Cuba – vibrant, colourful, exotic, brash and unabashed, a fantastic trip of the expected and unexpected, full of laughs and a joy to the senses!
The biggest difficulty has been sorting my 900 photos and to present a selection which renders a complete picture of Cuba: its warmth, humanity, starkness and contrasts.
So this is only part 1 on Havana and part 2 will focus on touring the island.
Classic cars from pre Revolution days abound on the avenues, filled with tourists waving and filming like VIP’s, or sit patiently waiting the next client in a quiet elegance. Exteriors and interiors are exquisite; hand stitching on sumptuous leather, some complete with a bar, and gleaming bodies in brash colours. Gorgeous, even to a non car enthusiast like me, and the drive a definite highlight of our tour. To think they have continued to maintain, restore and repair these old carcasses, despite the embargo, demonstrates Cuban ingenuity, resourcefulness and patience.
We soar past beautiful buildings from colonial days, elegant monuments to heroes of the past in stylish piazzas, luscious parks, fortresses that protected the city and housed the gold, before cruising the Malecon – waterfront.
In the old centre, an afro/salsa beat draws me along streets and past characters in colourful garb who pose or waylay tourists for a fee.
The air is full of energy and the place chaotic, where locals continue their lives amidst tourists squatting at a wifi hot spot or queuing for a bank, while they shop on the street, queue outside the pharmacy or pick up their monthly ration quota.
In stark contrast to the elegant Colonial buildings, everyday housing is dilapidated although our various Case particolares – homestays, were comfortable, clean and gave a little insight into what lay beyond the crumbling facades.
Amidst the chaos is the impressive University building, with a mix of old and new architecture and likewise the Contemporary Cuban Art Gallery housing a sophisticated selection of superb art works, rather unexpected. The Cuban Classical ballet Company entertained us with a performance of The Nutcracker in the glorious Grand Theatre and we left spellbound by the atmosphere and costumes.
A testimony to the investment made in Health, Education and Culture during the Revolution, on which the country continues to survive by exporting its scientific expertise to Latin America and Africa. Over 30,000 Doctors in Venezuela still today.
Tourism obviously remains the second major income for Cuba with over 3million tourists per year and cruise ships were seen regularly in various ports. And while many have the idea Cuba will change in the post Castro era, so best to be seen now, my impression is that it will take years! So you still have plenty of time yet!
The music will still be playing, the facades still crumbling and the classic cars still cruising. There may be more Coco taxis to take tourists around town, a cute recycled coconut chassis with a motorbike motor and 3 wheels as tourists seek cheaper options, while locals use the bicycle rickshaw.
I continue to savour memories of my coconut ice and churrito snack as I lapped up the sunshine before returning home to below zero temperatures in Italy.
Part 2 Cuba on tour to follow……