Having spent only two days in Havana and entirely in the old part of the city and only having two more days before hitting the road to Trinidad to meet up with the boys, I still had a lot of ground to cover.
Havana is full of great seaside and beach. If the outer part of Havana (where we stayed) called Miramar and Playa don’t strike your fancy, you can opt for taking a short bus or cab ride to Playa del Este. When I finally felt well enough to leave my suite, I took a quick dip in the ocean with my swimming goggles to see if there were some fishies to see. A local free diver helped me into the water and we toured the seas together. He pointed out some tiny squids, pufferfish, and some other things I just didn’t understand (is “pupu” a fish?). There was plenty of life just off the coast of the hotel, so I imagine the diving is probably pretty decent all over.
We went into town that afternoon and browsed the Cuba’s most prized art museum, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The Cuban art circa the Revolution was by far the most interesting, but we only browsed the second floor and got a bit bored, so we left. We did miss out on the third floor, which we just learned houses the Wilfredo Lam collection (oops!), but there is another smaller museum in Havana that is dedicated to Lam’s works called the Centro Wilfredo Lam.
The Vedado district
It is easy to get to Vedado, the most modern as well as the wealthier part of Havana, by foot via the back streets of central Habana and the Malecón. Just turn left when you spot the grand Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which sits on a hill with a grand view of the sea. It was a great place to snap a photo by a huge Cuban flag, and just to rest our feet. The Vedado really lights up at night with salsa clubs, bars, and discotecas starting at 10 p.m.
Lora and I decided to watch some live music in Miramar at a well-known joint called “La Casa de la Música.” There is one of these in every major city in Cuba. Our hotel concierge said one of the better Cuban bands led by Adalberto Alvares was playing that night, and because of his popularity he insisted that we be at the box office by 10 p.m. to get the tickets. Lora’s guidebook confirmed this advice, as it said concerts started at 10, so we left the hotel at 8:30 and split a quick dinner at a paladar a few blocks away called Paladar Los Cactus, which happened to be owned by a man who knew quite well my new crush, Che Guevara. (I’m not kidding!) The main dining room had a whole collection of letters from Che, as well as Che photos and a few Che artifacts. It almost seems as if Che is more revered than Fidel, but I’m thinking this has a lot to do with the fact that Che died. I can only speculate what will happen when Fidel passes. There will likely be a mixture of mourning for a great hero, yet a celebration and call for change to commence.
We made it to “La Casa de la Musica” at 10 p.m. only to discover that the box office didn’t open until 11 p.m. We had a Bucanero beer (me – this became my drink of choice) and mojito (Lora – did you know mojitos came from Cuba?) and were the first to buy tickets and get seats inside. We clearly assumed the band would start playing no later than midnight, but found out the band would play for just one hour from 1-2 a.m. When 1 a.m. finally did roll around, some salsa dancing had already been had by Cubano couples near the stage. “Adalberto Alvares” is not just one guy, nor is it really one specific guy; it’s a full Cuban salsa band complete with a dozen players including four percussion players, three brass players, four singers, and a lone female pianist. The music ranged from rap to belting salsa, but it was distinctly Cuban with a Latin and Caribbean style. The band itself was pretty awesome and, yes, worth the wait, but the long three-hour wait was excruciating, and we had hoped at least that the band would play for longer than an hour. The music was promptly over at 2 and we were promptly pooped and went to bed.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Lora’s final evening was supposed to have been our big evening out on the town, soaking in the Vedado nightlife. We had every intention to do this, but Lora quickly found herself out of cash and we were both sort of low on energy. We made a grand attempt though: we left the Melia at 8 p.m. and then were shuttled over to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a 16th century fortress – the oldest in Havana and the oldest surviving one of its kind in the hemisphere, to watch the ceremonial setting off of the cannon.
Lora’s book said we could see the events take place from the Malecón, but our shuttle brought us directly to the fort (across the canal). As one would expect (we were in Habana, after all, where everything is three times as expensive), the entrance fee to see the ceremony cost 8 convertible! We weren’t too keen on the price. Nevertheless, we obliged.
Luckily, the proceedings were really quite interesting! Soldiers wore colonial garb (complete with white wigs) and marched to the fortress that faced Habana Vieja. A man with a torch emerged from the barracks with a lighted torch and marched to the cannon as he sang/chanted. There was a lot of build-up to the setting off of the cannon, but finally there was a huge, startling explosion and the ball was set off, landing somewhere in the canal (I hope!). We had about 30 minutes following the ceremony to browse the fortress. I lost Lora in the small chapel, but managed to find a cool collection of Che artifacts in a nearby museum and listened for a while to some street music before boarding the bus back to the city.
The last supper
We were dropped off in the Vedado. Lora and I walked several blocks, intent of having dinner at El Gringo Viejo. The food was quite good (I had no idea chicken could taste good with olives and mushrooms!), but when we were done, Lora realized her sunburn (she had tanned by the pool during my long two-day recover) was quite bad and she was experiencing fatigue and pain. We had saved all that energy to see the Habana nightlife and pretty much came up empty. I didn’t really care that much, but I could tell Lora was bummed. I think she had expected some serious energy to the nightlife, but we quickly learned that some nights are just not meant to be. Our week in Habana really turned out to be a relaxed resort vacation with brief spurts of sightseeing, but for the most part, we probably could have been staying anywhere as long as it had a pool. It’s just as well – Habana was fun while it lasted, but I was glad to hit the road to Trinidad to meet the boys the following morning.
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