Posted by: ilanasmith | July 1, 2006

Havana and Beyond

Last year, Tropical Storm Arlene, the first of the season, foiled my plans to go diving in Florida.
This year, Tropical Storm Alberto, the first of the season, rained itself all over Havana.  The damn things are hunting me.  As it turned out, the rain wasn’t terrible – we bitched about it for a couple of days, then it stopped and we bitched instead about the heat and thought fondly of the rain.
Cuba has a pretty fascinating history, with the Spanish-American(-Cuban) War, the fight for indepence, slavery and  that revolution thingy that Fidel and Che got up to.  That history has stomped itself all over Havana.  Prior to the Revolution, Havana must have been so rich and so beautiful.  The bones of that beauty remain.  The old part of the city is an amazing combination of grandeur and decay.
For some reason, Havana has a lot of museums.  There’s one for playing cards and one for firemen.  There’s even a Napoleon museum.  I’m not sure why.  My favourite was the Museum of the Revolution.  It’s in what was the Presential Palace, and touches on Cuban history since Columbus first showed up, but it concentrates on the more recent upheavals.  My sister, the interpretive ranger, would have gone insane over the museum’s signage.  It was very good at telling you what an object was ("Silvio Ramirez’s glove"), but didn’t bother to tell you why it was significant in the grand scheme of things.  Who was the owner?  Why did he matter?  Was he somehow involved with something to do with the Revolution?  Which bit of the Revolution was he involved with?  Did the Revolution even have bits?
The best part was all the stuff that they managed to blame on the CIA.  Now, I know that they got up to some hinky assasination plans, but apparently, they also deliberately introduced every crop disease that Cuba has ever encountered.  Mother Nature is a spook, I guess.
We hit all the major Havana sights, found an internet cafe in the Capitol building (well, it’s not like they’re using it for anything else), and ate a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches.  We took our photos with the statue of Hemingway in El Floridita – the bar where they invented the daiquiri.  Needless to say, we also had a daiquiri.
We ventured outside of Havana to Veradero, Cuba’s big resort town.  Mark described it as similiar to "all the shitty Spanish sea-side towns my parents took me to when I was a kid".  We were hoping to be able to do some diving in the Bay of Pigs, but missed that trip by a day and instead dived on a couple of wrecks just off Veradero.  The first was quite deep at 31 meters and was a cargo ship that had blown up in 2000.  It is forbidden to import GPS units into Cuba, but our dive boat certainly could have used it.  Instead, they dragged around one of their staff until he found the site.  Most of the superstructure was still there, so we could do some swim-throughs.  I saw a Nassau Grouper.
The second wreck was only at 10m and was a German ship that had sunk in 1943.  The most concerning part about that site was that they used to feed the moray eels, so when divers arrive, guess what else does?  They have many teeth and were way too close for comfort.
There are some photos over at the side.  Mark has the full set on his photo site.  I hope at some point he’ll also post the photos he took with his fancy-schmancy camera.

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