The colorfully dressed person in front of me boarded the plane without any shoes and left the plane without any shoes. Never seen that before. Following a very quick wait in customs, I then caught a taxi to Havana for 30 CUC, the Cuban currency (the airport is about 30-45 minutes from the center of the city). About half way into town my driver slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop, just inches from the vehicle in front of me. He then pulled alongside the other vehicle and began yelling back and forth with the other driver. Fortunately my driver pulled away before the situation became worse – however, this would not have been my first accident on the way to or from airports.
For visitors, the use of the Internet can be challenging at times. I purchased a card with a login and a code at a shop on the outside of the airport (available in 1 or 5 hour increments, being a heavy user of the net, I purchased three 5-hour cards and ultimately ended up using nearly all of the 15 hours) – and which can only be used in limited areas of the city. My clue as to availability is always the groups of people huddled around staring at their phones. Otherwise, unlike in cities in the USA, walking down the streets of Havana, one rarely sees people walking and staring at phones.
The government sets the rate of exchange – for $100 USD one receives 87 CUC. Several independent exchangers quietly hanging out near the airport offered a 90 CUC exchange for 100USD which I soon took advantage of.
Now I am relaxing overlooking the Bahia de Cuba. As I type this email on the curb of the Malecon along the sea walk in Havana, small pieces of plaster rain down on me and my phone. Much of the exterior of Havana seems to be in some sort of decay. As I was taking pictures of decaying buildings, a restaurant staff remarked as I walked by, “it looks like a war zone, doesn’t it?” His question made me stop and I said, “yes, this neighborhood does resemble what I would guess a war zone to look like” – but then I added that, “the entire city does not look this way”.
Offering me a menu, my attention was caught by the fresh lobster selection and a Sangria – it has probably been 20 years since my last Sangria which I remember enjoying in Oaxaca, Mexico. Staring out the window of the restaurant felt like I was overlooking the Roman ruins. Arches beaten down by the heavy hands of time and proximity to the sea stared vacantly back as did the nearby crumbling buildings.
Walking down the Malecon in the evening seems to be like walking on a Hollywood set – faded buildings, some lived in, many not form an eerie backdrop lit by the brilliant pink sky immediately following sunset.
And one cannot help but notice all the colourful convertible Packards and Chevys from the 1950s with the tops down and and well-dressed people cruising in the back seats with hair flying in the breeze looking like they are going somewhere important – pacing just fast enough to see and be seen along the Malecon next to the sea. These vehicles date from prior to 1959 when the government banned importing foreign cars and one sees them all over the city and elsewhere in the country.