I have always wanted to go to Cuba and its recent habit of relentlessly popping up in conversation, the media, books and magazines made it impossible to do anything but scratch the itch and book flights. In recent years there has been a real sense of getting to Cuba before it’s too late and before the ‘change’ and this panicked sense of urgency seems to have taken on a new lease of life since the inauguration of Trump. Whilst many (including many of the rebellious Cuban nationals) believe that Cuba will defy and resist rapid Westernisation and modernisation (after all, according to Elena Guevara, our jungle guide, the spirit of rebellion is ‘in their blood’) I wasn’t going to take the risk. To Cuba I went!
Frequent flyers will be used to winding back their watches on landing on the other side of the Atlantic but Havana requires more than just a new twists of a dial! A few decades in a nifty time machine would be required to do the trick. Cigar smoke swirled around the baggage hall and a 1957 Bel Air Chevy honked in the taxi rank.
Driving from the airport to our casa (homestay) we bumped around on the springy leather seats of our 1950s ride as the car cruised along the Malecón with Cuban music throbbing out of the enormous speakers that filled the majority of space in the boot. The warm evening air carried with it the smell of tobacco and oil and the blurred sounds of parties that buzzed and hummed from within the houses that lined the streets (all of which seemed to be in various states of disrepair and dilapidation).
Each morning in Havana started much the same- the sound of children chanting their times tables drifted through the wall that adjoined our casa and the school next door followed by a hearty breakfast of eggs, fruit, bread and cheese. The food in Cuba is notoriously bad so I went expecting the worst but the home-cooked food at Casa Prado Colonial was much better than expected. Pack some emergency rations though if you’re a fussy eater as supermarkets are incredibly hard to come by.
Our three days in Havana were largely spent wandering and exploring, taking in the unique atmosphere, music and extraordinary sights. Plaza Vieja was a particular favourite for people -watching and mojito drinking. Martial arts classes, kindergarten PE lessons, busking and street dancing provide non-stop entertainment. Double bases swamp their carriers as they’re taken through the square dodging frisbees and tourists as they go, locals swig on bottles of rum and bank clerks head home with the bank’s formerly-stray guard dogs in tow, each with their own ID badges and mug shots to keep the dog-snatchers at bay.
The streets of Havana are a riot of colour and music – each wall is painted a different fruity shade, parks burst with palms and the greenest of leaves and dancers from the school of ballet show off their salsa moves as the carnival floats pass through the narrow winding streets.
Feel free to explore…