is not included here.
A video view around Havana Vieja. This old part of the city is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
(1) Havana: Cuba as it is, with Fidel still alive, and the system working as it has done since the revolution. That is what I wanted to find on my three week trip to this intriguing island in the sun. Did I find it? My conclusion follows at the end of this story in five chapters.
NEXT CHAPTER: (2) Pinar del Rio and the Viñales valley: A beautiful country, and an emerging private economy is found in this chapter two of my Cuba journey.
(3) From Cienfuegos to Trinidad: Chapter three is about lazy days on the beach, colonial mansions and a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.
(4) Trinidad: A most wonderful town and surroundings rich in slave history. This is chapter four of my Cuban experience.
(5) Camaguëy, Playas del Este: A journey full of hassles, stripped memories and concluding remarks of my three weeks in Cuba. Those are the key words of this last chapter from Cuba.
PICS – Cuba: All images from Cuba in one place.