A stroll by Habana Vieja, Cuba


Cuba is a complicated nation with a sophisticated historical past and an unsure future. That future has just lately change into much more unsure, with President Trump’s announcement that he plans to challenge new sanctions and journey restrictions for the small island nation.

It can be complicated due to the lip service that’s paid by individuals who could or could not know the true nature of Cuba. Some say that Cubans are the friendliest individuals on the earth. Others—often those that have by no means been there—counsel that Cuba is harmful.

I needed to see this place for myself, firsthand, earlier than the autumn of communism and a wave of American vacationers swept over it, turning it right into a Caribbean model of Cabo San Lucas.

Meeting my information

On my second day in Havana, I threw warning to the wind and struck out by myself. Armed with a digicam and 100 Cuban pesos, I walked in the wrong way of the vacationers, contemporary off of the cruise ship, and headed in the direction of the slums on the outskirts of Habana Vieja.

I clutched my digicam tightly as I wandered alongside the busy streets within the morning warmth. American vehicles from the 1950s lumbered by, and bikes darted out and in of site visitors. Each time I crossed an intersection, it was like enjoying a recreation of Frogger. Apparently, site visitors legal guidelines are solely a suggestion in Havana.

Half-expecting to get mugged or have my digicam gear stolen, I walked with my head on a swivel. Occasionally, I’d cease and take photos of the superbly decayed buildings and historical vehicles.

I handed males sitting on doorsteps with (seemingly) nothing to do. There have been beggars pleading for a number of pesos and children strolling to highschool in crisp new uniforms. It was complicated and galvanizing to see proud individuals getting by with so little.

I ended and seemed contained in the open doorway of a superbly renovated outdated constructing. I raised my digicam and took an image of the inside.

“Good morning,” mentioned a person leaning towards the doorway.

“Hola,” I replied.

“Are you a professional photographer?” he requested.

“No, I’m a writer.”

He instructed me that the constructing was as soon as a theatre, however it had been transformed right into a nightclub. He requested if I needed to have a look inside.

“Yes, of course,” I instructed him. He turned and headed into the constructing and ascended a dimly lit stairway. I adopted.

I instantly regretted my choice. “Am I walking into a trap?” I puzzled. Following a stranger off the road and right into a random constructing was in all probability a nasty concept.

I imagined that this is able to be the purpose in a horror film at which the viewers would yell, “No, don’t go!”  

I swallowed my fears and continued anyway.

At the highest of the steps, we stumbled on an arched portico that surrounded an inside courtyard lit by the morning solar. I seemed down and admired a meticulously manicured backyard with flowers in full bloom.

My new buddy smiled. “You like?” he requested.


Old Havana

At the far finish of the courtyard was a small bar with musical gear arrange within the nook. My new buddy, Alvaro, defined that he was a musician and invited me to come back and watch his band play that night.

“Would you like me to show you around Havana?”

“Yes, that would be great,” I replied.

“What do you want to see?”

I instructed him I needed to see the actual Havana. “Not the tourist areas,” I mentioned.

“OK, come with me.”

I adopted my information by the slim streets and alleys of outdated Havana, previous decayed colonial buildings that have been crumbling underneath their very own weight. Laundry hung from the home windows above, fluttering within the morning breeze.

It rapidly grew to become apparent that communism had failed this place. Fidel Castro’s revolution, which promised a greater life for the poor, had been a failure. Yet, there have been small victories. By most accounts, violent crime is minimal in Cuba, and though there may be typically not sufficient meals to eat, Cubans nonetheless get pleasure from free common well being care and schooling.

Proudly, Alvaro instructed me, “There is no Mafia in Cuba. Do you have Mafia in California?”  

“I don’t know, I do know that we have gangs.”

“No gangs in Cuba,” he mentioned. “You will always be safe here.”

Compassion isn’t restricted to Democrats

Small boy in doorway

And right here’s the large query: How will Cuba keep the few optimistic issues which have come from the revolution, as they transfer in the direction of a democratic and capitalist financial system? How will they keep away from the crime and drug issues that plague many ‘first-world’ nations? 

As I seemed round, I needed to agree with Alvaro. We have been in the midst of the slums, and I didn’t really feel unsafe. In reality, I felt welcomed. The individuals on the road appeared glad that an American would exit of his solution to see the actual Havana—to get away from the vacationer traps and see how the individuals actually lived.  

As we walked down an alley, a younger boy who was carrying a faculty uniform stopped me. “Americano?” he requested.

“Si,” I responded.

He made a fist and bumped knuckles with me. Without one other phrase, he continued down the road and disappeared round a nook.

Alvaro turned and headed into a neighborhood market. I ended and took photos of the colorful vegetables and fruit that lined either side of the shop. At the again of the constructing was a butcher, hacking off chunks of meat for his prospects.

Several of the grocers smiled for the digicam. I observed that certainly one of them was carrying an Oakland Raiders T-shirt. “You like the Raiders?” I requested.

“Yes. They’re the best!” he mentioned in damaged English.

“It’s too bad they don’t win much,” I joked.

He laughed and smiled again at me.

As I made my method by the crowded stalls, I observed that the value of most objects was just a few pesos. “That’s so cheap,” I assumed. Then it occurred to me that almost all Cubans dwell on solely about 25 pesos monthly.

I requested Alvaro if issues have been higher for the Cuban individuals because the U.S. authorities opened up tourism 5 years in the past.

“It’s much better,” he mentioned. “Before that, we barely had enough food to eat. Now, things are easier. Mr. Obama was a good friend to us.”

He puzzled if the brand new administration would have the identical compassion because the Democrats.

“Compassion isn’t limited to Democrats,” I instructed him. “All Americans have compassion for people who are suffering, no matter what political party they belong to.”

“I hope you’re right,” he mentioned, as we exited the market and turned onto a serious thoroughfare. 

Part of a brand new motion

The odor of diesel fumes crammed the air. My information looped again and began heading east.

As we travelled down the highway, I noticed an outdated girl who was sitting on a chair at a road nook. She was holding a strolling cane, and sat proudly subsequent to a desk full of random objects on the market, together with bug spray, lighters and keychains. “Is that the pest control shop?” I requested Alvaro.


Although her show was virtually comical by American requirements, she was a part of a brand new motion wherein a rising variety of Cuban entrepreneurs are beginning their very own personal companies.

In the previous couple of years, the federal government has made financial reforms which have allowed its residents to acquire personal enterprise licenses. As of 2016, greater than 500,000 licenses have been issued. Many extra entrepreneurs are working underneath the desk, exterior of the official financial system.

We continued down the road, as perspiration dripped down the aspect of my face. It was getting hotter and the humidity was climbing. Alvaro walked in the midst of the streets and zig-zagged backwards and forwards to keep away from oncoming site visitors. At occasions, it appeared as if the vehicles have been aiming for us. 

Occasionally, Alvaro would cease and level out vital landmarks or factors of curiosity. I observed a well-dressed man sitting on a doorstep. I pointed my digicam in his course and requested if I might take his image. He raised his finger and waved it backwards and forwards. 

“I guess that means no,” I mentioned. Alvaro spoke to the person for a couple of minutes in Spanish. I couldn’t make out what they have been saying, however the man on the doorstep didn’t look glad.

“It’s a brothel.”  Alvaro instructed me. “He doesn’t want to have his picture taken.”

 “OK. I get it.”

Havana is in a state of transition

In the space, I might see building cranes towering above the skyline, as the town is being restored.

My goal was to see this place earlier than it modified, however it’s additionally thrilling to think about what it can appear like in 20 years. It might simply change into essentially the most lovely metropolis within the Americas.

I used to be reminded of the truth that Habana Vieja was named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1983. This designation is given to cultural and historic websites which can be vital to the collective pursuits of humanity.

My goal was to see this place earlier than it modified, however it’s additionally thrilling to think about what it can appear like in 20 years. It might simply change into essentially the most lovely metropolis within the Americas.

In some ways, Havana jogs my memory of Barcelona, Spain.  It has the identical sort of Baroque and neo-classical structure inside its historic centre.

Yet, there may be rather more poverty within the streets. In different methods, it jogs my memory of Tijuana, Mexico. I believe that if Barcelona and Tijuana received collectively and had a child, its love baby can be referred to as Havana.

“What do you think about Cuba’s new President, Miguel Diaz-Canal?” I requested Alvaro, half-expecting him to get mad. I had learn someplace that vacationers ought to by no means discuss politics in Cuba.

“It’s the same government,” he answered. “Nothing changes.”

“Do you think things will ever change?”

“I think 10 years. I think in 10 years, we will finally have a democratic government,” he mentioned.

It might be our crucifixion

We continued strolling previous a park, and headed again in the direction of our start line. I struggled to maintain up with my information, as he marched down the sidewalk. For a person almost 10 years my senior, he was in exceptional form.

As we approached the theatre, the place we’d begun our tour, I needed to ask Alvaro yet another query: “What do you think about our President Trump?”

“I think he is a good man,” he mentioned. “I think he is trying to put the screws on our government so that things will change.”

I reached into my pocket and handed him a 10-dollar invoice. “Thank you for showing me around. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “I wanted you to see that Cubans are good people. We are poor, but we do our best with the little we have.”

“What will happen to the Cuban people if President Trump’s sanctions eliminate tourism?” I requested.

Alvaro paused for a second, and his face grew to become severe. “It will be our crucifixion.”


picture 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay three Pixabay four Pixabay 5 Pixabay 6 Pixabay; All different photos Bob Kelsoe



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