Saturday, 31 May 2008

Our man in Havana.

TBH , myself and Charlotte (No. 1 daughter) have just returned from a five day jaunt to Havana. We don't do a great deal of inland travel during our cruising so this was a big treat.

We ordered a taxi from the offices here in the marina. A feat in itself given that any request out of the ordinary seems to make the entire organization go in to a spasm of inability to function. That would appear to be one of the main downsides of Communism, if there isn't a form for it you need to develop a huge amount of patience and tenacity VERY fast. After three attempts a cab finally made its way through the compound gates and in we climbed. An hour later we were still driving round and round Cienfuegos as our driver searched for the 'magnetic card' that he needed to purchase the fuel that he would need to return from Havana. Well at least we got a close up and personal view of the less visited side of town. And like all these places there is a massive difference in the public and private areas of the city. Downtown, even though there is much dilapidation, there is a sense of urban renewal with the restoration of large buildings and so forth. The areas where the people live here is mostly shacks and poorly constructed concrete block homes, very little decoration and an almost complete lack of cars...

It's a three hour drive from here to Havana along almost completely empty roads that are some of the most uncomfortable we have driven along. I don't know how it is possible to construct such a bad surface, but the Cubans have managed it! Our driver pointed out the rice fields, sugar cane, bananas, pineapples and so forth. The route is lined with pro Che and Fidel propaganda and anti Bush billboards. One in particular portraying Bush as Hitler caused an embarrassed silence from the driver...

Havana is stunning. All that the guide books and travel programmes promise. Music pours from every open door, the corner of every street, the windows of every apartment. And it's good music. Classical, Jazz, Cuban and all flavour's in between, played to a high standard and played with joy. Quite incredible. We all commented on the happy attitude of the Cubans, helpful, smiling, laughing. Quietly curious. There is some hustle. The odd spiv wanting to sell black market cigars, exchange currency or offer to guide you to ' the best restaurant' in town.

To be continued...

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