Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Around Town in Havana

In every city there is bound to be some sort of tour guide activity, giving visitors a glimpse of the town in a condensed amount of time. New York has their "hop on, hop off" buses, London has the double decker bus tours, even Seattle has it's Ride the Duck tours. In Havana you get a horse and buggy. They are everywhere, they all look the same. The guides call out to you offering their services. How were we going to pick just one? How would we decide who was going to get our $30CUC (split between 6 of us).

 "there they are, how do we choose?"

Woman tour manager: "Hello friends, take a tour around Havana?"
Forest: "Ummm, maybe. We're not sure."
Woman tour manager: "Look, I know you don't want to but come on."

How can you resist this type of salesmanship? We couldn't and so the 6 of us piled into a buggy driven by Wilfred for a little tour and some history about Havana.


We actually did this on our groups first day together, it was a really good way to get the layout of the city, see some of the monuments and learn a bit of history. We rode past the Museo de la Revolution with it's outdoor exhibit of the Granma, surrounded by vehicles used and planes shot down during the revolution. 

From here we rode along the waterfront to the beautiful Plaza de la Catedral. Cubans dressed in traditional costume pose for (paid) pictures, music fills the square. The large Catedral de San Cristobal de la Havana sits on one side, once the resting place for the remains of Christopher Columbus!


Next stop was the Plaza de Armas. This is Havana's oldest square, originally laid out in the 1520's. There is a huge used book market set up daily in the center; magazines, books, post cards and programs bring back memories of the years before the embargo and of course the Revolution.

The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is also in the square. Built in 1558 it's the oldest existing fort in the America's complete with draw bridge, a moat and cannons!

On to the small Plaza de San Francisco de Asis with its beautiful fountain where we witnessed a girl having photos taken of her on her quinceañera, this is a traditional "debut" of sorts as the girl is now considered mature and will be permitted to marry in the next year (at 16).

With all this bumping around in the carriage we were very happy about our next stop, the Havana Club Rum Museum. Complete with salsa band and mojitos there are little exhibits set up explaining the process of making rum and the history of it.

It wasn't the best mojito we had but it gave us a chance to buy Wilfred a drink and hear more about his life. When I naively asked him where he might want to travel to he looked at me like a child and replied "this is a communist country, we are not allowed to travel anywhere". Being the beginning of our time in Cuba I hadn't learned about all these rules and felt ignorant of my knowledge of their life but Wilfred was very kind and continued to answer our questions both over the rum and back in the carriage.

We continued on our tour, past the main train station where we saw the incredibly old trains still running on the tracks built in the early 1900's. In fact Cuba was the sixth country in the world to have a railway, not much looks like it has changed including the Hershey Train which still runs today!

As a side note, transportation is looked upon as a bit of a joke in Cuba. Forest and I watched the movie "The Waiting List" (Lista de Espera) which is a very cute comedy outlining transit issues. Check it out if you're interested.

Past Parque de la Fraternidad with it's busts of Latin and North American leaders (including Lincoln) , the cigar factory (which unfortunately was closed for the holidays) and China Town (who knew?) we finished up our tour at the Parque Central Hotel where of course we went in for a cocktail. Of course!

Many thanks to fellow traveler Tim as most of the photos in this post are his. We had some technical difficulties and lost most of our photos from the first 4 days due to a bad thumb drive. Thanks Tim!

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