After checking the weather and our guide, Fabienne (firstname.lastname@example.org) on Friday morning we set off for Havana, the events of the earthquake and family/friends concerned (whilst we slept) was thoughtful. The forecast was some rain scheduled for the weekend but nothing much more at that point in time, and as with all storms you are in way at the mercy of mother nature.
We had just got about 500ft off the ground when Noema was hit with a stomach bug and vomiting so the 11/2 hr flight for her was bloody awful. We have been so careful with food and hygiene so assumed it was a left over effect from the anaphylactic bout that she had at the weekend. Landing was interesting as all the locals clapped to give the pilot and crew an ovation. Hope this wasn’t a sign of things to come. Weather on arrival was sunny and humid but nothing of the impending hurricane.
Fabienne greeted us at the airport and after money conversion (take C$ or Euro) we headed off to old Havana where we were to be domiciled. As Noema was still feeling pretty seedy she managed a sleep to regenerate. So after a few hours she was well enough to partake in a short stroll around the local streets to get some air. Our accomodation took us back in memories to the time we were in Cyprus although Cyprus was much more up to date. Still very clean and the hosts were pleasant even with the language barrier. Saturday morning we awoke to no power slightly cloudy but still pleasant. We spoke with Fabienne who said that the government issued a edict to remain in your local area (so we thought). About 6.00PM the power went off and with the humid conditions it was going to be an interesting night. And another phone call from Fabienne advising that the storm wold hit that night and that we should stay put!!!!
The winds got up in the evening but both Noema and I thought that we have encountered stronger conditions in Brisbane and Sidney………little did we know.
On the Sunday we were again informed that nothing had changed and to stay put. Still without power and as humid as anything. Later in the day we again ventured out and bumped into a local who had Rastafarian dreadlocks and spoke very good English. He explained that the concern wasn’t the weather but rather the state of the buildings in old Havana being a state of disrepair. It was safer to walk in the middle of the street to avoid the falling debris. The photo depict that problem. More on this gentleman later. On the Monday we were starting to get a little stir crazy with nothing to do (still no power) and all the reading material had been exhausted (more than once). Noema even forced me into games of Hangman!!!!! Later in the day we went for another walk and did see some storm damage with the locals cleaning up as best they could. We walked into the local square where one of the cafe’s were serving locals and we were fortunate that after a short wait of half an hour we sat down to a beautifully prepared meal. Even with no electricity the locals managed to shine, our waiter brought us a couple of beers and proceeded to apologise that he could not produces glasses to bring from which made me feel very humble as to what we take for granted in life.
Tuesday the power came back on and even though we were still limited as to where we could travel (and that nothing was really open) we toured the sites on an horse drawn carriage for a couple of hours and I finally managed a bit of photography. On returning to our rooms another message for Fabienne to say that tomorrow (last day) we could do some real exploring and even get to the major cigar growing area. We also managed to finally get to see the Buena Vista Social Club which we had both been gnashing at the bit to see and hear. What a night it was. The warmup quartet did a range of music that was a bit like classical drawing room meets Jazz and Latino. Then the main event, my words cannot describe adequately what a spectacular it was, although a lot of the troupe were aged to was still unbelievable to see. Imagine our surprise when one of the supporting acts to the music and singing was a dance duo….(the Rastafarian dreadlocked gentleman was the male partner and what a mover). One of the singers was introduced and both Noema and I thought he wasn’t going to be able to walk to the front of the stage (look like he needed a zimmer frame) however what a voice. He must have been in his 80’s but a clarity and grace to shine. At 11.00 after Noema’s dancing and enjoyment we headed back to bed with a thunder storm looming we were lucky to get back dry.
Well Wednesday came and Fabienne picked us up early and off we set to go to the Valle de Vinales (the cigar area) but first we needed petrol……and so did the whole of Cuba. Eventually we found some and headed off to our destination only to be told by the Police that it was not possible and there was still heavy restrictions. So plan B was to what we could in the area. An interesting side trip was to Jaimanitas, a neighbourhood in northwest Havana, where the homes and the gates that surround them are covered entirely by mosaic tile. These ordinary homes began to be transformed into works of art three decades ago when artist Jose Fuster took up residence and opened his studio in the community. His own home is a mosaic wonderland with small colourful tiles adorning fountains, stairs, rooftops, benches and every other surface., from there We visited José Martí Memorial in the square (this is normally lit at night with another building Che Guevara) managed to get some birds flying through the glass (unfortunately) that looked like vultures. From there we headed to Parque Almendares (photo of group) and started to see the damage done earlier in the week. Stopped and had a meal before heading to the Malecon, Habana. This is where we saw what we had been fortunate to miss with the Hurricane, this esplanade was an area that people drowned in with water that was up to the second storey in parts. There was still no power here (above ground wires destroyed) and on most of the street corners was government soup kitchens making sure the local residents were at least given a warm meal…… I stopped to take a couple of photos but was soon ushered on (politely) by the army/police. It was still a pleasure to manage to photograph some of the old American cars and some interesting bikes. The next day in a sombre mood we headed off to the airport and back to Mexico for the evening.
Did we enjoy Havana….you bet we did, I have no fear that we both will come back to visit this land and people that we saw so little of,
Thank you Cuba and the people for showing warmth in adversity.
Cars of Havana