Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Old Car, Old City

It's 6:45 PM here in Varadero. We've just gotten back from a full day excursion to Havana, driven about in a 1957 Oldsmobile by a local driver, with a local guide alongside us. We were looking at the bus excursion but I cannot get on the buses here, so we decided to go the car and driver route. I did the same thing last time I was here.

There were two major differences between this tour of Havana, and my last tour of Havana. Last time I was on my own; this time I had Katherine to share the day with me. Last time I was in a new, modern cab; this time we were in one of the old cars for which Cuba is famous. The US embargo and the way the Cuban economy works means having a car is a very precious thing. These old beauties are maintained, fixed, nudged into action as much as is humanly possible. Gasoline engines have been switched out for diesel engines. Parts have been manufactured or jury rigged to keep steel and wheel together and moving. They are loud, uncomfortable, smelly... and an absolute blast for a day's adventure.

The tour consisted of pretty much the standard stuff. We went to the National Hotel. I stayed in the cab while Katherine went in and explored with the guide. There are a great many older buildings in Havana, the vast majority aging and desparately in need of repair. The city reminds me of an old roue, her makeup halfway gone, her foundations failing. This is a city desparately in need of maintenance.

We went to Revolution Square, which our driver and guide both referred to as the Liar's Square. These days most Cubans are somewhat less than thrilled with the outcome of their revolution back in 1959; the now know that much of what their government tells them is untrue. They can see it with their own eyes. After our lecture on the failures of the Castro family, we went off to Chintown. Yes, Havana has a Chinatown, all of a block or so long. As before, Katherine went exploring with the guide while I waited in the car with the driver.

Lunch was interesting. I got out of the car. We had stopped at a local restaurant situated in a house built as a part of the old military base, across the harbour from downtown Havana. The base itself was built around the old fort guarding Havana from ocean invaders. The restaurant itself is touted as a "fish" restuarant, however they were out of fish. No worries. Katherine and I shared a Cuban version of surf and turf, with grilled pork, chicken, lobster bits, and plenty of shrimp. The driver and guide both had chicken. There was an endless supply of black beans and rice to go along with the meat portions. We topped off the excellent food with a lovely Chilean Cabernet-Sauvignon.

After lunch, we all visited the old fort. There is a cigar shop right in one of the old fort buildings which boasts the longest cigar in the world. The cigar is encased in a lengthy plastic box twisting and turning around the room, attached to the ceiling. Katherine went in to look at cigars. I was stumped by the stairs, staying outside to enjoy the warmth and sunshine. After that, it was a quick visit to the Havana Cathedral and finally off home.

It was a long day, an interesting day. I loved seeing Katherine get excited about the old buildings, the military equipment, the traffic, and the people. She took a great many pictures, and we even have a few with both of us in them. All in all, it was such a good day that we are doing it again on Friday, only this time the plan is to head to the other end of Cuba, to see the rural nature that is the rest of this island.

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