Cuba 101

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Before we begin our excursion to Havana this morning, grab your headphones, open a new web page and please enter the following address:

Cuba cannot be experienced fully without some music in the background!

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Havana, Cuba. Retro cars in dazzling blues and rumpus reds sail by beaches filled with fat tourists. There are Plymouths, Chevrolet Bel Airs and Ford Fairlane’s aplenty.Be careful not to strain your neck as that illustrious Cadillac canters by. Jazz musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club sing a melody which could soothe the soul of a Guantanamo Bay inmate. Idyllic, cloudless weather. Cobbled streets filled with the clip clop of horses. The Capitol building arched high above, rivaling Washington’s. The old abuelo taking a siesta under the shady palm 3with the cheeky smile blows a puff of his cohiba cigar in your direction. 9He winks at you, or more likely, at the twenty something brunette behind you, as she rushes home for cena with the extended family. You turn the corner and reach Plaza Vieja where a fountain bubbles forth. Happy children in uniform bicker and bicker about this, that and the other. Over there between the palms, beyond the marble statue of the poet Jose Marti, can you make out that young pair of star-crossed sixteen somethings? They are hiding from the awakening call of their padres

4Love is in the air. And all the while you hear the enchanting sound of Guantanamera, the old tune that speaks of a region in Cuba where a truthful man wishes to coin the verses of his life before he dies in the land of the palms. And who wouldn’t want to? You have made it to paradise, or so you are led to believe. Crossing the street you pass by Hotel Inglaterra, a suave spot where lunch is served on silver platters. Here history breathes its sigh in every corner; Winston Churchill himself visited in 1895.

Should you care to, for less than one US cent you can purchase a ride to some of the most idyllic beaches the Caribbean has to offer: Santa Maria and Playa de Este. Returning with a pleasant tan and sand between your toes, now would be as good a time as any for a stroll down Havana’s majestic sea side walkway alla sunset boulevard. Pass by the old fort Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña where every day at 9 sharp a cannon is fired in memory of Cuba’s colonial past. Climb the sweeping rock stairs to the Hotel Nacional, newly restored in all its neo-colonial splendour. Pause.  Close your eyes. Take a breath. Open them. Before you the sun dims its grand yolky eye. It is spectacular. Woken by the strong  wave that splashes its salty foam far below, bashing against the boulevard, you look out over the city. You have come to admire this city for its 1950s charm and slower paced living. People have time to think, to breathe, to live. The internet is barely existent here, and is that a bad thing? You see families walking together down the ocean walkway, or sitting outside after a satisfying meal of arroz and frijoles (rice and beans), engrossed in abuelo and abuela‘s chess game. For many, like me, who have traveled from the US, we crossed just 90 miles of sea to get to Cuba. 90 miles away but 90 years in the past. It is difficult for the novelty of the calmer life to wear off. To Hanavarians, it is another day in Cuba. In the distance a street quartet crackles out the all too familiar tune… 

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

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