The next few days we immersed ourselves in the life and times of Havana, Cuba. Our first stop as we entered the city was the fortress of La Cabana. From there, we got our first views of the Havana skyline, and the harbor that various nationalities have lusted over for 500 years.
It was a surprise to realize that we parked above and walked over the entrance to a tunnel that ran beneath the entire harbor, taking traffic from one side to the other. I saw cars entering, but had no idea what I was looking at until the bus turned onto this road and we drove The Tunnel. From the other side, we caught a glimpse of the opposite shore, one we’d see often in the next few days. There were fortresses on both sides of the harbor entrance to protect early Havana from pirates.
We revisited places along the harbor several times on our driving tours. It was fascinating to see the variety of warehouses, ships, and people involved in the daily life of the harbor. One particularly interesting visit was to a cigar factory which took harvested tobacco shipped in on trains and produced some of the renowned Cuban cigars. Not that I’m a smoker, but I had several requests to bring back samples, so it was interesting to learn about this part of Cuban life, history, and trade.
Our accomodations in Havana were at Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This hotel is renowned for attracting world famous visitors, and for good reason. Its opulence is evident in every detail.
Exploration of four historic plazas in Havana, (Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and Plaza de Armas) filled a whole day, as well as visits to art shops and museums and excellent cuisine at some local paladar restaurants.
Of course we had to see Ernest Hemingway’s famous house.
Spread over several acres, the grounds included his boat in dry dock, a dry swimming pool, landscaped gardens, and an observatory tower. Climb the stairs and view his room at the top, more books and a telescope. Turn around and look out over Havana.
We visited Colon Cemetery, at least a small portion of it, since it is the 4th largest cemetery in the world. The architecture and sculpted tombs inside present a picture into ages past. Interestingly, the name Colon refers to Christopher Colombus who actually anchored on a coastline of Cuba in 1492, not North America.
And we couldn’t leave Cuba without a ride in a Classic Automobile caravan. (I know this is what you’ve been waiting for. . .) We were able to view much of Havana that our bus would not have been able to get through, from fancy housing districts, to beautiful parks. And we ended up driving along the Malecon Boulevard back to Hotel Nacional.
A walk along the Malecon that evening was in order, to experience the special aura that calls to Cubans everywhere.
As the sun sets over the Havana skyline, it’s a challenge to distill all the impressions into something meaningful to take home, but the journey is drawing to a close.