Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pretty Women


Taxi in Rain

Village Taxi



Her Name is Majye

Enjoying the Music

On the Malecon

Cuba Libre

Waiting for a Taxi




Black and White

Havana. Cuba

Havana, Cuba April 15-22, 2015
On April 15th, we left home early in the morning for the airport.  We were both excited to be going to a place we had never been and looking forward to seeing places we had heard of all our lives.  We headed for the parking lot Hinda arranged parking in but alas, we could not find it.  Headed to the airport and thought we would park in the airport garage no matter what the price.  As we were waiting on the security check line, our son Saul arrived, as he was going out of town also.  He offered to pick up our car when he returned the next night and park it in a less expensive lot.  He was a life saver and we really appreciated it. Headed for the plane and took off for a night in Cancun.
We arrived in Cancun to an extremely chaotic scene at the airport, where it took over 2 hours to get through immigration and customs. The next day we boarded Air Cubana for a short one hour flight to Havana.  First time we were served soda crackers as a snack. So perhaps that portended that Cuba is a really poor country.  Compared to every other airport we have been to, the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was virtually empty, but relatively modern and as we found out it was very clean as it is throughout Cuba.
Where do tourists stay in Havana, either in a government hotel or a recent phenomenon called a “particular” which is a room or a small suite in a private home.  It is similar to a bed and breakfast.  In our case we had an entire one bedroom apartment on the 6th floor of a 20 story building on the Avenue of the Presidents, including a balcony overlooking the neighborhood of Vedado.  Vedado is a newer upscale section of town compared to the old city and the central city. Each morning we went up to the 14th floor to have a fine breakfast on the balcony with a view of the Malecon and the ocean. The Malecon is a long waterfront promenade. Often young Cuban couples who have no places of privacy go to the Malecon to “be alone”.
The first thing we noticed was how clean Havana was and how friendly and smiling the people are.  People in Cuba are extremely poor, even professionals may only earn $20-$30 per month.  So, for example, professionals like physicians have taken to opening bed and breakfasts or restaurants to earn a better living.
We discovered although we had a Cuban sim card in our phone there is no internet except in a few major hotels so email, etc. is not available. We also discovered you can text anywhere in the world except the USA because of the US foreign policy toward Cuba for the last 57 years. We could call but that was all.
There has not been any new construction since the 1960’s so houses and buildings are in disrepair but many are beginning to be renovated in anticipation of more tourism by Americans. There are very few private cars so almost all the cars on the road are taxis and almost all are American cars from the 40’s and 50’s.  Every car is a 4 door except for the convertibles.  They all look in really good shape but the mechanical parts are likely not original. 
The weather was very hot, in the 30C-94F and very humid. In tourist places of accommodation there is air conditioning but in most houses there is none.  We got caught in a bad downpour one afternoon and a Jeep covered pickup truck taxi picked us up.  We climbed in the bed in the back and felt good to be inside although we were drenched and so was everyone else.
The Cubans have two forms of money, Cuban Pesos for the Cubans and CUC’s which are used by everyone else.  We have heard that the Cuban Peso may be going away but that is not official.  The CUC is equivalent to about $1 US.  Our bed and breakfast cost $45 CUC’s including breakfast.  Dinners and lunches cost between $20-35 CUC’s and most taxi rides were between $3-5 CUC’s.
We wanted to get a look at the city so we took a double decker bus tour, which was good but very hot. All over Havana there are signs and photos extolling the revolution, Castro, Che, etc but no one wants to talk about politics.  People are friendly and want to talk with you but politics is not to be discussed.  Almost every Cuban we met had at least one relative in the USA.  Since it is difficult to purchase things in Cuba, relatives in the US send boxes and suitcases full of things.  As a matter of fact as we were checking in for our Havana flight, a couple was checking TV’s, air conditioners, tires, etc on to the plane.
Everywhere in Havana there is music.  All restaurants and on the street there are musicians, people singing and people dancing, trios and quartets of musicians.  And they mostly play salsa and rhumba music.
Cuba is the home of the best cigars in the world and we saw a lot of people smoking them, including women.
The Cuban people are nice looking indeed.  There is a strong Afro Cuban influence.  Slavery ended in Cuba not that long ago – in 1888, and many of the people are mixed and range from very dark to very light, including blonde and blue eyed.  Even though we were told that there is racial equality most of the people in menial jobs were black.
We took a day trip outside of Havana to some very pleasant farmland and rolling hills. It was not as hot as in Havana but by no means cool. And we had the best cappuccino in a small roadside café.  Where we also bought a bottle of homemade honey with bees floating on the top.
As we spoke to people in Havana, we asked what they thought of the US changing its state of relations with Cuba and overwhelmingly, people are thinking positively.  Will it be good for Cuba, it is yet to be seen.  Peter and Hinda have different opinions, he thinks at what price is progress?  Even though he believes Cubans need better jobs, better housing, more money, will the multinational corporations care about those things.  Hinda believes it will be a good thing, being an optimist.  Opening relations will open doors to people to get all the things they do not now have and will allow them to move into the 21st century with the rest of us.  What do you think?
Did we enjoy our trip, Yes.  Would we return to visit, Yes.
Love, Hinda and Peter