Tuesday, 8:00 am
Yesterday part-bus and part-walking tour made for an excellent first day in Havana. Our guide, Felix, is a fount of information. So much information, in fact, that, interesting as it was, sometimes I just had to tune it out and enjoy what I was seeing.
I had no sense of the geography of Havana before yesterday. I vaguely understood that there is a harbor and port here, but that’s it. As it turns out, the harbor connects to the Caribbean by a narrow strait or canal. In 1958 a tunnel opened at the mouth of the canal connecting the city on the west with neighborhoods on the east. Before that, the only way across was to go around the harbor, a very long drive.
We started our day driving through the Túnel de La Habana to a neighborhood known as Casablanca, where we visited several forts and Cristo de La Habana, the local version of Rio de Janeiro’s more famous sculpture. The main attraction was the spectacular view of the harbor and the city.
From there we went to Old Havana and enjoyed a walking tour in this historic and very touristy neighborhood. Highlights included several large plazas, the Church of San Francisco, and the Cathedral (photo above).
And, of course, the many classic American cars.
After the walking tour Cathy and I and another member of our group decided to walk back to the hotel rather than taking the bus. It turned out to be a very long walk, but it took us through a very different neighborhood that provided a vastly different side of the city. This, we quickly understood, is where the real working people live and work.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was just about time for dinner, but we were so tired from our walk it was hard to drag ourselves out of the hotel. We went to a restaurant very nearby, California Cafe, where the food was fine but not nearly as memorable as the night before.
At 9:00 this morning we head out on our next day of sightseeing activities.
- The touristy areas are well-maintained, free of graffiti, clean, and very crowded.
- The non-touristy areas are run-down and filthy (at one corner we had to step over a big pile of discarded bones from fried chicken), but felt completely safe.
- Locals attempting to make a buck off tourists are ubiquitous and very persistent.
- I asked Felix (our guide) about the seeming universal proficiency with English. He said it’s compulsory in schools.
- I also asked Felix if he works for the government. He does. And I asked him if the government restricts his his script. He said no, and pointed out that if he doesn’t speak the truth, we won’t believe what he tells us.