In the afterglow of the Cuban revolution, so goes the joke, Che Guevera once asked Fidel Castro: "Do you think the Americans will ever lift the embargo against us?" Staring at somewhere in the distance, Castro said "Forget it, Che. The chances of the sanctions ending are as good as a black man becoming American president or an Argentine going to the Vatican as Pope".
This is the story in Cuba anyway. Today, as we toured Cuba, we are rock stars! The Cuban government may not like Americans "Imperialists from the north", but the Cuban people love Americans! They are a very generous, friendly people anyway, but in particular they love Americans and are waiting with bated breath for the restrictions to end.
We loved our two week stay in Cuba and the kids would be card carrying members of the communist party if they had their way. We found a Cuban government run dairy that sold ice cream for $.04 a scoop! That is all it took for my kids.
Actually we had a lovely time touring the country and cruising the inner reef of the Northern side of the island. Communism, has preserved so much of the Cuban environment; the reefs are incredibly intact, there are very few lights that dot the landscape as we travel in the evenings and resorts have been limited to just a few scattered places around the country. Traveling to Cuba is like going back in time to the 1950's. Half of the cars on the road are 1950 style cars that they have long since burned out their original engines and have been replaced with tractor engines or some other diesel equivalent. Being in Havana is like being in a time capsule. Between the time that Castro took over, through the Soviet era and into the nineties nothing was built, repaired or maintained by the government it seems. Buildings literally fell apart, people squatted in beautiful colonial style mansions; 20 families might cram into the space one wealthy family previously owned. You'll see laundry hanging across beautiful marble staircases that look like the only thing that will keep standing in the wreck of a building. Huge, high ceiling rooms are bisected and two 8 foot floors will be created for two families to inhabit. When we visited 10 years ago, the constant was everything looked like it was ready to fall apart. Sometime in the last 7 years (the last time Michael was there), things changed and now there is a huge reconstruction effort going on in the historical sections of the city of Havana. First off, Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean and is probably larger than you can imagine. There are three million people living in a city that has only a couple of buildings larger than 5 floors. There are numerous squares that once had beautiful buildings lining them. Today, many of those squares have been almost fully restored, down to the stain glass and trim. We walked through several squares, surrounded by colonial architecture, passing boutique hotels and open air cafes on the cobblestones, feeling like we were in some picturesque European city and then turn the corner and the buildings are falling apart and trees are growing out of third floor apartments. That is Cuba for you!
Who is doing all the restoration is the question? I'd like to do a little research, but our guide, who coincidentally used to be the best boxer in Cuba, told us UNESCO was footing much of the bill. Not sure about this, but I'm guessing we contribute a fair amount to UNESCO funding, but again that is something I would like to research. Many of the buildings have listed Spanish companies that are doing the restoration. What ever the case may be, they are doing a wonderful job of restoring a beautiful and historical city with a fascinating history, so I'm glad they are doing it. Kind of a bummer that we may be helping to foot the bill and we can't even technically see it, but hopefully that will change soon.
|The captain taking a break from the headwinds and roll in the Gulf Stream|
|The Floridata Bar is where Hemingway hung out|
(Note the tree growing out of the building in the background)
|Old style apothecary|
|one of the many restored squares|
|view from a roof top home|
|La Cabana fort, looking down at the huge moat|
|view of Havana from the fort|
|typical scattering of 1950's style cars from the US|
|touring the city by horse was a highlight|
|making a sugary drink from sugar cane|
|Common sight, several rooms have collapsed in this Colonial, but people just move over to the next room|
|$.04 ice cream scoops|
|The kids loved the street performers|
|enjoying mojitos overlooking the capital|
|part of the U2 plane that was shot down over Cuba|
(Cuba is mentally and physically stuck in the 1960's)