I had finally arrived at Hemingway Marina a few miles west of Havana city after sailing clockwise round the south of Cuba. It had been a great 25 days in a fascinating country with great towns, wonderful wild cays and challenging sailing. I now wanted to see the city that brings together the old, the new, the culture, music and economy of Cuba. It is certainly an old city which in certain aspects stopped when the sugar and tobacco riches stopped flowing into the country. It stopped when Castro started the revolution and the USA put an embargo on trade with the enemy and it went backwards when the oil crises hit the western world but despite all of this it is a city where people work and live and certainly have lots of fun based around their type of music and dance.
I took the local communal taxi into the centre of Havana for 20 pesos. It passed the huge hotels with names familiar to any resort junky, the down a boulevard as wide as any in Paris or Rome lined with the Embassies of many of the worlds countries - South Africa but not Australia nor America. The largest was the Russian which seemed to occupy six blocks with its own tower holding antenna and satellite dishes. It had fallen into disrepair but must have been great in its day.
I was dropped off at the El Capitolio building which is a Neo Classical imitation of the Washington DC Capital building but with more intricate designs. It was built in 1929 but is now undergoing restoration so I was not able to go inside.
I headed off to the Museum of the Revolution housed in the former presidential palace built in 1920. It has a grand staircase at the entrance the many more as one tours through the rooms filled with picture and objects of the various local and overseas revolutions including the Angolan war where Cuba sent 30,000 troops to fight against the MPLA and the South African Forces.
Fidel Castro, Che, Roule and Cienfuegos and the other faces of the Cuban revolution are every where plus shots of them in the front line of the various battles. It was a great experience to read their history written by the Cubans.
I walked all over the city and took a hop on hop off bus tour with commentary in three languages. The best street is the retail street called Obispo. It is a narrow cobbled street with building dating from the 16 to the 19th C. Along the way are shops, houses and a few hotels, one was used by Earnest Hemingway himself. It had many pictures of the man unfortunately only a few when his was young but still it was exciting to walk the halls where the great man drank.
I spent two days walking the streets of Havana. It was full of people going about their daily lives, plus hundred of tourist from all parts of the world either walking the streets on tours or being bussed around in air conditioned coaches. I found some great paintings and some paper mashe fish which I purchase at CUC market for a song. They are now on the bulkhead of Malua along with the painting of sea scenes from the Caribbean.
Here are my observations of Cuba in no particular order of importance:
- The Cubans are very friendly but be careful the hand of friendship soon turns up when they ask for gifts or handouts.
- The people are very well educated but not worldly. Schools are free and 9.3 % of GDP is spend on all types of education. I dont know how they select who goes to what university.
- They are healthy by any standard. There is 1 GP per 150 households. Medical and dental treatment is free, the standard of practice is high by world standards but basic medication is just that basic. Drugs from the west are not available.
- Infant mortality is very low 4.3 per 1,000 births and mothers survival is very high.
- The centrally controlled economy has adjusted to world events particularly the US embargo and the oil crisis - they returned to the ox and horse. The GFC just passed Cuba by without any effect.
- There is a two tier financial system implemented to take the money from the tourists. The CUC at one to 25 local peso. This has forces people into trying to get CUC from tourists either by offering services or selling their handy crafts in the CUC markets. It has also created a middle class from those who can deal with the outside world.
- There is no petty crime and nothing is stolen but be careful if you are caught dealing in the black market or with tourist when you are not allowed. Don’t be caught with drugs or be a prostitute, the jail terms are long and hard.
Many magical moments on Malua.