Thursday, February 03, 2011

Top 10 Places: Havana

Like yesterday’s entry, this choice of a top ten place is not a city I know particularly well – but one that I found quite fascinating and would like to spend more time in.

V and I had been together only a short time when he asked if I’d like to accompany him to Cuba to attend his friends’ wedding. I happily agreed, although stipulated that I wasn’t interested in spending the whole time at a resort and would like to have the chance to visit Havana.

We arranged for a stay in a ‘casa particular’- a private home in that lets out a room or more to guests. Essentially it was paying someone to sleep in their bed, eat at their table and sit on their balcony. But I’ve always preferred to travel in a way that gets me past the tourist facade – and this, for all its unpredictability, seemed like a good bet.

We got in many ways what I’d hoped for – a glimpse into the daily life of Cubans. One of my favourite memories is sitting on the small balcony of the apartment we stayed in, watching the casual comings and goings of neighbours. We could hear drifts of conversation and laughter, listen in on the violin practice of a young girl across the street. Night fell as we sat side by side in the humid summer air, sipping rum and eavesdropping on Havana.

Cuba is a fascinating place for its resistance to capitalism and defiance of its colossal neighbour to the north. Being in Cuba is like visiting a Petri dish of social and political experiment. Yet the ideology which holds this country in a vice grip seemed tenuous to me – I kept thinking that everything might change in a matter of months. Yet years have gone by now and I wonder how much has really changed.

Politics aside, Havana is known and celebrated for its arts. There is Hemingway, of course. We visited the hotel he most frequented, drank mojitos on its roof. We also heard music in the streets, watched dancing and puppetry in the street. In caf├ęs we were serenaded by singers with more passion than talent. Altogether captivating.

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