I walked out of the domestic terminal and down a pot-hole ridden road to the main street. I wanted to take pictures, but figured I was still being watched and that nothing says espionage like taking photos of a government facility with an SLR camera…
Sanitation and draining is poor in Havana and large puddles of muddy water were present at many street corners. I wish I had minded them a bit more closely, for as I stood with several dozens others at the bus stop, I failed to take a step back as the bus pulled off and found myself and my duffel bag covered in mud…
The bus ride to central Havana cost only a few cents. I was not sure exactly where I was going, but the bus said “La Habana” so I figured it would get me somewhere interesting. The bus eventually pulled up to the José Martí Memorial and I alighted because there was something I noticed the other day when driving by that I wanted to check out.
Down a few blocks was a classic 1950s-era lunch counter with stools – so retro, so cool. Inside, alcohol, tobacco, and light snacks were available.
Continuing on my walk, I could not help but to notice how light traffic was. Most Cubans cannot afford cars and traffic jams are rarely a problem here, though mule or donkey-driven carts sometimes cause a slowdown.
Propaganda praising the Revolution and the Castros adorns most walls and open-air markets in front of crumbling architectural edifices offer farmers opportunities to sell their crops.
My next stop was Cemeterio de Colon, a sprawling cemetery in the heart of Havana.
Just past the main gate was the administrative office, which featured linoleum floors and vintage light fixtures so old they were definitely back in style. Fans provided relief from the heat (it had grown very warm and storm clouds had rolled in) and there were no computers, just logbooks.
I am sure there are famous Cubans buried here, but I just wanted to walk around and juxtapose the well-maintained and ornate cemetery with the crumbling infrastructure surrounding it.
The Roman Catholic church has been buoyed by Papal visits and its cultural entrenchment never receded, even after the Revolution.
The angel nicely personifies the two-faces of Cuba – historic charm yet alarming suppression of liberty.
A downpour began and I sought refuge in a dark mausoleum. Two ladies sat talking and paid me no notice.
After the rain let up, I left the cemetery and walked further into Havana. I came to monument affixed to the side of a building praising the Revolution and as I was taking the picture below I heard a voice behind me ask where I was from.
Introducing himself as Miguel, he took a long drag on his cigarette and then extended his hand with a courteous nod. Miguel was either some sort of government minder placed on the streets to converse with tourists or a true believer in the Revolution.
He praised Castro, praised his country, and heralded its health care and its equality. The warn afternoon sun beat down on us and I suggested we sit down at a cantina for mojitos – I was curious if this guy was for real or not.
We sat down and I ordered a Havana Club Cinco Anos mojito for $4 (we were certainly in the tourist part of town) and he ordered the same. He complained of the American Embargo, extolled the Cuban education system, and asked me many questions about why I was in Cuba. The bill was delivered to him and he promptly handed it to me. A 20% service fee was thrown in, making the total $10 CUC.
Then the irony of his wonderful system. He complained that I was rich and he was poor and asked me for money. I told him to be thankful I bought him a drink and after pressing me a few more times, never really aggressively, we shook hands and he disappeared down a side street.
I was struck again by the number of classic cars as I made my way back toward a bus station to take me to the airport. As I neared Havana’s central bus terminal, an older man named Carlos – say 50 – stopped me and asked me for money. He spoke no English but motioned for me to sit on a bench.
My Spanish was good enough to understand the following –
-He had several children, including a newborn, and needed milk.
-He wished he could come to America and despised the Castros.
-He declared how difficult it was for him to get products with the dual currency system
-He told me that he makes $5 per month
-He pleaded with me to help
I have no idea whether he was genuine or not, just like Miguel, but I felt a strong wave of empathy and gave him a decently denominated bill. He was shocked and spent 30 seconds shaking my hand and repeatedly saying gracias. He reached into his own wallet and pulled out a non-convertaible peso bearing the image of Che Guevera and handed it to me.
Back at the bus station, I spied a historical mural recounting Cuba’s history before catching a bus to the airport. Cost was $1 and I may have been overcharged, but it was 1/10 the price of a well-negotiated taxi.
I was on my way out.
Read more of my Cuba trip report:
Planning a Trip to Cuba
Los Angeles to Havana in TACA Economy Class
Visa Requirements for Visiting Cuba
Day One in Cuba: A Tour of Havana
Day One in Cuba: An Evening Surprise
Day Two in Cuba: Accused of Being An American Spy!
Day Two in Cuba: Escorted Flying
Day Two in Cuba: The Juxtaposition of Two Cubans
Havana to Los Angeles in TACA Economy Class
10 Tips for Visiting Cuba
Why You Should Visit Cuba Now