Posted by: ilanasmith | June 29, 2006

Viva La Habana

Usually, renewing a visa just takes a few hours, but they say it can take "up to three days" so we didn’t have firm plans up-front around what day we’d head to Cuba.  In this day and age, it’s more than a little weird to rock up to the airline desk at the airport and ask to buy a ticket for that day’s flight.  It’s also a little stupid, as it turns out, because sometimes they’re sold out and you have to come back the next day.
So the next day, we merrily board our Cubana Airlines flight to Havana.
Let me just say: when your plane is of clanky old Russian make, there’s some weird smoke drifting down the aisle, and your travel companion delights in mentioning that Cubana has the worst maintained fleet in the world –  for the first time in about 15 years, you read the safety card.
We arrived in Havana late in the day.  Driving from the airport, I got so excited to see my first old American car.  And then my first Che billboard.  I never really seem to believe in iconic images until I can’t avoid it.
We stayed in a Casa Particular (a private home – sort of like a bed and breakfast) in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Old Havana really is old…and run-down and kinda a bit..well, it looks like a slum.  Being thrown out of a cab (the road was blocked by rubble) at dusk in a fairly interesting part of town is an interesting experience.   There’s a photo of the street below – our place was the blue one on the right.
But the place we stayed at ended up being great, and so did Havana.  Two nights later, we’re trotting down at pitch-black street at midnight and feeling perfectly safe.  Havana may look delapidated and abandoned, but it’s incredibly vibrant.
The Bahamas was comfortable and nice.  Arriving in Cuba underlined to me that I’m not the kind happy to sit on a beach.  Cuba is more like full-contact travelling – it smelled, it looked scary, it was hard to do most things, but it was also fascinating and absorbing and amazing.  I felt alive.
On the night of my thirtieth birthday, I sat in Plaza Vieja with Mark, looking out at the uniquely Cuban buildings, drinking Cuban beer and listening to a great Cuban band.


  1. wow its a far way form aussie land to cuba isnt it…

  2. It is, though you wouldn’t know it from all the Aussies there.  I live in Seattle though, so it’s not as far.

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