The first post for day 2 is heavy dose for those not interested in politics or history of Cuba, though that will remain my favourite Travelog on Havana.
We did have some fun trip too in the latter half of the day. Since we were to ride in luxury vintage cars, I chose to dress desi. Being a #DesiToTheCore, it couldn’t have been otherwise.
You can take a desi out of South Asia, but not her pride for desiness from her. It certainly doesn’t mean one doesn’t love and appreciate other cultures too.
All cultures are beautiful including ours. So I wore kurta with Sindhi embroidery, a Khussa from Jaipur and a Kasmiri embroidered sling bag. Ismail remarked, “Shukr hai Ammi you didn’t choose a saree.” Well he has no clue, that might happen one day too. We took a 3 hour Havana city ride in the Pink Cadillac ( as the driver called it). It was fun and loads of new experiences too.
We went to the favorite bars Earnest Hemingway visited, his famous fishing site, Earnest Hemingway, my favourite author, merits a separate blog, so won’t share those details here. Fraternity Park which has a statue to Rabindranath Tagore:
John Lennon Park: Sharing the bench and having a tete a tete with John Lennon.
I asked him, “How’s Fasih doing up there? Hope not just chasing 72k hooris only?” He replied, “No. He is a good boy. Ever since he came, all he’s been advising people is dont drink too much.. Even if its free here, alcohol will destroy your liver.” Me: “So what does he do most of the time.” Lemnon: “Oh he hangs out mostly with his doctor friends, who too died of COVID and then there is this old bearded guy from Pakistan who he sits and chat with. I think they call him Edhi Sb.” Me: “Thank you John. You are the best.”
Fidel Castro liked John Lennon and Beatles music is popular in Cuba. Hence he sits in a bronze statue in a park. Some ardent fan of his has stolen his glasses though.
And the revolution Square:
We visited the Jesus statue across the bay. We also visited and saw the interior s of Hotel Nacional which was built in 1930 and has been preserved in the same state till now.
And finally a visit to the other side of the bay to meet the Jesus statue:
n this fun trip and for the love of luxury cars Fasih was badly missed. Sigh !
(What I am narrating is the story I have heard from multiple Cubans. If only the stories were ever told by the lions and not hunters, they would tell a different story). Disclaimer: I am no student of history. I am just a storyteller.
Cuba was first exposed to an outside invasion when Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492. This led to Spain colonize Cuba and they appointed Spanish governor generals in Habana. A few failed attempts by different Cubans, including Maximo Gomez in 18th century led to loss of thousands of Cuban lives but not independence. Then in 1898, Spanish-American war drove the Spaniards out of Cuba while US thought they had the moral right to control Cuba.
However in 1902, in just 3 and a half years, Cuba finally gained independence. Post independence the Cuban Republic saw good economic growth but slowly fell into the trap of greedy and corrupt leadership. Last of whom was Military General Flugencio Batista. He ruled from 1940 to 1944. And was them ousted due to corruption. However since he was an US ally, the CIA reinstated him again as a dictator in a military Coup against Scarres 1952. He suspended the 1940 constitution and civil liberties and rights of Cubans to strike or protest.
This irked a young lawyer, Fidel Castro barely 24, and he led protests but since constitution and all rights were suspended, Fidel Castro snd his brother Raul Castro were sent to prison in 1953. However since theirs was a popular protest, Batista was forced to release them and they both left Cuba to Mexico to plan an armed struggle against the dictator.
In Mexico, they were joined by other revolutionaries including Argentine Che Guevara, recieved military training to plan a revolution in Cuba. In November 1956, Fidel and 82 other revolutionaries sailed from Mexico on a cool yatch( yes yes ) called Granma Yacht to land in Cuba. After a lot of travails and tribulations like sea sickness, lack of supplies, leaking overloaded yatch( it could only house 12 people ideally) they landed in Niquero. This is the same place their hero and poet Jose Marti had chose to land almost 60 years before them. The landing instantly did not lead to their success and many of their companions from the yatch were killed by Batista forces. As fate would have it, only 20 out of 82, including Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos survived and disappeared in the jungles. They then reorganized themselves to continue their guerilla war.
To cut story short, the struggle that started on 26 July 1953 ended in success on Dec 1 1959- 5years snd 5 months later. Batista was ousted and revolutionary govt lead by Fidel Castro was established. Most rich corrupt Cubans fled to Florida. The granma yatch was brought as a mark of revolution to Havana. Ofcourse US was pissed off and it put an embargo against Cuba in 1960 for goods except food and medicines. That embargo was extended to ALL GOODS in 1962.it remains till date. As if this was not all. In 1961 the CIA in coalition with rich corrupt Cubans who had fled to US after Batista was removed planned an air attack on Cuba. Americans concocted the story that these were Cuban pilots who has planned mutiny against Fidel regime. But smart journalists in Miami during a JFK pressor asked hard questions and proved this was not a revolt by Cubans but an attack led by the Americans. So JFK smartly withdrew his story. An American fighter pilot Rudolf Anderson died as his plane B-24 bomber was shot down by Cubans. But since JFK was telling a false story of Cuban revolt, Americans never admitted to his death. As a result his body remained in Cuba for 19 years until in 1979 it was returned to his widow Jane.
The wreckage of his plane is in display in the Museum of Revolution in Habana, along with Granma Yatcht, that we saw today.There is another interesting story I heard today.
In 1962 when the US embargo was total Che Guevara asked Fidel Castro, “how long do you think this will go on?” Fidel replied, “Until US has a Black President and Rome has a Latino Pope.” Our Cadillac driver told us, “His prophesy was proven when Pope Francis ( an Argemtinian) visited in 2015 and he worked to get President Barack Obama to visit Cuba in 20q6. That was the best Cuba-US relations have been. But then rich Cubans in Florida worked to get Trump.in power and relations are back to old state.”
2 years after the revolution, Che Guevara left Cuba to work for revolution in Angola and Columbia. He died in Columbia.
The pictures below are from Museum of Revolution. If interested in details do read the plaques too.
Cuba’s second language is Spanish. Yes. You read it right !
First language of Cubans is music. They speak music, they walk music, they breath music, they live music. If you have any doubts, you need to visit Cuba. Every few hundred meters, just as you find Tim Hortons in Canada, you will find music bands in Havana. Cuban music is influenced by European and African music mostly brought along by people from Spain as conquerors and West Africans as slaves. Am no technical expert on music so i quote from elsewhere:
“SHORT HISTORY OF CUBAN MUSIC: The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves brought to the island. Cabildos preserved African cultural traditions, even after the Emancipation in 1886 forced them to unite with the Roman Catholic church. At the same time, a religion called Santería was developing and had soon spread throughout Cuba, Haiti and other nearby islands. Santería influenced Cuba’s music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion. Each orisha, or deity, is associated with colors, emotions, Roman Catholic saints and drum patterns called toques. By the 20th century, elements of Santería music had appeared in popular and folk forms. Cuban music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica. Reciprocally, Cuban music has been immensely influential in other countries, contributing not only to the development of jazz and salsa, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish “nuevo flamenco”. FOLK MUSIC: The natives of Cuba were the Taíno, Arawak and Ciboney people, known for a style of music called areito. Large numbers of African slaves and European immigrants brought their own forms of music to the island. European dances and folk musics included zapateo, fandango, zampado, retambico and canción. Later, northern European forms like waltz, minuet, gavotte and mazurka appeared among urban whites.Fernando Ortíz, a Cuban folklorist, described Cuba’s musical innovations as arising from the interplay between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms, the most important instruments being the clave, the congas and batá drums. Chinese immigrants have contributed the cornetín chino (“Chinese cornet”), a Chinese wind instrument still played in the comparsas, or carnival groups, of Santiago of Cuba.”
Below are two beautiful videos I have recorded from live performance by an all girl band in the hotel we are staying. Its absolutely phenomenal.
A city and a country frozen in time. It jaw-droppingly transports you back to times your weren’t even born…in the 1950s and at places to even 400 years back. And leaves you stunned and mesmerized at the same time.
What a marvelous kaleidoscope of colors Havana, Cuba is in every sense of the word- from people to places to music to artwork to landscapes, to cuisine.
My first impression is of two Havanas- one for the tourists and the other for the local Cubans. The tourist areas mainly in the City centre are pristine, chic and modern. The old colonial and baroque buildings that now house museums, and some hotels have been restored to their fullest glory.
In aesthetics and class they beat any North American city. The residential quarters which mostly have the influence of French and Spanish architecture even in their derelict state leave you awestruck. With their receding glamour they still stand tall with beauty and grace, as if patiently awaiting for good times to restore them to their old glory. Most of these old quarters of Havana have been declared a Heritage site by UNESCO, so are being slowly preserved and looked after. Thankfully.
What matches beautifully with these colonial architecture are the vintage cars from 50s and earlier. That was the time of prosperity in Cuba when these cars were imported in large numbers. Once embargoes pushed them against the walls, little or no new cars can be 9mported. There are Dodges, Cadillacs, Chryslers, Buick, Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagen and even Ladas(from Russia) from yesteryears plying on the road. Lada mostly used as personal vehicle by above average locals, I am told, is a status symbol for their, and their spare parts are imported from Russia and Panama.
Like the tourist-local divide in buildings, the old luxury cars have also been either refurbished and repainted into bright neon colors to cater to the tourists, while the austere Ladas or Volkswagens remain in old form, and used by locals for personal use.
Damned are these embargoes by the US and the Western countries, that Cubans remains stuck in mid 20th C with economic challenges. What these wretched imperialist bullies could not put an embargo on is the zest for life and happiness of ordinary Cubans. No Cuban child has delayed their childhood, waiting to play with American brand of plastic toys ‘Made in China’. LOL. Their playfulness finds simple, yet creative ways to make the best of their childhood. No Cuban youth have waited to for flashing brand new Lexus, Toyotas, Mercedes Benz or even Hyundais to impress their prospective girlfriends and take them ‘for a ride’- both in letter and in spirit. Their old, 1950 models Volkswagen or Ladas, are enough to do the job. No Cuban lover has waited for good economic times to take his beloved for a date in Western chain of restaurants (LOL), nor has a single one of them waited for deeper pockets to propose to their girlfriend with a DeBeers Diamond ring or gift her with an exotic Herme’s Birkin or a Prada handbag. No Cuban woman has waited for Chanel or MAC cosmetics to make themselves look pretty (LOL). They still manage to carry themselves gorgeously, with minimal resources. I personally found every single young Cuban woman very well groomed and stylish. No Cuban foodie has awaited franchises like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFCs LOL to load themselves with massive calories from comfort fast foods or colas. Their own cuisine is exotic and authentic enough to not miss these useless calorie bombs that we in rest of the world have got hooked on to happily. The obesity in youngsters here is hardly visible(though am not sure of stats). Just second day here, and we have enjoyed their seafood especially Shrimp caserrole, local black bread, Cuban coffee, guarapo( sugarcane juice) and Cuban ice cream. Since we don’t eat Pork, our choices remain limited. Locally produced Bacardis flow in abundance almost every few hundred meters.
Cubans are welcoming and warm. I am sure it is far more than just because they are a tourist economy. Not one single request to take pictures or ask them questions was turned down. And for sure, they open their hearts if they come to know you are a Canadian. Couples walk hand in hand in the open streets, kiss more freely than Americans get free healthcare.
We walked into barber shop to click picture, made video of kids playing football, walked to a wine bar to watch live music. And we were received with smiles. Being pushed against the wall and isolated by the world does hurt ones self esteem. But they have learned to live with dignity despite all the isolation. Embargo has done zilch to the spirits of Cubans. Bravo these people with a heart larger that the size of their enemy country United States of America.
Contrary to the ignorant advices we got from those who never visited Cubs, it is an extremely safe place with only minor crimes that may impact the tourists.
We roam in day light and in the dark, and feel no major risk. Yet being a super cautious person, Ismail is making sure we stay in safe limits and keeping a check on, “Ammi don’t give out too much information in your interaction with locals.” My boy he is. Every moment here is beautiful, but Ismail and I often talk of how much Fasih would have enjoyed if he was with us too. May you be happy wherever you are, you are being badly missed Babloo. Missing my Fatima, Abdullah and Rahma too. This was just the first impression..
Lots more on Cuban history, revolution, cigars, their art, music, museums, Earnest Hemingway home, its exemplary healthcare, human stories, need to be explored and shared in days to come.