pat and i recently had an opportunity to visit CUBA. what a magical experience and one of the best... it was familiar in one sense (think the caribbean islands meets new orleans) and also a complete throwback.
HAVANA was once a great and exciting city, you can see it in the architecture, the stores, hotels, etc. it is almost eery how it appears to be a ghost town full of people. it's really rather hard to explain. i often hear people say, you must go before it all changes and change it will be i have a feeling it will be quite some time. the complete infrastructure must be rebuilt. but we'll see...
this short video clip will give you a sense of what HAVANA is like today. no...this is not a movie set this video was taken a few blocks away from the capitol building in DECEMBER of 2015:
some quick tips for you if you're considering going are:
- bring a lot of cash - as a culture we are so use to using our credit cards that we do not realize the amount of money that one needs/wants on vacation. we were told to bring $100/day each...not nearly enough. almost everyone you have contact with should be tipped, there are a lot of great things to purchase (authentic pieces) and cigars, rum and coffee of good quality are not inexpensive.
- wear appropriate clothing -weather is very tropical, we went in december but it was very warm and humid, i would not want to be there in the summer. winter is perfect. make sure you wear good walking shoes, roads and walks are generally rugged.
- crime is very manageable - most of the time you are very safe. if you use common sense procedures and are aware you should not have any issues.
our hotel, hotel quinta avenida habana was a bit out of the center of town but near an exclusive area called miramar. although classified as a 5 star hotel it was probably a bit more equivalent to a 3 stars in the u.s. there wasn't much to complain about everything worked fine - a/c, toilets, showers, etc (don't laugh this can be an "iffy" situation at best in cuba). as you will see below our attendants tried to get fancy with out pool towels. the guy at the bar was quite prolific with the foam on our cappucino's also.
and what would be a visit to havana without first stopping at the rum, cigar and coffee shop? cost of rum, coffee and cigars were not inexpensive at this little shop, but there was a lot of it!
we were visiting as a group that accompanied k-jazz and jose rizo's mangorama as they participated in the 31st annual HAVANA jazz festival, so of course our itinerary was packed with music, music along with all art seems to be the heart of CUBA. we visited the rehearsals of some great dancers. the first was irene rodriquez company
we also went to see a bit of afro cuban dancing at the Folklorico Nacional de Cuba private rehearsal. afro cuban based dance is always done with live music and is steeped in afro cuban and santeria history and practice. we went behind the scenes and witnessed this extraordinary ensemble of afro cuban folkoric music and dance. they have been active for 35 years and have done 93 international tours.
the food in CUBA was exceptional, which was a bit of a surprise, although we had beans, rice and fried plantains at every meals there was plenty of variety. we ate exclusively at paladar's. this term is used in CUBA to define restaurants that are family-run businesses and often times are within or as an expansion of their home. they are operated by self employers, which is a relatively new concept to the cubans. the paladars that we visited over our 8 day trip gave us close interaction with cuban culture and wonderful homemade cuban food. the counterpart to this are state run restaurants which we did not experience (but i hear we didn't miss anything).
some paladars not as fancy as others.
since we were there for the jazz festival you can bet we heard some great music, and great bands and of course there was plenty of dancing!
the art and architecture of the city of HAVANA was amazing.
the architecture had a big range, from the traditions of the united states (as in their capital building) to the influence of the french, spainish and moors.
especially fascinating was the use of wrought iron and block. i would love to have a coffee table book of just the wrought iron designs. it was very interesting and seemed to have been a form of architectural delineation from one house to the next.
since i've rambled on enough in this post, i'll show some of the architecture, art, great vintage cars, country side and political work in the next post.