Cotton candy in Old Habana, 2013

PictureStreet in the Old City of Habana, 2013

I stood, exhausted, but unable to sit. The man’s voice rung out through the open windows and into the streets, pausing passers-by. The cigarette smoke of Cubans and cigar smoke of tourists filled the lighted bar. I knew that if I walked next door or into any other place, I would easily find another musical ensemble. But this was the first time I’d stumbled across any Cuban my age on a weekday night not taxing tourists in some mode of transport. Tuk-tuks, state-owned taxis (Hyundai’s), puttering Coco taxis (3-wheelers), famed ’50’s vehicles all filled the streets, soliciting shuffles. Locals walked, biked, took the bus (which were unreliable), or took ride-shares. On the weekend, 20 somethings and teenagers were found posted up on the Malecon, eating popcorn and laughing. From afar, it was innocently reminiscent of the 1950’s. If you were one of the lucky ones to obtain a car, legal or illegally, there was an even smaller chance you were in your 20’s. 

Every street is different, yet the same. Rows of dilapidated buildings with cracked paint, frequently collapsing onto the ground like crushed dry leaves. The buildings conferred history and time unraveling , literally telling the story of the place like none other. On one building, an ornate iron balcony would enclose a brightly painted apartment. Above, there would be an opposite story- the identical unit merely a carcass. Each building was a quilt, its patchwork presented a mixture of wealth and circumstances. 

The variability was a result of the state’s system: owners could not ever sell their units, renovation materials have been difficult to come by due to the past state-run market and high prices, and, most importantly, because common areas were not one entity’s direct property. (Stairwells, roofs, exterior facades of buildings were unkempt.) Because of this, buildings were literally crumbling at the rate of about three collapses a day. Restoration has now beginning but the problem is thwartingly immense and widespread- restorers simply can’t keep up. They don’t have access to the materials or the funds. The architecture combined with the fiery vigor of the people gives an inexplainable allure to the city. Havana is a time capsule that is sure to disappear.

If you go:

Art, Food, Drink
Callejon de Hamel– An Courtyard turned Afro-Cuban art project
Rene Pena Photography– Study up and see it for yourself at private restaurant Atelier Cuba
Hemingway’s Cuban Residence– Spectacular
Farmacia Taquechel– Beautiful snapshot of a traditional, mid-century pharmacy on Calle Obispo
Casa de Fuster – Heralded as the Cuban Gaudi
El Tempelete – State owned restaurant in Old Habana with great seafood
La Guarida – Paladares (private-owned) restaurant mysteriously set on the second-story of a seemingly abandoned mansion

Espacios, 10th St. and 31st ave playa
Melon Club, 1st and 60 Playa
Encuentros, Linea St between L and M

Quick Sidetrip:
Las Terrazas– Have coffee at Cafe Maria after canoeing, zip-lining, and swimming in the temperate creek

El Floridita – Outside is the best part, unless you enjoy being ripped off