We had only two full days in Havana. Let me just say this, in case you’re planning to go to Cuba anytime soon: two days is NOT enough! No, don’t even think about it. In two days you’ll skim the surface and you’ll end up leaving the city very disappointed. You’ll then start planning another trip back to the island. That’s just my prediction…
On my first day in Havana, the logistics took priority. I took my bike apart and packed it all up, getting it ready for shipping back home. I was finished by 10:45 am (of course I wrote it down; there’s no way I’d remember that four months later). I then showered and got dressed and got out of the house at 11:15 am.
In Havana we were staying with Lupe and Niurka, in our home away from home, in the neighborhood of Miramar. Miramar is a very nice area. It’s near the water and there are embassies around (there’s the “embassy row” – Quinta Avenida – just up the street).
There’s Kasalta, the most wonderful of all state run restaurants in Cuba, just across the park (the one with all the banyan trees) from Lupe and Niurka’s. It serves huge portions of delicious food for under 5 CUC (around $3 to $4 per plate). The waiters are drop dead gorgeous and they all wear pink shirts. And when you try to tip them they politely refuse to accept, but they will say “hi” to you when they see you on the street the next day (true story).
A short walk away from Lupe and Niurka’s place is FAC – Fabrica de Arte Cubano. An old factory turned hipster hang out, this is THE place to go clubbing when you’re in Havana. They usually exhibit local art and play Cuban music as well. The place fills up fast (gotta get there early. By 7pm on a weekend most people will be turned away). Unfortunately, the night that Nedene and I decided to go and check it out, the place was booked for a private party. It was an art show, and the soundtrack was heavy on Coldplay, which should’ve been enough to send us running away, but we tried to get in anyway. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we didn’t have an invitation, and were turned away at the door.
My first full day in Havana I walked over the FAC and then up the street I stumbled upon another “must see/must do” place in the city: Cuba Libro.
Run by an American expat, Conner Gorry (my muse and idol. If you want to check out her blog – much better than mine by about 10,000% – go to www.hereishavana.com), this is a “safe” place. A place where local gay teens (and adults) can come and chill. Now, if you’ve traveled with me abroad, you may have noticed that I gravitate towards gay friendly places. Not because I’m gay, but because that’s often one place in town where I can can have a drink in peace. No cat calls here, no “where you from?” questions. Just excellent coffee, magazines, good music and a pleasant atmosphere. I spent some time here, relaxing and enjoying myself immensely.
I’d like to think that if you’re gay, you’d really enjoy Cuba. Forget the attitudes of the past. There was a time when gays were not treated well here. They were harassed and ostracized. But times have changed. Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, has been working on LGBT rights tirelessly for years and she’s made great progress. It’s not easy to change people’s attitudes, but institutionally laws are now very much in favor of the LGBT community. Sex reassignment surgeries are free of charge. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal. There are now pride parades and drag shows and in the cities you’ll see same-sex couples out and about (someone told me that Cienfuegos has lots of gay clubs and an overall friendly attitude. I’ve never been there, but there is a great club in Santa Clara – El Mejunje – that I visited on one of my previous trips). Fidel Castro, who, like many men of his generation, once ignored the need for acceptance of the gay and trans community, has publicly apologized for his former beliefs. He has called the persecution of gays, back in the 1970s, a “great injustice”.
After this break I continued walking up the street, away from the water, and towards the huge Christopher Columbus cemetery (Cemetario de Colon). If you like graves and weeping angel statues, you could easily spend a day here (maybe up to a week) just walking around admiring all the dead Cubans. I walked in, actually just looking for a bathroom… I took a few pictures and then (after walking around for a bit) realized that there was a little cashier window near the entrance where you’re suppose to pay for admission. Oops. No one stopped me from getting in for free, although I think that as a tourist you’re suppose to pay (again, as is with many museums and other attractions: many places are free to nationals and foreigners have to pay to get in. You’ll feel a lot happier if you just accept this and don’t try to fight the double standard. As a Seattle resident I get a discount at the zoo).
For lunch I had a “hamburger” (a hamburger bun with a thick slice of ham in the middle) at a cafe right outside of the cemetery. As with most cafes in Cuba, it was mostly full of men drinking beer in the middle of the day.
Very lax attitudes towards alcohol consumption in Cuba. Kids in bars, parties that go all night, alcohol sold at all times of day or night, open containers on the streets, the beach, anywhere really. The only restriction I noticed was this sign urging people not to drink rum straight out of the bottle.
After lunch I continued on my walk, but will write all about that in my next post!