When we arrived, Cuba was not quite herself. After many occasions on which rumours of his death had been prematurely celebrated in the US, Fidel Castro had finally made his exit 2 days before our arrival in Havana. In Cuba, music, dancing and the consumption of alcohol were forbidden for a 9-day national mourning period while in Miami, a feverish party celebrating the old revolutionary’s death took over the streets of Little Havana. All a bit confounding for a pair of South African tourists, but I guess we were always after a deeper insight into Cuba than just the exciting nightlife and vintage cars. And we certainly got it. Even though, as you’ll see from the photos below, we couldn’t quite avoid the vintage cars…
During our 3-week stay in Cuba, we saw Fidel’s death acknowledged everywhere. This street corner tribute in Jaimanitas is a typical example.
Cuba’s largest national daily newspaper is called the Granma and seems to be sold by retirees such as this old fellow. Given the lack of free press in Cuba (Granma is published by the Communist Party) the articles tend to be extended propaganda speeches.
The Hotel Nacional is a famous (or infamous, depending on your view) Cuban landmark. Part of its colourful history includes what was allegedly the largest gathering ever of Mafia bosses, an event featured in The Godfather II. We went for a mojito, and encountered the who’s who of left-wing world dignitaries, in town for Fidel’s funeral, taking selfies in the hotel foyer. Apparently even Julius was there.
Given the shortage of cars, any and every mode of transport is employed in Cuba. Motorbikes and bicycles with side-cars are fairly common.
In Cuba the road running next to the sea in a city is called a malecón. Havana’s famous malecón is a fun place to snap photos of vintage cars.
Saul’s perch on the median of the road was sufficiently visible to get him a few friendly waves
Most of the vintage convertibles in Havana are now used as sight-seeing taxis for cruise-ship tourists who have booked their ride through Havana as a pre-paid onboard excursion option.
José Rodríguez Fuster is a Cuban artist who has decorated his own house and the houses of approximately 80 of his neighbours to form Fusterlandia, a strange public artwork. I wasn’t convinced by the comparisons to Gaudí but it was oddly compelling in its own way.
Chess is huge in Cuba and we saw many streetside chess players as well as chess clubs where you could see both retirees and kids playing chess in the afternoons. Saul hung around, trying to get an invitation to a game, but aside from a few quizzical looks, we were ignored and he never had the opportunity to be trounced by a 10-year old.
Small quarters and stifling heat combine to drive life in Havana into the open. The streets are teeming with life and park benches are always fully occupied with people doing nothing in particular.
Street life is often accompanied by cigars
We chatted to this welder and asked him what he was making (and whether it was okay to take photos). His answer was detailed, friendly and about 20 times too fast for my rudimentary Spanish.
Baseball is Cuba’s most important sport. Street games such as this one are quite a serious matter.
Shopping in Cuba does not resemble anything you know. Both hole-in-the-wall and larger shops sell odd collections of things seemingly assembled at random. I never saw refrigerated meat – meat seems to be sold either on the day it is slaughtered (like here) or in frozen form.
Even dogs hang out on the pavement. When staying in the same place for a few days, we would encounter the same dogs in the same places on the pavement, clearly part of the local scenery.
My brother is the only South African I know who has a Lada, so I had a soft spot for Cuba’s unsung Ladas, which outnumber the convertible Yank tanks about 10 to 1.
A vintage Packard parked against a wall with beautiful old tiles creates the kind of cameo that keeps drawing one’s eye in Havana
Buses aren’t easy to come by, and rush hour can be a leisurely affair for the patient locals
This photo was taken in Camagüey, not Havana, but seemed to belong with the Havana collection of transport-related pics
The elaborate presidential palace housed Cuba’s presidents from 1920 to 1959, after which it became the Museum of the Revolution. It is now full of tired and slightly dusty exhibits – think bloodstained uniforms of dead revolutionaries – labelled with a heavy dosage of poorly translated propaganda.
The beauty of the building is largely intact, with the exception of occasional clusters of bullet holes etched into the marble. Further restoration is underway, but I suspect the bullet holes will stay.