Sunday, March 19, 2017

Por Fin, Habana!!

7 February 2017

Habana!! (In Spanish, Havana is Habana, just check the band on your cigar or that bottle of Habanero sauce in the fridge.) For ten days Jim, José and Juan Antonio had guided us through the highways and byways of Cuba, now we come to the main event as it were, Habana. The big city, a world class capital and we are to have lots of free time. How will we manage? That thought briefly crosses my mind as we approach the city before I remember that we have navigated major cities around the world on our own. It will be fine.

And it is. The bus pulls into the car park just off Cathedral Square in Old Havana where we will begin our exploration of the city. But first lunch. Throughout the trip logistics surrounding meals have been a constant, so we get off the bus, troup across the car park to La Moneda Cubana a paladar just off Cathedral Square. This is definitely a tourist destination which means that the food is OK, but not up to the standards of the best Cuba has to offer, but it is touristy-charming and a pleasant introduction to Habana.
Our first look at Habana up close

The entry to La Moneda Cubana

Always music

From there we were set free to explore Cathedral Square, which in the 18th century was the last of Old Havana’s four central plazas to have been developed, but it’s most central and most spectacular.

After lunch our first free ramble through the city

The cathedral, La Cathedral de la Virgen María de la Concepcion Inmaculada de la Habana, a fine example of Spanish baroque

a restrained stripe of the baroque

La Casa de Don Luís Chacón, now the Museum of Colonial Art, the oldest and to my eye the loveliest building on the plaza

I was hot to see this gallery of experimental art

For you pen folk, as close to Waterman as I got

wonderful piece of street sculpture

paid to be colorful for the tourists

Then we got back on the bus to head out to the Colon Cemetery. By this time, having toured a couple of Cuban cemeteries, we knew what to expect, sort of. But this cemetery was even moreso.

these mausoleums were built to showcase the wealth and taste of  Cuba's principal families

some showcasing the art deco

As we were touring one of the shrines, Jim pulled me to the side saying "I want you to see something" Throughout the the trip whenever  José was leading us through the usual sights Jim wandered. This time he found this, which he had never seen before. His question was whether I was aware of Cuban involvement in Vietnam. I was not. But when I got back to the hotel I was able to look it up. (We had free and reasonably fast wi-wi at the Nacional.) As it turns out Cuba sent a token contingent to fight in socialist solidarity in support of the North in Vietnam

After that, a brief encounter with Cuba’s cars and we headed for our hotel. 
We've already done cars, so just two of my faves.

Originally we had been scheduled to stay at the Habana Libre, but, as we were warned, things change in Cuba and at the beginning of the trip we were informed that, instead, our hotel would be The Hotel Nacional. A cheer went up. Most of us knew the Nacional, and over trhe next few days that hotel fully lived up to its billing as Cuba’s premier hotel.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Santa Clara (Cuba, not the Bay Area)

Street scenes from the central plaza

6 February 2017

A low key sort of day before heading off to Habana on Tuesday.

From my journal, recorded at the end of the day.

“Santa Clara—probably most famous as the final resting place of Che Guevara.
Began the day with a visit to the local decorative arts museum. They seem to have a lot of them here.

 Then a concert by a classically trained singer of opera and guitarist and his son. They took us through a brief tour of Cuban music. It was capped by a piano number by Bob.

Bob plays

From there to the local cigar factory. The real deal. Factory for export, producing all of the major brands each according to their formula. Sadly we were not able to take pictures inside the factory, but I was able to get a shot of our guide and the entry to the factory

Che con tabaco (the Cuban word for cigar)

I did not get a chance to buy, but that was no big deal. Prices are the same everywhere. And I think I got a good deal from Yordanis’ friend."

[In front of the senior center was a gallery of their art works Rosa and I had to get into the act, which was permitted]
Rosa gets into the act, showing off not just her revolutionary fervor but the new hat she got at the center.

"Lunch with the seniors was an unexpected treat. They had a nice basic musical program of course and then an Indian stick and counter game whose name I cannot remember.

José, siempre bailando

Suresh turned out to be a ringer, as a child he had played this same game in India.
Judging the score
[Then] lunch with the seniors . . ."

It was during that lunch, at our table were two teachers, one a professor and her car mechanic husband. He taught me much of what I learned about automobiles in Cuba.

"Tomorrow the main event as it were, three days and four nights in Havana.”

This day was summed up best by Sharon as we were discussing this post. It was one of the less photogenic but most enjoyable days of the trip.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

From Trinidad to Cienfuegos and Santa Clara

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Another travel day as we moved from Trinidad, the tourist town, to stop for most of the day in Cienfuegos and then on to Santa Clara.

The drive, 85 kilometers mostly along the south-central coast of the island was gorgeous and Cienfuegos was our mid-day destination. We arrived in time to wander the city before lunch.

One of the surprises was the ubiquity of images and monuments to Martí. I was aware of his central  importance in Cuban independence but even more than Che no one seems as important to Cubans

As many have noted, off the main streets, many of Cuba's buildings are uninhabited and crumbling

A highlight for Sharon was the Teatro Tomas Terry, an intact 19th century theater, named for a Venezuelan benefactor of the city

A detail from the ceiling

After one of our better meals at Villa Lagarto in LaPunta we were treated to a virtuoso performance by a guitar ensemble, replete with more dancing.

Finally, a pelican but not a Pelikan

This group, which did everything from classical music to Cuban dance, was amazing. 

Jose, Cindy, John and Ursula feel the beat

This looked like a better image than I was able to capture

From there we visited the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial museum. Unfortunately there was no photography inside the museum, but I was most interested to note that among the artifacts on exhibit was the pen Che carried, a Parker 61. For all his commitment to revolution, Guevara came from a professional background in Argentina, though his parents were dedicated to social change and supported their son. That gave me a bit more insight into the man telling me that even as a revolutionary he had a discriminating taste in the material objects he surrounded himself with. Trivial perhaps but a small peek into the man’s character.

Then we were back on the bus for another hour and a half before arriving Santa Clara, our home for a day and two nights before Habana, our ultimate destination.

I wrote in my journal that evening," Cienfuegos was a real treat. A 19th century, French-tinged colonial town. Very picturesque."