A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day #1 Part #1: First Impression !
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.
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