Our flight from
Our casa particular
is on the eleventh floor of a high-rise building.
Like most buildings in
It is quite late by the time we reach the apartment and there is little to be seen from our eleventh floor window. Electricity is scarce and there are few city lights. Early in the morning, we awake to a cacophony of roosters greeting the approaching dawn. We think this a bit startling in the centre of a capital city Just at first light, we peer out of the window and what an enchanting sight it is: low-rise Spanish colonial buildings with red tile roofs and internal courtyards; wide boulevards lined with trees. All around the city the sea gleams in the rising sun. The soft light of dawn is kind to the crumbling, sometimes decrepit, buildings. We hurry to go out and explore this fascinating city.
We spend the next two days tramping around
looking at the beautiful old buildings and, of course, the beautiful old
cars. We knew that there are
lots of pre-1960 American cars in
Our walking tour of the city takes us to Habana
Vieja, the oldest quarter of the city, which originally was enclosed
within walls. We see the bar
where Ernest Hemingway reputedly passed a lot of his time but we forgo
standing in line with all the tourists to have a mojito
in his memory.
People on the streets offer to provide us with various
services, but like all Cubans, they are polite and if you say: No,
Gracias!", they go away.
Lazaro, a charming fellow, offers to take us to a place to have
lunch and since we are hungry, we agree.
He leads us several blocks off the main street, into a working
class, residential quarter, to a paladar,
a small restaurant located in a private home.
We eat many meals in such paladares
and they are always excellent. After
the meal, Lazaro insists we come with him to visit his home.
It turns out that his real objective is to sell us some fine Cuban
cigars. We dont buy
any, but it is very interesting to see how people live.
We climb a narrow staircase to what was once an elegant second-floor
apartment. Spacious rooms
surround a large central landing. The ground floor is occupied by a business
and likely, in more prosperous times, the shopkeeper and his family lived
above. Lazaro and his family live in ONE of these rooms.
I ask him how many families live in what once was a single apartment
and he says: Five. SIX!
shouts a womans voice from one of the other rooms.
Life has always been a struggle for Cuban people but when the
In the evening, after a reinvigorating siesta, we set
out to see what
A personable young fellow offers to show us a place to
have dinner. He leads us to
a paladar in a beautifully-restored
old villa. At our invitation,
Yulio joins us for dinner, as we find his company quite charming.
He has a University education, as do most Cubans, and he is a professional
musician. He also speaks better
English than many. His official
monthly salary amounts to the equivalent of US$10.
Little wonder that he tries to make a few dollars by offering his
services to tourists. In
At the end of the evening, Yulio, who appears to be enjoying
our company as much as we are enjoying his, invites us to visit his home
the next day. He is having
a birthday party for his mother and he urges us to come and meet his family
and friends. We take a cab about five miles into a poor, working-class
part of the city called the Tenth of October District.
The cab driver gets lost twice but we finally find Yulios
house on a narrow side street. We
spend the entire day at the birthday party.
People come and go. We sit on the front porch and drink beer (and
some excellent rum). We meet
Yulios parents and the members of his band.
We eat a huge meal and we have a great time! Yulios mother
(53) was a soldier in the Cuban army, posted to
We are sure there are many more stories to be told, but our primitive Spanish can only manage so much