Havana Cuba Day 1
It’s a beautiful morning in Havana Cuba. I’m sitting in a dark wood rocking chair that has been polished to a fine shine in the sitting room of my airbnb. The fan above me is slowly rotating. The breeze from the open window makes the leaves on the house plants flutter as well as the hem of my night dress. The city is just waking up. I can hear the vintage cars purring down the main street of Avenita de Galiano. I look out the window from my perch and can see the blue sky and the ruined roof tops of Havana’s crumbling city. I can see the steeple and bell of the Church of Our Lady Montserrat and the water off the Malecón in the distance. There are sheets and shirts blowing on lines in the breeze at ever corner of this earth. Someone is having their coffee on a balcony that looks 100 years old with rot iron bars curved into a beautiful shape. I can smell the water. I feel grateful and at peace sitting here rocking back and forth and taking it all in.
Yesterday we entered the city in a yellow cab driven by Humberto. Who put in his own mixed CD as we rode through town into the old city. We passed fields of thin grazing cows and goats. There were palm trees on either side of the rode as far as the eye could see almost as if they were greeting us into the city. People were walking or standing beside the rode. There was an old classic car broken down in the middle of the street and men crowded around the hood inspecting the ailment. There were kids playing soccer in a dirt field and a group of people laying lazily on the side of the rode. As we neared the city, there was more and more buildings. Crumbling rectangles and squares with chipped paint and missing facades. Old buildings with a thousand dirty windows where clothes hung dancing on breezes.
The buildings look uninhabitable. They are gloriously in ruins. But still showed signs of life, a flickering light or a little face in a window. There were two men holding up lettuce by the road like trophies trying to make a sale. We stopped for a brief moment to let an actual chicken cross the road. The vastness of the countryside slowly turned into city. The buildings closer and closer until they were stacked on top of each other like legos. The colors were beautiful and brilliant. The buses filled to the brim with people almost spilling out. The children running on the sidewalks and the many classic vintage cars, the only things that look shiny and new against the crumblings streets of Old Havana. The air is pungent. Sometimes overwhelming of standing water and sewage. It’s really a sight to behold and I can’t even believe I am here.
It doesn’t even annoy me that I have no wifi and haven’t checked my phone in 18 hours. We hit the ground running after checking into our lovely Airbnb in Central Havana with our host Rafael. We walked all around Central Havana and along the sea on The Malecón. It was a really eye opening experience seeing the way Cuban’s in the poorest part of the city live. I almost felt ashamed and maybe a little out of place for having all that I have. It definitely made me feel a lot more grateful. We saw children playing and people just sitting around hanging out. Men playing dominos and people looking down from their balconies at us while playing music. Langré whom I met in Bermuda spent a lot of time taking photographs. Everywhere we looked there was something interesting to see. We happened upon a group of young adults and children dancing in a very tiny apartment. The music was blaring and they were all doing a certain two-step. Langré got pulled into the festivities and we went to join her. It was fun, there were smiling faces and happiness in dancing. But I’m pretty sure it was some kind of cult. At closer inspection there were little offerings around the room. I accidentally danced myself into a bowl of purplish liquid that spilled from a bowl. There was a room and in it sat a man dressed in all silky yellow. He sat in a big chair and there were bowls and bowls of little offerings at his feet. That was my cue to exit left and we got the hell out of there. None the less it was a rocking time and the people were welcoming and happy to have us there.
We stopped at a fruit stand and got a refreshing coconut filled with the sweetest and most refreshing coconut water. After walking around for what seemed like forever in a maze of colorful yet crumbling buildings we made out way back to our main street on Avenida de Galiano. A women was admiring the hat I was wearing as well as my hair and we struck up a conversation. She taught english at a school and only had one arm. We were on the hunt for some Cuban cigars and this kind woman knew just where to take us. She lead us through China Town while pointing out the sites and telling us where to go and things to do. I got the sense that she was extremely proud to be Cuban and very happy to have a chance to practice her english.
She also seemed even more excited that more American’s had been visiting Cuba. We turned down a dirty road where dogs were resting on the streets and sidewalks. She met a friend, exchanged pleasantries and we made our way into this woman’s home, through the living room and into a kitchen with a table filled with cigar boxes. We were definitely in a hood spot, getting the low for some cigars but it was pretty fun and business was booming. Nothing short of a trip to China Town in New York for a knock off Louis Vuitton bag. Hopefully though these cubans aren’t knockoffs because I bought a box of the cheapest ones they had for 40 CUCs. Feeling a sense of conviction from checking something off the bucket list, we headed home with a little more pep in our step.
After walking for 3 hours we were consumed with tiredness and made our way back to our airbnb and napped a bit before getting ready to go to Paladar La Guarida for a lovely dinner for five. La Gaurida is famous because it was once the backdrop for a film and of course Beyonce has eaten there, so that alone makes is an absolute must when in Cuba. The girls and I enjoyed delicious cocktails on the rooftop bar overlooking all of Havana. They played the latest of American music from Beyonce to Justin Timberlake. We drank and danced and chatted with other tourist who were mostly from Canada before heading down for our reservation. We made our way down the spiral staircase into the restaurant with paintings of naked ladies and faces. The atmosphere was romantic with soft light and heavy woods. Each table was it’s own little haven. We dined on lobster and suckling pork and drank wine. It was a wonderful night of talking about everything from love to politics to how we as black women are perceived in Havana. After dinner we attempted to visit the famed F.A.C. or Fabrica de Arte Cubano which is a large late night spot for music, art and food but it was closed. It’s actually closed until February undergoing some kind of renovation. With that we went back to our airbnb and two friends went back to their hostel on the outskirts of the city. Khalia and I spent some time talking while laying in our separate but matching beds. I don’t remember the conversation but I’m sure it was all gossip. We quickly fell asleep with the windows open letting in the sounds of a bustling city, our first day in Havana completed.