Havana- a forgotten city of color, Spanish and curiosity. I see a city that is deteriorating physically yet is full of life; markets on every corner with an abundance of plantain, mango, papaya and an assortment of veggies. It may be difficult to find a Hershey’s bar but it is the only place I’ve been where I can buy 12 croissants for less than 50 cents. It’s as if the pure essentials, what the people need to live on, to scrape by, is easily affordable and accessible, but good luck finding much more than that. Rice, beans, chicken, fish, beef and whatever is found in the local market is basically the weekly menu for locals and tourists alike.
Speaking of menus, unless you want to be your toilet’s best friend for a day or two, stay away from the local ‘hot spots’. Usually tourist attractions, including restaurants, are my travelling red flags. In Cuba, however, if you see a long line of locals and think, “This must be good! Let’s have the real, local experience!’’, it probably tastes delicious, but your body may not react so well. We as North Americans aren’t used to the bacteria, water, and way of preparing food the way the Cubans do and eating their delicious little greasy pizzas and fried meat in a bag may be your one way ticket to the bathroom. Sticking to the (slightly) pricier, North American-friendly restaurants may be the best bet.
The streets of Havana are bright and eclectic. It’s as if I am stuck in a 60s movie. The architecture tells tales of Russian influence and the American presence. The ‘yank tanks’ are one of the most distinguishing parts of Havana, many of which have been turned into Taxis, beeping and honking at tourists on the streets, shouting in hopes of new clientele, ‘’One hour! See the whole city!!’’
To see the whole city by foot is not difficult. It’s about eight kilometers long, Old Havana and New Havana being but a football field apart. Though close, these cities are miles apart in difference. While old Havana has crumbling walls, leathered ladies selling cigars, people dancing on the streets and wide open doors with blasting spanish news from apartments lining las calles, New Havana has restructured student housing, freshly painted apartments, fancy converse, white men in business suits and food that may not be as tasty but probably won’t send you to the toilet. Take your pick.
Even in a complete downpour, the roads are alive; boys are outside kicking around a soccer ball, women peek from their blinds and taxi tuk-tuks pedal to and from, saving freshly cut hair and dry market goods from the rain.
So do I love Havana? Would I come back? Absolutely, though, I do stress that it is not for the faint of heart. Work your way up to Cuba. It is grimy, inside and out. You will see a cockroach, or two, or three. Locals will sheepishly solicit you, then leave you alone. You may get sick. Despite all of this, for me, the colors, the history, the kind hearts and the stories written on every wall from years of history, war, love and hate is worth the experience and adventure of discovering a new place.