03.03.2015 - 05.03.2015 30 °C
It is difficult to describe my first impression, our taxi is a 25 year old Lada, outside the architecture is very square, very grey and very bleak, although I have never been to Russia, it is how I imaged it would have been years ago. The lorries we pass by are from the 60s. As it says in the tourist books, it is as Fidel Castro pressed stop on the evolution button in the 60s and that is where they have stayed. There are a few modern cars too but not very many other than rental cars.
There is no advertising here, the only billboards we see along the road are pictures of a young Fidel Castro or Che Guevara with socialist slogans and reminders of the revolution and how good it is for the people.
As we approach the centre, we see all the old american cars which Habana is so famous for (although they are all over the country). Some look well restored and maintained but most show their age and contribute to the heavy pollution along with the old trucks and buses which cough out a lot of black smoke.
After checking in at the hostel and despite our lack of sleep, we decide to look around the old city centre and jump on the hop on/hop off bus which is a good way to get your bearings in a new place.
Havana is a fascinating city with some beautifully restored colonial buildings and hotels along with derelict houses, some of which are still occupied, and others just rubbles. Everyone lives in the streets and sells their wares in the streets, mostly by shouting out what they are selling. Here you have to queue for everything, the bank, the market, the shops. At the market we see long queues of local people who come to see what they can get for the day as not everything is available. The non-tourist shop windows are almost bare and every shop seem to sell everything they have been able to source so there isn't a clothes shop, a shoe shop etc. We walked into a large shop and it had ventilators, shoes, alcohol, a few kids clothes, toilet paper, some juicers, just all sorts of random supplies which they have been to get.
Many roads are in a terrible condition with holes everywhere. The Malecon is Havana's 8km sea front which has the same mixture of crumbling colonial hotels, austere 60s building blocks and renovated colonial hotels. We are told that money from Canada and Europe are helping with the renovation of some of the buildings.
On my return to Habana for the last 2 days of my trip, I visited the 'Museo de la Revolution' which is located inside the old Presidential Palace. A very grand building where you can also see the old Presidential Office where Fidel Castro was assigned Prime Minister and Che Guevara was appointed President of the National Bank and also made a Cuban citizen. There is a large room 'the Hall of Mirrors' designed to resemble the Versailles one which is currently under renovation.
The museum itself is very interesting, if very one sided, giving a chronological account starting at pre-colonial time until the present day socialist regime. It ends with a satirical mural of Batista (the dictator president before the revolution), Reagan, Bush Sn and Bush Jn. In case you can't read the writing:
Next to Batista: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO MAKE THE REVOLUTION'
Next to Reagan: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO STRENGTHEN THE REVOLUTION'
Next to Bush Sn: 'Thank you cretin because you've helped us TO CONSOLIDATE OUR REVOLUTION'
Next to Bush Jn: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO MAKE SOCIALISM IRREVOCABLE'
Despite their hardship, the Cubans are lovely people full of life and real characters. Ladies on the main boulevard making crochet dresses, people selling their property with details written on a cardboard cutout.