Travels with V

Cuba

Revolution and decaying beauty

Havana part one

Cuba is changing fast, and it’s hard to predict the future for this remarkable island nation and its sturdy people. Political alliances with foreign countries, sometimes their only lifeline, have disintergrated more than once, leaving the Cuban people with meagre resources and starvation. Yet in most of them there is still a strong faith in the Revolution, a national pride and at the same time a yearning for living a normal modern life.  

After a long flight via Toronto, Canada, we land at last on José Martí, Havana’s international airport. It’s near midnight and we pass the immigration surprisingly quick and without problems. We carry our backpacks out into the hot night and accidentally fool the long taxi queue outside. We spot taxis some 100 meters away in the darkness under a couple of trees, and jog up to them. It’s turns out to be where taxi drivers take a break. One of them agrees to drive us, and we hear angry shouts behind us as we drive off.

We have booked a room in a “casa particular” in Havana’s old town, and it’s so central that we can see the dome of the Capitolio if we lean out the window. A casa particular is a private guesthouse, but this one is like a small hotel, as most of them are. And they are always clean and comfortable. You find them everywhere in Cuba.

After breakfast we set out to conquer Havana on foot. We have of course read lots about this historical city with its colonial style palaces and shining old yankee cars. But we are still surprised by some things. For example we realize that a western tourist can walk around here unharmed by beggars and trixters. The only people that try to sell us something are very old and harmless. There’s one exception, a man that looks very much like Fidel, offering to be photographed with us. But that’s mostly a bit funny.

Havana’s "hanging gardens”

Byggnaderna längs Havannas gator och torg är ofta fantastiskt vackra. Men många är dåligt underhållna och på sina ställen står bara fasaden kvar och hålls uppe av byggnadsställningar. De måste ha stått så ett bra tag för de är helt övervuxna av träd och buskar och ser mest ut som hängande trädgårdar. 

The buildings lining Havana’s streets and squares are often stunningly beautiful. But many are in very poor condition, partly abandoned and with floors open to rain and wind. Some quarters are just facades, supported by scaffolding. And have probably been like that for a long time, the scaffolding is totally overgrown with trees and bushes, looking like enormous hanging gardens.

Cuba’s political adversaries like to speak about repression and dictatorship. But to a visitor things don’t look that way. People are very friendly and clamorous in a latin way. They love music and dance and are extremely patriotic. We don’t see a lot of police in the streets, in fact hardly any at all. We speak freely with both those who are against the regime and those who defend it. And they speak to us without looking over their shoulder.

We like the green square Parque Central, with the statue of  the great hero (no, not Fidel) José Martí, and the Great Theater, a baroque cream cake dream dominates one side. And close to it Hotel La Inglaterra with a nice outdoor seating. Perfect for a coffee or beer, watching Havana everyday life pass by.

After that we head east through crowded streets to Plaza de la Cathedral, and the old San Cristobal de la Habana church, often just called “the cathedral”. Not a huge construction and a rather minimalistic interior as in most Cuban churches. But the square is lively. In the shadows two voluminous ladies preside with cigars the size of arms, and tell fortunes.

And in an alley near the cathedral square we by chance find the paladar Doña Eutimia, which is probably one of the city’s best eateries. A paladar is a private restaurant (as opposed to the state owned ones) and those are always the best options in this country. In the state owned restaurants the service is at best slow and the food eatable.

At Doña Eutimia all tables are occupied and we are seated at one that we share with two young men from Denmark. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky, the food and drinks are terrific, and we’re having a really good time. We have heard that Cuba is definitely no paradise for foodies, and right now that seems exaggerated. Soon we will see that the rumours are unfortunately true. But with some exceptions.

Two men approach us with guitar and maraccas. We ask them to play the old classic “Lagrimas Negras”, a sentimental tune. And they willingly do.

In the next chapter we meet the Swede that runs the hippest paladar in town. And learn all about the revolutionary hero that disappeared.

Five things not to be missed in Cuba:

  1. Best beach: Cayo Saetía. Though our driver said Cayo Santa Maria is the best, but we didn’t get to it this time. And no, Varadero is not our style.
  2. Best must-see: Viñales. Remarkable landscape, beautiful and magic. Caves with underground rivers, cigarmakers, lots of activities. And one of Cuba’s best paladars (see the blog!)
  3. Revolution memorials in Santa Clara. It’s a hot and dusty town but Tren Blindado and even more so the Che-mausoleum is impressive and tragic.
  4. Best food: Casa Sierra Maestra. Honestly not much of a competition. But Eva makes real Cuban farm cooking, which you won’t find in many places.
  5. Best bar hang out: Camila’s in Cienfuegos. Sip on a mojito and relax on the floatbridge by the excellent restaurant.

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Jag som gör den här resebloggen heter Lars Aldman och jag har tidigare jobbat som journalist mm på SR och SVT. Och "V" som jag reser med är min älskade hustru Veronica, journalist och fotograf.

Vår favoritsysselsättning är att resa runt i världen och se andra kulturer och samhällen. I flera år har vi äventyrat i Asien, Afrika och Latinamerika, och även naturligtvis i Europa. Och vi vill gärna dela med oss av våra erfarenheter och glädjeämnen, och hoppas att ni vill följa med oss!

PS. På sajten aldmangallery.com hittar ni mina bilder från både när och (mest) fjärran. Djur, natur, samhällen och människor.
Resebloggar finns det gott om men vi har en lite annan tanke med våra berättelser. Vi vill främst beskriva våra upplevelser av udda platser, människorna vi möter och miljöer som är rätt annorlunda mot vad vi möter hemma.

Därför hamnar vi ibland i avlägsna indianbyar i Guatemalas berg eller bland andetroende bybor på en ö i Indonesien. Men också på mer kända platser som Machu Picchu i Peru eller sandstränderna i Goa. Allt sett genom våra ögon och kameror.

Den som vill ha restips får också sitt - varje resmål har en avdelning med sånt vi kan rekommendera. Eller undvika. Vårt fokus är framför allt att sporra er läsare att göra som vi - resa rätt ut i den vida världen.

Jag heter Lars Aldman och har bl a jobbat som journalist mm på SR och SVT.  Och "V" som jag reser med är min älskade hustru Veronica, som också är journalist och fotograf. Vi älskar att resa och uppleva andra kulturer. I flera år har vi rest omkring i världens fyra hörn och vi vill gärna dela med oss av våra erfarenheter och glädjeämnen på dessa upptäcktsfärder. Hoppas ni vill följa med!

Hej!

Vår senaste resa gick till Albanien där vi under tre veckor upplevde detta okända men så spännande och vackra land. Från de hisnande höga bergen i norr, de gamla städerna och de djupa floddalarna i landets mitt, till de långa stränderna med sitt klara vatten i söder. Klicka på Albanien och läs om landets dramatiska historia och dess vänliga och gästfria invånare.

NYTT!

There's now a new addition to the blog, about our trip to Albania. During three weeks we traveled up and down this unknown but beautiful country. From the high mountains in the north to the ancient towns and the deep valleys inland, to the sandy beaches and the clear green water in the south. Click on Albania in the map and read about its dramatic history and kind and hospitable people.

NEW!
I'm Lars Aldman from Sweden. I worked for many years at the Swedish National TV and Radio, but now my main interest is traveling around the world with "V", my lovely wife Veronica, who is a freelance journalist and photographer.
For the last ten years we have traveled through Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. We love to experience different cultures and societies and we hope you'll join us!