My god, how time flies…. I have now been back from Cuba for close to 10 days, and my reentry into the business world has been the usual: tons of projects to catch up on, accounting stuff to be taken care off, marketing strategies to be worked out, etc. etc. As a result I didn’t have time yet to tell you about my final day in Cuba and my reflections and insights after my return.
Che Guavara – still a favourite in Cuba
On Friday afternoon I checked out the Plaza de la Revolucion, which is the seat of the Fidel Castro’s government and the seat of the “Comite Central” of his communist party. It is a large square that is usually used for political rallies and speeches and the two most distinguishing features are a huge image of Che Guevara on a building on the west side of the square, as well as the memorial to Jose Marti which is composed of an obelisk-like tower and a huge statue of the national hero. The Plaza de la Revolucion definitely has a very monumental feel to it and I would have like to be there and experience the atmosphere during a rallye or speech.
The Jose Marti Memorial
Well, Saturday, April 16 was my last full day in Cuba. The day started out rainy and grey but the weather managed to clear up nicely, so much so that I forgot to put on sunscreen and I got myself burned on my arms pretty badly. I now officially have a tanline half way down my upper arm since I was wearing a t-shirt with sleeves – not a pretty sight….
My trusted friend and tour guide Pedro came to meet me early for our last excursion around Havana. As we had done earlier in the week, we walked towards downtown and there were a few things that I had not seen yet. We walked all the way to the Capitolio and caught a public bus across the bay to get to the famous statue “Cristo de la Habana”, a 17m high statue dating to the late 1920s, that looks at downtown Havana and the harbour entrance from a ridge on the other side of the water.
The “Cristo de La Habana”
The view from up there was fabulous. We saw the entire skyline of Havana (obviously pretty devoid of skyscrapers), had a view of the entire Bay of Havana and saw a huge cruise ship anchored at the Terminal Sierra Maestra. (Incidentally, due to the embargo, any cruise ship docking in Cuba is not allowed to dock in the US for 6 months..).
After successfully catching a sunburn we caught another bus back into town and sat around in a tourist cafe along the waterfront. A group of performance artists on stilts, the so-called “Teatro de la Calle” (Street Theatre) came by and perched high up on their stilts, they danced to the ubiquitous rhythms of Salsa.
Teatro de la Calle
Later that afternoon we caught the local ferry to the other side of Havana Bay, to a residential neighbourhood called “La Regla”. This is definitely not a tourist area, so we just hopped off, walked around for a half hour and returned to the ferry dock. Our effort was rewarded with a view of one of the most beautiful sunsets across Havana Bay before we returned to the downtown area to head into the Barrio Chino for a final tasty, yet affordable meal.
Sunset view across the “Bahia de La Habana”
I headed back to the hotel fairly early since I still had to pack my suitcase. Sunday morning I took a little walk through the neighbourhood, taking a few final snapshots of the area, including the Habana Libre hotel and the famous Coppelia icecream park. Pedro had dropped by and we said our goodbyes in front of my hotel.
My friend Pedro had been my tourguide, my local expert and my bodyguard against the constant onslaught of male attention for close to 2 weeks and we had developed a great friendship. We dropped by at his sister-in-laws who works in the neighbourhood and another round of goodbyes was exchanged.
In the airport shuttle I connected with another young woman from Vancouver who had also attended a 2-week course at the University of Havana and we exchanged stories and experiences on our way, in Spanish, of course.
I think what made this trip so unique and special was the fact that I had the opportunity to connect with locals and to be immersed and receive a personal introduction to the Cuban lifestyle. I had made a real effort to seek out contacts with locals, in restaurants, in the bank, at the bus station, at the university, really whereever I could.
My experience in Cuba was made most special by the people that I met. I really have to thank Pedro, his family, my friend Sandra in Vinales and all the other local Cubans who showed me great hospitality and who taught me so much about this strange and unique country.