It’s like the whole place came to a stop and then went backwards after the Cuban “revolucion” in 1959 and the evidence is there for everyone to see and dare-I-say enjoy, because Cuba’s is about music, salsa dancing, awesome cars ‘n cigars and a crumbling world that’s trapped in its communist era ideology.
“Soundtrack to accompany this blog”
I would like to think that the clock across the road from our “Casa Particular” (Cuban type of B&B where we stayed with Mariane, Malene’s mum) stopped on the day of “la revolucion”, am sure it didn’t, but I am sure that from that moment it started to crumble along with all the splendid high-ceilinged colonial buildings that line the streets of down-town Havana.
Not much of Havana has been maintained and many buildings are in such a state of disrepair they pose a risk to anyone walking beneath them, a quick glance up and you will see pieces of concrete hanging off the parapets, a quick look at the rubble on the ground below confirms it.
In the old centre some of the important buildings have been restored, but to restore the whole city, which would have looked spectacular in its hey-day, is such a big task it’s hard to imagine it can ever be completed, especially as work does not seem to be high on anyone’s agenda.
Cuba is awash with old American cars “Americanos”, most are in disrepair and have been patched and hand-painted more times than I can possibly imagine. They cruise the streets of Havana and across Cuba like big tin bugs trailing clouds of black smoke. They have been on the move for years and will keep going for many more thanks to their 2mm thick steel bodies and the Hyundai diesel engines under their oversized hoods, plus there is a law preventing them from being exported overseas.
In Havana quite a few old cars, especially taxis, have been professionally restored, seeing them cruise the streets in numbers is a beautiful sight, some are painted brighter than their original colours but still look the part and fantastic.
It would be interesting to know the official ratio of Americanos to other models, like the comparatively new 70s-80s Moskovich and Lada’s or even newer cars, but going on my count Americanos make up half the cars on the road, the 1970s – 80s Russian cars are 30% and the rest are more recent models.
Cubanos earn a state income that averages $30 a month, whether you are a street-sweeper or a doctor it’s pretty much the same, believe it or not. Most people in Cuba are very poor compared to countries in the West but the social system looks after their basic needs like health, education, essential foods and if lucky shelter.
With many essentials taken care of Havanans and Cubanos have a lifestyle which brings them close together and on most evenings they gather on the streets or side-walks to talk, flirt, fix stuff, listen to music or have a round of domino. Life on the surface looks good and far removed from the stresses we experience in developed countries.
They don’t have much money but have time for music and dance, however scratch the surface and you find they crave modernity and have a deep frustration about their current state. Most Cubanos are a long way from acquiring many of the most basic gadgets, let alone fancy electrical gear any time soon, their only option is to have family overseas who send stuff or come to Cuba on holiday laidened with tv’s, aircons, aquariums and chandeliers to mention but some of the goods we saw on our flight.
The center of Havana is divided into 3 sections; Vieja, the old town with its narrow laneways, Centro with its run-down colonial homes and Vedado, the newer end of town where you can find some big hotels. Our casa particular is on Concordia Street which despite being in run-down central Havana area is a quiet street due to traffic routing. Being quiet it attracts the onion and veggie vendors, tenants hang out on the street, bicycle taxis cruise up ‘n down, girls flirt and you may catch the odd Santeria ceremony where a chicken is likely to come to a sticky end.
I can’t say my photos do justice to the street life because you never know who wants their photo taken or how much you need to tip if you do.
Things are quirkier in the next blog so please have a look.