Our day in Havana began in the way that most days begin, in the regular touristic sense, with being picked up from our resort in Varadero by a french tour bus, then subsequently spending two hours learning all about a country in a language of which we spoke practically none. While soaking in the rich green countryside and rugged coastline, we detoured through Matanzas, made a pit stop at a rummy pineapple stand, and were well on our way to the sprawling historic capital of Cuba.
Upon reaching Havana, the tour guide circled our designated meeting point on my map where we would rejoin the group for our ride back to Varadero. With some anxiety (read: the Grand Canyon fiasco), we de-boarded bus, said au revoir to our french comrades, and off we were on our self-guided day tour of one of the most photogenic places on Planet Earth: Habana Vieja.
And by “self-guided day tour” what I really mean is spending the afternoon wandering through a maze of streets, generally having no clue where, in a relatively small area of the city, we ever currently were, while endlessly snapping photos of every building in sight. Of course, I had my guidebook and map circled with things to see which served as little more than a great read during the bus ride in. So our day went something like this:
Admired Capitolio Nacional, Gran Teatro de La Habana, then strolled the pulsing Paseo del Prado taking pictures of basically every single building and monument we could see.
Backtracking past Museo de la Revolución, Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes, etc. etc. etc., we stepped past the deliciously pink El Floridita and appreciated the crowd of tourists lining up for their daiquiris. Then took a turn down sweaty Calle Obispo, where we stopped in a small place that I can’t remember the name of, but do remember as being cute, intimate, green, with a half covered patio and surprisingly calm atmosphere considering the street outside. We drank cold beer.
After that, it was obviously time for ice cream and more aimless wandering. We perused shops, markets, alleys, saw some intense feral cat action, and took 1.5 million more photos. Every crumbling wall, intricate tile, mark of graffiti — each detail here is an aesthetes fantasy.
We popped out at Castillo de la Real Fuerza (built in the 1500s, hello), and slowly promenaded through the air conditioned Naval Museum alongside some teenagers in school uniforms (also in it for the A/C). Then, along the fort walls with some views of the canal and La Cabaña, and afterward through the Plaza des Armas and surrounding area. Got spooked by a harmless tout outside a beautiful mosque, and eventually found our way to Papa’s next clubhouse: La Bodeguita del Medio.
Though tightly packed, I was able to squeeze into this delightful pocket of literary history, snap some photos, wonder at the writing on the walls, and step back outside with a fresh mojito and cigar in hand. It was on that crowded street outside La Bodeguita where we made friends with the third person in Havana to tell us, upon learning we were Canadian, that they had family in Quebec (and he would not be the last!). We chatted for the duration of a quarter El Credito, took a quick pic, then parted ways.
Leaving the Bodeguita, we passed by some street artists selling their stuff and picked up our souvenir from, you guessed it, another coincidental relative of Quebec. Mmhm.
With a bit of time left before meeting our bus, we strolled the Malecón, enjoyed the rest of that cigar, and took in the views of Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro. I also ate a sandwich and some fried plantain chips on a little patio across the street. I was freaking starving.
And that’s it — our hot and fast day in dreamy Havana. Next time, I’ll rent a Casa particular pequeña, stay a week or so, write some brief and straightforward short fiction, and find myself some live salsa to dance away the evening to (which I’m sure would make for some absolutely wonderful photos).