Apr 4, 2013

An exercise in Cuban carelessness - Around Havana (Part 3)

In the morning, we meet Jose Raul, with whose help via email we rented van, our guide Osmel and some places to sleep. The funny thing about him is that when he recommends us something, he always uses the construction why, because – for example, It’s nice to rent that van why, because it has more space. We agree upon our plan for the next days and go to the Plaza de la Revolucion, where is situated a monument of Jose Marti. We meet the guy for the first time and understand that he was a national hero, poet and journalist, who died in his first battle. What a revolutionary! (If I am to become one, I will most probably get killed in my first fight, as well.)
The Jose Marti's memorial most probably offers splendid view of the city from the top (but we couldn't enjoy it why, because the lift wasn't working).

Among the landmarks on and around the square is the steel portrait of Che, situated on one of the near buildings. One or two years after our visit, the government or rather the people of Cuba erected a similar steel portrait of another revolutionary hero – Camilo Cienfuegos.
According to our guide Osmel or to our Rough Guide, I don't remember which one, the materials for Che's monument are donated by the French in 1993. Fact. Unconfirmed.

Around are situated most of the ministries, whose communist architectural style stands out against all colonial buildings and not in a positive manner. 
Blue, white, green
Between the blue and green, most of the buildings in Havana are white, or at least those who aren't moldy.
The Cubans don't have a word for traffic jam
The boulevards in this part of Havana have 3-4 lanes, but there isn't a single moving car, just some antiques, which no one knows how are still moving. 
United colors of Havana
The strong Cuban sun dries a random string of United colors of Havana.
Various means of transport

We go to La Habana Vieja, the historical part of the city, and visit the museum of rum and the distillery Habana Club.
The museum of rum
For those who had too many fiery drinks
A model of rum distillery

The museum guide speaks English, but with such an accent that you need to know French to understand him. He explains to us about a strong alcohol that is distilled in the beginning of the process, and although we don't get the name in French-English, we look at each other clearly – a strong brandy (we have a specific word in Bulgarian, which sounds funny – Parvak). At the end of the tour we sample a 7+ years old rum and although we drink only 10-20 ml, when combined with our hunger, many of us feel as winners (you know, when you are being carried on hands …). After that we go to the inside court of the museum and those of us, who order the unknown Cuban cocktail guarapo (equal parts of freshly squeezed sugar-cane, rum and orange juice) – win, and the rest, who bet on the local Cuba Libre – loose.
The magical guarapo

Before going out of the museum, I decide to support the Cuban entrepreneurship and take some photos of an elderly woman and her daughter, who sit at the bar, for one peso convertible (the currency intended for the tourists).
Un peso, por favor

We are hungry and Osmel surprises us with his choice of place – a pizza and pasta place in Havana's Chinatown. Barrio chino is established in the middle of 19th century with the arrival of Chinese workers, who are to replace the African slaves at the sugar plantations. On the streets we come across the eighth wonder of the world – a six-door Jiguli. You haven't seen anything similar, elsewhere.
One, two, three … six doors
The wonder of the Cuban auto industry
A window in Chinatown
Basking in the sun, Confucius explains the world to Winnie the Pooh or maybe it's the other way around.

At dusk, we set out to the statue of Jesus, which is on the other side of the port and offers a magnificent view of the old city. We start a conversation with a Cuban guy, former teacher, who explains to us the story of the monument and even dances with the female part of the group. The chat with the guy is pleasant, he does not intrude like the usual "un peso, por favor". The enthusiasm that has embraced us that we are here, in Cuba, has turned now into a feeling of total satisfaction, a feeling that at this very moment we don't need anything more than what we've got. That's how I imagine being in a state of nirvana.
Evening nirvana 1
Evening nirvana 2

After the spiritual elevation at the hill, comes the turn of the material – we go to change some money and to see the cosmopolitan Hotel Nacional. Opened in the 1930's, it is situated above the sea-side Malekon and offers a magnificent view of the Havana bay. In Dec. 1946, it hosted a famous mafia gathering, which was later included in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather II. In its heyday, the hotel's casino led by suspicious gentlemen generated almost as much money as the largest casinos in Las Vegas.
The garden of Hotel Nacional 1
The garden of Hotel Nacional 2
One of the guardians of Havana and Hotel Nacional

On the way to our casa particular, we witness a comic road accident, caused by a police car. The driver of the patrol releases the brakes at a green light and as the road is sloped, the police car hits the next one, after which drives forward as nothing has happened. 

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