Half of my Heart is in Havana

by - 6:00 PM


In the weeks prior to my trip to Cuba, its capital Havana became some sort of mythical place in my mind. Camila Cabello's single Havana had just started getting airplay in the Netherlands, my parents and I had been watching documentaries on Che Guevara and on top of that I was reading Cuban Heels, a book by Emily Barr, which takes place in Havana. But the thing that stuck with me most was the line 'Sunrise again, over the city of Havana', from a song by a band called Colourshop. That song made me dream of Cuba's capital every night, until the day finally came when I got to visit La Habana myself.

Had I been by myself, on a three-week backpacking trip, I probably would have spent three or more days in Havana. I had neither time nor money for such a trip, so I booked an all-inclusive for nine days and planned as many excursions as possible. After a full-day jeep safari and a trip to the city of Matanzas, it was time to go to Havana.
Early in the morning, my parents and I were picked up from our hotel and boarded a big tour bus full of Dutch tourists. I'd taken a book with me, because even though the distance from Varadero, where I was staying, to Havana is just over 100 kilometers, I'd heard it could take ages to get there thanks to bad Cuban infrastructure. I ended up reading a grand total of five pages. The roads were actually decent, but the real reason the journey flew by was our tour guide, Jesus. He told us all about Cuba's history, heritage and current situation. Plus, because his name was Jesus, he called us his apostles, which made me laugh.


We arrived in Havana before we knew it. Literally before we knew it: one moment we entered a tunnel in the middle of nowhere, the next we came out of it in the middle of the city! We had an entire program of activities ahead of us, but first we drove through the city center on our bus. Classic cars drove by on all sides as we passed El Capitolio and the museum where the boat Castro and Guevara took to start a revolution on Cuba is on display. For the first time, I also saw street art that was more than a simple tag. The sun put everything in a beautiful light. I was falling in love. Havana felt so alive.


Once we got off the bus, our group was spread out over a few classic cars dating back to the 1960s and even a few from the 1920s. I immediately claimed a blue Plymouth; you can't tour Havana in a classic car that's not your favorite color, so I had to have a blue one.
Our drive took us to El Malecón, Havana's sea barrier. He told us that the latest Fast & Furious movie had a scene shot here. I have no idea about that, because I only saw the ending of that movie when I snuck into the theatre early to get a good seat for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
We drove past the almost abandoned US embassy, a former mafia hotel and stopped at a tiny park where we switched cars with other people from our group. This time I claimed a beautiful red convertible. We continued our way through Havana, driving down El Malecón again. We left the ocean behind eventually, drove past Plaza de la Revolución and ended up at a cigar factory.


The visit to the cigar factory was by far my least favorite part of my day in Havana. Apparently, it's one of those things you absolutely have to do if you visit Cuba, but I didn't like it. I appreciated the talent and effort that goes into hand-rolling those big fat Cuban cigars, I really do. But the place smelled awful, I'm willing to bet at least half the employees have pit black lungs and they try to illegally sell you cigars. Not my cup of tea.

I left the cigar factory as soon as possible and took my time photographing street art on the walls near where our bus was parked. I also bought one of those Che Guevara hats and wore it all day. I bet my one communist friend would be proud of me.
A few moments later our group boarded the bus again and we were brought to Plaza de la Revolución. Now this square is truly legendary. History was written here. Fidel Castro held tons of his famous speeches here. The faces of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos look down on you from the facades of two government buildings. It's one of those places where you feel like you can touch history. I ran around like a headless chicken to get all the pictures I wanted. Had I been alone, I would have sat down at the base of the José Martí Memorial, overlooking the Plaza de la Revolución, drafting this blog post right then and there.


Way too soon I had to get on the bus again to go to Habana Vieja, or Old Havana in English. Here we had a complete three-course meal in just over 15 minutes before starting our walking tour. I'm supposed to have seen places where Ernest Hemingway drank cocktails, but I was more focused on the colonial architecture and finding good places to leave my street art stickers than anything else. At one point I almost lost the group, because a colorful portrait of Che Guevara had caught my eye. I went running down the cobblestone street for pictures, ran back when my camera refused to focus, grabbed my parents' camera right out of their hands, ran back again and finally took a good shot. You can't imagine how happy I was to see this piece of art in real life that day.


When the walking tour ended, we had about two hours to roam the streets of Habana Vieja by ourselves. I spent this time taking even more pictures of a certain Che Guevara portrait, buying souvenirs and looking at beautiful buildings and cars. I was enjoying Havana a lot, until a guy came up to me on a busy square, said 'Long hair', and walked on. To this day I still don't know what that was about. Even in Southeast Asia people didn't react to my hair like that. In the end, I just nervously laughed it off.


The sun was already beginning to set when my parents and I walked back to the meeting point where the bus would pick us up. We followed the Canal de Entrada. People were fishing, meeting up, happily chatting away in rapid Spanish. I felt almost sad because I wasn't part of that relaxed life. It reminded me of the book Cuban Heels, of its main character studying Spanish in Havana. I could see myself doing that too. Havana was as enchanting as the Colourshop song had painted it. So maybe one day I'll be back in Havana for more than just a day. Maybe I'll be studying Spanish. Maybe I'll be living there for a short while. Who knows? Life can take you to some unexpected places, and I'm more than ready for it.

x Envy

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2 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Amazing that you got to visit such a historical iconic place! I think I'd be in awe throughout! People making comments on your hair is pretty creepy though :O what souvenirs did you buy? I'm always curious about what tourists end up buying. Probably not snow globes lol.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The pictures look marvelous.
    And I LOVE that blue car. It was a good right to pick it ;)
    Did the cigar factory smell as bad as I imagine it would?

    ReplyDelete

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