Pass The Cigars
Trip Start Oct 07, 2013
80Trip End Ongoing
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Forget the beach. Head directly to Havana and prepare to be amazed. This city might be the ultimate mash-up. Weaving in and around classic Spanish colonial architecture are vintage American automobiles (you can almost see Lucky Luciano driving to a meeting with fellow mobsters - during prohibition and beyond, Havana was a decadent playground for the well-heeled with the American mob having far too much influence on the Batista regime)
You don't sight-see in Havana, you experience Havana.
Pointless Fact #1: Key West, Florida is actually closer to Havana than it is to Miami but despite being only 90 miles away, even on a clear day Key West cannot be seen (I suspect that it probably can be seen but all Cubans are probably ordered to face south for the day so as not to catch a glimpse of their hated Imperialist enemy).
Our experience starts with the Casa Particular we're staying at- some Cubans have been given permission to rent out 1 or 2 rooms in their homes and these quasi B&B options are a much better choice than the overpriced government-run hotels
Our second casa in Havana was a bit of a step down from the first- the front door opened directly into the living room with various family members grouped around a TV that seemed to have the volume control stuck on full blast (which meant, of course, that all conversations had to be even louder). Stepping over and around bodies was a bit awkward but it was the only way to get to our room in the back
We did track down a Cuban cowboy with a gold '52 Chevy Convertible (original parts, front to back) who took us on an extended drive through most of Havana including the famous Malecon (seaside road). Suitably hooked we looked for excuses to grab a ride with a vintage car whenever we needed to get from Point A to Point B (as one Cuban told us, not all of these vehicles are legal taxi's but they all must work or the owner will have to sell). DH would normally insist on a convertible in order to more easily wave to her peep's as we were given the royal Cuban treatment. I assume we were in Havana during the high season for weddings since almost all other convertibles were filled with brides in full regalia also doing the DH Wave.
Pointless Fact #2: Cuba has so many vintage cars in part because of the U.S. embargo, but mainly because only pre-1959 vehicles can be privately owned (even the crappy Lada's are state owned..
We even tacked down another of the many bars of the world apparently frequented by Ernest Hemingway and tried out the daiquiri he made famous. Most of the time, however, we just aimlessly wandered Habana Viejo (Old Havana). We also made the long trip along the Malecon to Hotel National which has had a very colourful history hosting the largest mobster convention ever organized and serving as Castro's command centre during the Cuban Missile Crisis (trenches and gun placements are still there)- there's even a pic of our PM Cretien giving Castro a big hug in the lobby.
Having just gotten over my addiction to taking far too many photos of monkeys, I found myself taking far too many photos of vintage automobiles- adding my collection to the billions that have likely been taken already is probably not needed but that's the photo monster Tina B has made me.
Pointless Fact #3: Apparently Cuba, despite its agricultural base, imports two thirds of its required food products... but based on our initial dining experiences, it doesn't import any of the 'good' food the world has on offer.
While wandering we met members of that first wave of American invaders- the illegals. Cuba has no problems letting Americans in but the U.S. government has made it illegal for U.S. citizens to spend U.S. currency in Cuba. Kevin and Art from Minnesota solved that problem by not bringing enough money for their time here and with Americans not able to access funds, we left them discussing plans to build a raft to get back to the U.S.. We keep watching CNN to see if they made it.
Some American influence is here already (including their most bothersome of exports- tipping for every conceivable reason), but the clock is ticking and a trip to Havana should be on everyones near term wish list. A big Wow!!