The second of our two days in the Cuban capital
08.12.2016 - 08.12.2016 30 °C
Our second day was just as busy as the first. Leyanis picked us up again in the morning, and took us to a cigar factory in modern Havana. The cigar-smoking guide told us about the great conditions the workers have, and how the factory maintains such a high quality for the many brands of cigars they make. He didn’t mention any health concerns.
We did get to chat to some of the cigar rollers and cutters, and they seemed happy enough. Perhaps it was the five free cigars they get to take home every day. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of them working.
The gift shop
Our tour of the modern city continued in beautiful vintage open top cars, a Buick and an Oldsmobile. The hot sun belted down with no roof to protect us, but that didn’t rain on our parade. It’s a pretty luxurious way to travel.
The Macindoes and I split off into the Buick with new guide who I’ll leave unnamed, because he was a bit more critical of the regime than his counterpart. As a recent university graduate, there was no prospect of work in his field, which relies on reasonable internet access. He said that Cuba was ‘forty years behind’, but even that was better than five or six years ago, when they were much further behind still.
Anyway, he took us to some lovely parts of the city, including the imposing and Soviet-like Revolutionary Square, complete with giant faces of Ché and his lesser-known fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos. The 144-metre monument, the highest point in the city, has a lift inside that has been out of order for five years, we heard.
The Capitol - renovations ongoing for the last 6 years
We saw the Colón Cemetery, which was going to house the body of Cristóbal Colón (better known as Christopher Columbus), but he never actually made it there.
Colón Cemetery's grand entrance
There’s an urban forest, which is quite nice in the photos, but the river running through it is very polluted and a bit smelly.
And we saw the newer, posher districts, which have the biggest and most luxurious houses, and today host embassies from around the world.
At the National Hotel (facing the USA)
After a delicious lunch served by the angriest waitress in the world, we walked across to the Museo de la Revolución, the Museum of the Revolution. It’s hosed in the former palace of the president, which I suppose is quite poetic given the change in power.
Their slogan outside roughly translates ‘all the history’, which isn’t exactly true – it’s fairly partisan, as you might expect. There’s no mention of the firing squads in the Revolution’s early days, or the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic stagnation.
But it was very interesting nonetheless, hearing about the final years of ‘democracy’, and the popular support for Fidel, Ché, and Cienfuegos. There are tanks, boats and planes used by the 26th of July movement, an early name for the revolutionaries, and parts of American planes shot down over the Bay of Pigs.
It’s fairly anti-USA generally, really, including these caricatures of Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. The upside-down book was a nice touch, I thought, even if the rest was a bit distasteful. The captions say something like: “thank you, cretins, for allowing socialism to develop and thrive.”
The eternal flame
While Ro and Mat went to a salsa lesson, Caroline, Mum, Dad and I went to a nearby bar that had a fantastic band playing lively Cuban music. The flautist/saxophonist was possibly the most talented musician I’d ever seen.
The musicians we saw after dinner were possibly even better. We went to a jazz club where the band kept swapping members and instruments in and out. The drummer (not the one pictured), trumpeter and the singers were unbelievably good. Matilda, who is a bit prone to hyperbole to be fair, said she didn’t think there could be anyone better in the world – certainly better than any of the singers we hear on the radio. We caught a taxi back and arrived home well after midnight. We’re such party animals.
(Speaking of party animals, Ro and Mat went out afterwards, and only got back after 2am. Unfortunately for them, the hostel’s door was locked, nobody was answering the door, and it was raining extremely heavily. Eventually Dad heard their screaming and went downstairs to let them in.)