Time is a funny thing. When you have a lot of it, its almost endless. When its limited, it moves at warp-speed. Thats pretty much exactly how it was for our amazing time in Cuba.
The last couple of days we had some amazing experiences. The non-stop noise was starting to wear us down a bit though. Especially at night. Jake and I have gotten so used to peaceful nights out on the water. Rarely would we hear people, cars, dogs barking, roosters crowing, sirens, horns, screaming, crying, on and on. Noise. It made getting a good night’s sleep almost impossible.
So when our last full day was upon us, we were feeling kinda tired. But also a little sad. Our last breakfast in the apartment, Leydiana pulled out all of the stops. Everything that we love about breakfast PLUS a bunch of new things that we haven’t had yet. One of our favorites were the stuffed potatoes. I only wish we could eat like this more on the sailboat.
As we walked outside, the hot air pummeled us. It was another muggy day, but this time it looks like it will DEFINITELY rain. Hopefully we can get a few hours in before then, but maybe the rain will cool things down. Yes I’ll take rain I think 🙂
We met up with Roberto at the Museo de la Revolucion. This “Presidential Palace” is very grand by nature, but when compared with all of the other beautiful palaces and hotels around this city, it actually didn’t feel as ostentatious as I would have expected. It was still phenomenal building and even more impressive once we stepped inside.
The palace was built for Presidents of Cuba, and the last full-time person to live there was Batista. That is, before he was overthrown. Apparently in the beginning of his “reign” he was a decent leader. Eventually power and greed took over, leaving the people to suffer. This in turn inspired the Revolution. As we walked through the different rooms of the Museum, Roberto gave us a history lesson and background about significant artifacts or happenings during this time. It was SUPER cool to see actual bullet holes (remnants) from the when Castro and Che took over. Apparently Castro lived in the palace for a year before he left and then the building became a museum.
Most exhibits are devoted to the time of 1950-1960. Portions are also devoted to pre-revolutionary Cuba, including the War of Independence from Spain. Despite the brutality of it, its quite impressive that, in essence, two guys rallied enough support from people (mostly farmers) to overthrow a trained army of 30,000 men. The guerrilla warfare strategy was extremely effective, because Cuban citizens had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Plus they know the countryside better than anyone else. Che Guevara was Castro’s right-hand man and deemed a hero to Cubans.
It went on to show some exhibits about post-revolution, and even mentioned the Bay of Pigs fiasco, though from a different perspective. Roberto was especially informative about this, but we could sense he has his own strong opinions about the whole thing. While he has tons of pride for his country, he doesn’t like EVERYTHING. I believe anyone could agree that nowhere is perfect; no country, no government, no rule. Ultimately its people who suffer the worst and there no such thing as “ideal” because people , no country or government or “rule”. Ultimately the people are the ones who suffer and no one has the same notion of “fair”. Whats fair to one may not be to another. Its a fine line.
After we walked through the building, we ventured outside to visit the Granma Memorial. The Granma is the name of the yacht that took Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba for the revolution. Whats crazy is the yacht was built to hold maybe 25 people max, and 82 people were passengers. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t imagine a more horrible thing than being stuck in a small boat on the ocean with way too many people (getting sick, defacating, etc).
There were also some cool missiles and a spy plane that was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, some tanks and a memorial to honor heroes.
The most interesting part about all of this was learning more about Roberto. Many Cubans fled to Miami (or shipped their kids off to Miami) in early years, for what they felt would be a better life. Today, there is frustration between the Cubans in the states and those back in Cuba, because many of those living in the states ex-communicated their families. Roberto’s own family (maybe brother) was an example of this; he went to the states and refused to honor or even acknowledge his Cuban family over here. There is a lot of pain, anger and unjust feelings within the family because of this. This is apparently a common thing among split families here. I have to say I was very appreciative that he shared this with us.
After our tour, we were all happy to go for a walk along the waterfront. Its fun to discuss all of these new learned things. We stopped off to get a cold drink and a pizza at a little cafe near the water. It was great, inexpensive and a perfect reprieve after walking all morning through the museum (which was kind of hot since there was no A/C).
After our lunch, we hit up Playa Marecón, or Beach Boardwalk. This is a popular place for couples or groups of friends to hang out. I believe it is where street festivals will be held during certain holidays, but today it was just a nice, wide-open space to enjoy. And the great views of the city and the lighthouse across from the Castillo were simply spectacular. We sat on some benches to enjoy the fresh breeze.
A man came up to us with his girlfriend asking if we would take his picture (with his camera) of he and his girlfriend. We got to chatting and mentioned that we were looking for a place to get some cigars since Don never had a chance to get his yet. He mentioned a place where they were half off (maybe a scam, maybe not?). Who knows if that will be the case, but he described it as best he could and we figured we’d go check it out.
As we walked in that general direction another guy and his girlfriend overheard us and mentioning the same thing; he knew a guy who sold the cigars and for a great deal. We followed him, though kind of wary but pushed it aside. He spoke decent English. Apparently he worked in tourism at a hotel, which is really good money. His girlfriend didn’t speak all that great of English but we managed to make small talk.
Up a street, down an alley, around the corner and up several flights of stairs to a crowded apartment. The place was very old, much less “fancy” than our little abode. There was an old man and a younger guy sitting inside and a huge table full of cigars in the kitchen. It felt a bit sketchy but again, we went along with it. In the end, it was alright. Don got a great deal and was happy.
Back on the street and the rain started falling pretty hard. We were very close to the apartment and opted to go back and dump our stuff. But Don was amped to do some photography in the rain. I should have joined him but I was just so tired and didn’t have my “rain gear” for my camera.
In the time Don was out, he went next door to the little art gallery, where he was thinking of buying some art from this guy, Sole. Sole was a really cool guy, he looked like he was about 20 years old and was SUPER friendly. His English was also very good, making it really easy to talk to him. Don asked if he could take photos of Sole painting and was invited to take photos of a domino game played with Sole and 3 relatives (I believe his father, grandpa and uncle or brother). What a cool experience! We were all very jealous that we missed that opportunity.
On our way out to dinner, we stopped over to see Sole who was on his way out. He told us about a great restaurant nearby and walked with us. He even convinced them to give us local prices (so between 2-4CUC per meal). How sweet was that? The food was dynamite. The ambiance was fantastic. There was a TV behind the bar playing MTV music videos from 1990’s. Seriously this place was so much fun and thanks to Sole we could really splurge on our last big night on town.
He came back a bit later to see if we enjoyed the meal. We were so grateful to him and as if that wasn’t enough, he invited us over to his home for coffee. Though it was late, we were so honored and excited to be invited! We learned that he is 37 years old with a 19-year-old daughter. Seriously how is this guy 37? He looks 22. As we walked he told us that he used to work as an English teacher but that he didn’t have a lot of freedom with it. Apparently there are a lot of rules and pigeonholing with that type of job. But he loves art and opted to focus on that instead. He is so talented too!
I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t this. It was dark down this part of town but hard to believe that people lived here. The walls were crumbling and parts of them were missing. The entrance to the “building” or the remains of the building, looked in shambles. The primary entrance, where a door used to be, was missing completely. The whole place looked so shabby and broken down, and I was shocked to see people living in these “homes”. More like rooms but in some cases there were no windows or doors, just open to the world.
Sole lives next to his cousin’s family, who were watching TV and feeding their young children (probably age of 1 and 3). Their home looked like a tiny, cramped apartment. I was surprised the kids were wide awake at almost midnight (but this is normal). Sole’s home was a bit larger, maybe 300 feet in total. His wife was there, and obviously not expecting us because she was in her PJ’s and apparently getting over the flu. She was so sweet despite her state and it was nice to chat with her in Spanish, as her English wasn’t too good. I learned that she is a designer like me AND a photographer for friends and family. She actually has her own business and is well-known around here. How cool is that?! I noticed her computer and the software she was using to edit the work (she was designing a card for a party for a friend). Her computer was probably 15 years old but she was rocking it.
Everything in here was handed down through the family, or acquired as used. The electronics were at least 10 years old in a lot of cases. But they were proud and happy and not in a greedy sort of way. Just living their life and doing what they want and love. Sole was thrilled to share his home and coffee with us. He asked for nothing in return. We told him how grateful we were for his kindness.
These people have so much love, passion and generosity. He also said that he could afford to take out his family (of 4) to dinner about once per month, if that. So imagine, a meal that cost us 2-5 dollars each (so for 4, 20 bucks) is something of a luxury here. It really makes us think about how much we have – and how grateful we are for those things. So many comforts…too many.
We left after midnight and walked the 10 minutes or so back to our place. As its our last night, we decided to stop off at the panaderia (bakery), which was STILL OPEN after midnight, and bought some rolls (which were FAN-TAS-TIK). The streets weren’t very lively tonight but we were elated to have this perfect experience before we head back to life on the water.
Adiós La Habana. Gracias por una experiencia increíble que nunca olvidaremos.