Friday, February 24, 2017

Cuba - Day 1 - Havana

How to even begin this blog? When US citizens were first allowed to travel to Cuba last year, I knew I wanted to go.  First, I am a big fan of Ernest Hemingway and I wanted to see where he had lived and loved.  Second, I knew the opportunity for great photography was vast.  Third, I feared that the longer I waited to visit, the less of the "real" Cuba I would be able to experience.

What I came away with was so much more than any of that.  I am still searching for the words to describe how I feel and what I experienced.  I hope my pictures will help tell my story.  I think that my photos change as our trip goes on.  Eric and I were lucky enough to meet new friends and fully immerse ourselves into the Cuban culture.  Although Africa was my life-long dream trip, this trip moved me in ways I never expected.  In Africa we spent so much time doing (wonderful!) things that we were unable to spend as much time learning the culture of the different places we visited.  In Cuba we learned so much from the people, I hope I can express it here.

Day one began with a red-eye flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, on which neither of us were able to get much sleep.  We had a 4 hour layover in Atlanta and luckily had access to a lounge where I got about an hour or two of shut-eye.  Then we boarded the 90 minute flight to Havana.

Customs was a relatively easy process.  Waiting on our luggage we saw Cubans arriving with TV's, air conditioners, and lots of car tires - some of the many items we learned they cannot get in their country.  Once outside the airport we had to wait for almost an hour in a line to exchange our money into CUC's.

Once we had our CUC's we got a taxi to take us to our hotel.  Havana is a relatively large city consisting of 15 municipalities and we stayed in Old Havana, or La Habana Vieja. We stayed in Hotel Ambos Mundos where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote from 1932 to 1939.

Room 511 where Hemingway lived

The lobby bar was open 24 hours and had a lovely pianist

The walls were adorned with photos of Hemingway

Original elevator
Once we were checked into our room we went to the rooftop bar.  This rooftop is supposed to be one of the best WiFi spots around and Eric was trying to get in touch with his Cuban friend, Erick.  We ordered cocktails, got a light lunch, and listened to some live music while taking in the views of Havana.

Looking North toward the Gulf

Looking East - notice the HUGE cruise ship (ugh)

Wine for me (before I learned to like mojito's), crusty bread, butter, and a "salad"

Cuban musicians

Seafood paella

Looking down into the streets

How cool is this guy?!

Sunset from our rooftop

With food in our bellies and a nice little buzz, we set out to explore the city of Havana.

Bookstore near our hotel - who, ironically, did NOT have any Hemingway novels.

Local artist who was actually working on this piece while we were browsing his work


Storefront - cleaning supplies

Side street
We were walking toward El Floridita, where Hemingway would drink his favorite daiquiri's. By the time we got there, it was heaving with people and we had been up for about 36 hours so I just took some photos and we walked back toward our hotel.

Old car parked out front of the bar
El Floridita

Hemingway and his bar

Our hotel was on Boulevar de Obispo

Grocery store - 2 rows of cases and that's it.  They were very often out of bottled water.

Street art

We decided to stop off for one more drink before going back to our room.  We found a quiet little bar at Hotel Marques de Prado Ameno and ordered a rum daiquiri and a mojito.  The bartender spoke a bit of English and talked to us about Cuba.  He told us that the touristy resort spot, Varadero, was off limits to Cubans until 2009 when Raul Castro lifted the ban.  He also told us how much Cubans respect Americans (his opinion, of course).  And as we left he thanked us for coming in and said "Remember, Cubans love America!"  A great ending to a great first (half) day!

Rum daiquiri


"Wherever you go, go with all your heart."  ~ Confucius

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