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Ah, historic HAVANA! Big enough to be a city since 1592, with heavy fortifications built at the harbour entrance to fend off the pirates of the 1600′s. A perimeter wall was added to the defenses in the 1700′s, only to be torn down in 1863 to make room for a rapidly expanding metropolis. After the first revolution in the late 1800′s, the country ended up under United States control. The 1930′s brought gangsters, casinos, money, and of course, corruption to Havana, turning it in to a veritable sin city. Fulgencio Batista was the man in charge, and brutality and greed reigned over Cuba. Change finally came on January 1st, 1959, when the irrepressible forces led by Fidel Castro,”Che” Guevara, and Camilio Cienfuegos were poised to take over Havana, and Batista fled by plane with a personal fortune of dirty money estimated at 300 million dollars.
Today, still under the rule of Castro, Havana is a city of contrasts. Beautifully maintained and restored buildings stand amidst those that have been allowed to crumble into the streets. Fifty year old (or more) American cars of all makes share the narrow streets and wide boulevards with Russian Ladas from the seventies, and rarely, newer Chinese and European models. Sharply dressed Cubanos riding on 40 year old Chinese bicycles. Humble corner bodegas where Cubans can pick up their rations of rice, eggs, bread etc., and huge department stores full of stuff that most of the population will never be able to afford.
We settled in to our cosy casa, made arrangements for some Spanish lessons, and set to wandering through the ever busy streets of this lively city. Often we would walk along the Malecon, an eight kilometer long sea wall pummelled by waves and wind during storms, but packed with Habaneros (residents of Havana, not the hot peppers) on fair weather evenings. One night we passed hundreds of people, hanging out and having a good time with friends, drinking, fishing, playing or listening to music, and making out. A fantastic part of the city.
GALLERIES, ART, and other DETAILS:
After an enjoyable ten days in Havana, we were excited to hit the road again and escape the one thing we didn’t like so much: the air quality can only be described as poor in this grand ciudad.