Top Ten things I love about Havana Cuba

It would be a much shorter list to write down what I don’t love about Havana (ATMs don’t work?), but what’s the point of that when there is so much to love? Of course, in addition to this list, there is another underlying pleasure of being in Havana, and it’s that feeling of being naughty, of being somewhere I am not allowed to be. Even though it is legal for me to be here, it isn’t for a lot of people, so it does feel like a form of protest just being here. Which just adds to all the other pleasures, which include:

Havana, Cuba, music
Havana, Cuba, music
  1. Walking along the Malecon in the daytime. The Malecon is the wide path running along the seawall around the huge sweep of bay in central Havana. On a hot sunny weekend I am amazed at the number of families at the beach, swimming, sunbathing on rocks, having picnic lunches. There are cyclists going up and down; there are people fishing for their dinner off the wall; there are couples cuddling on the wall; there are musicians playing the sax, drums, guitars, along the Malecon; it feels like the heart and soul of daily Havana is laid out for me to stroll past.
  2. Walking along the Malecon at night. I find this just as interesting as during the day time. Now there are more couples promenading, more groups of teenagers hanging out with their friends. There is a huge curved vista of the lit up city at night spread out in front of me, and there are more tourists out and about as well.

    Havana, Cuba, The Malecon
    Havana, Cuba, The Malecon
  3. Strawberry and Choc Chip icecream. Actually this is a Cuba-wide obsession of mine, they do some fine icecream, and the Coppelia in Havana is particularly intriguing, looking more like a spaceship than an ice cream parlour.
  4. Queueing for up to two hours for meals. This may not sound like a good thing, but it’s a sure sign that I am going to eat in one of the more popular paladars. We spent one and a half hours one lunchtime queueing on the street, in direct blazing sun, to get into a restaurant up three floors of rickety staircase, but it turned out to be worth it. One night we queued outside a paladar for over two hours and got dinner at around 10.30. But we got to sit in the garden down the side of the house while we waited, and drunk our way though so many Rum Collins that I have no idea what we eventually had for dinner, but we did have a fun night. And lets face it, queueing for food is a fairly good way of getting a small insight into what the locals have had to deal with for decades.
  5. Hiring a bright pink Cadillac convertible for a sightseeing drive. Getting driven around the embassy district and Revolution Square in a vibrantly painted 1950’s pink convertible has the added bonus of turning us into a tourist attraction too. Other visitors unlucky enough to not be in one of these cars are busy snapping us and our car as we cruise slowly by. Its even more fun when we add a few hats and hairscarves to channel the appropriate period. At the same time  we get to explore the embassy district, where the palatial houses of the richest families before the revolution have since become embassies of Cuba’s allies, some restored to their former glory, some still falling apart depending on the wealth of the nation represented. It seems mildly inappropriate arriving this way in Revolution Square, huge enough to accommodate those massive Castro rallies, surrounded by the starkly serious architecture of the revolutionary government, and the gigantic iconic outline of Che on the side of one of the government buildings.

    Havana, Cuba, car
    Havana, Cuba, car
  6. How many of the beautiful buildings have been restored and how many haven’t. There has been a huge amount of restoration work in Havana, especially the heritage protected Old Havana, which enables the buildings to glow in all their former pastel glory. And there are equally as many buildings just a few blocks away that are run down and on their last legs, a faded shadow of their former selves. For me this helps prevent the centre of Havana from becoming a theme park to its former self. The government is actively bribing citizens back into the restored heart of Old Havana to try and make sure it doesn’t become a sterile shell for visitors, that it remains a neighbourhood. It makes it fascinating to go walking, zigzagging through these streets, around every corner is a different type of view.
  7. The perfect snacks: the cold chocolate milkshake at the Museo del Chocolate; the mojito in La Bodeguita del medio, claimed as its birthplace by Hemingway; the perfect expresso at Cafe Escorial in Plaza Vieja.

    Havana, Cuba, mojito
    Havana, Cuba, mojito
  8. The Tropicana Show. Once upon a time, before the revolution, Havana was the original Vegas – it attracted the stars, the parties,the gambling, the corruption, the crime. And its centrepiece was the Tropicana Show, the original showgirl routines that Nevada has since built an entire industry on. It somehow has survived the decades of revolution and blockade, and the growth in tourism to Cuba has seen it regain some of its original lustre. Its pricy but we still wanted to go, its a little window back in time to a lifestyle that no longer exists. The Tropicana is a large open air amphitheatre under the stars and the trees, perfect for evenings basking in the sultry cuban heat. Tables are arranged in circular tiers around the stage so that everyone gets a view. There are really big production numbers with showgirls and guys, contortonists, aerial and high wire performers and strongman acrobats. And for a show based around displaying lots of naked flesh, it seems free from any sleaze. This may be partly because it was easy to, literally, see the frayed edges of the show. The costumes were obviously originally very elaborate, and just like the old 50’s cars, appear to have been held together with string and wire for the last few decades. The dancers shoes are permanently scuffed, the metallic paint worn off the edges. The dancers all wear “nude” coloured bodysuits, to give the impression they were completely naked except for the strategically placed nipple rosettes and g-strings. Once upon a time I guess these suits were made specifically for each dancer and matched their skin tones. However the Cuban population has skin tones varying from the blackest black to the whitest white, so it is definitely not a “one flesh coloured body suit fits all” kind of environment. Now the dancers and body suits are often mismatched – dark brown “flesh” on a pale girl, a pale cream on a darker girl, which if nothing else does give quite a homely quality to the pretend nudity.
  9. La Torre Bar – cocktails and views for sunset. On the top floor of a 36 floor building, with floor to ceiling glass windows, this bar is the place to come, sit back, sip a cocktail and watch the sun set over all Havana. Of course the drinks are overpriced, but it is the best view in town. Its part of the famous La Torre restaurant, reputedly so ridiculously expensive it makes the bar look cheap, but we don’t bother finding out, it is back to the paladar for us.
  10. Wandering the Old Town, between Plaza Viejo and Plaza Cathedral before 11am. In this small area of Old Havana, there are dozens of tiny cobblestoned streets to explore, opening onto many hidden and not so hidden squares. The buildings hide a huge variety to explore, everything from an armoury which still sells guns to the public, to a cigar shop which is one big humidor and has its own bar inside, to the Museo de Chocolate, to so many art galleries that I lose count. Up until about 11 in the morning I pretty much have it to myself, then it fills up quickly and is crowded for the rest of the day, just in time for me to retire to a rooftop bar for a refreshing mojito. So get up early and  get to enjoy it both ways.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.