After breakfast we got off the boat, breezed through customs and found our tour group. Our guide, Rosie, looked like a kid. She introduced herself and immediately said that she looks 17 but was 27 years old and had been a tour guide for three years.
There was going to be some overlap from the previous night’s tour and off we went down the Malecón or Avenida de Maceo which is the wide boulevard along the sea wall next to the bay. The sea wall is where the locals sit and enjoy the breeze while meeting and greeting. It is said that this wall will bring you luck in love and our other tour guide Manny had met his wife there.
It is interesting as you tour the city that a high percentage of buildings are in disrepair. It was mentioned that an average of two buildings a day collapse in Cuba. My guess would be that 90% are over due to be painted and many are abandoned or collapsed. Even most of the buildings with a beautiful harbor view need some sprucing up . We would. guess that the bar is set low in Cuba for house maintenance. The heat and humidity must take its toll on the houses and low budgets.
Rosie pointed out the American Embassy that recently the employees have been claiming hearing loss and illness due to some mysterious sonic wave bombardment.
The Russian embassy located a few miles away looked like a combination of a fortress and communication tower in the same building. It was tall and narrow with an array of antennas . Could they be blasting our embassy with a sonic death ray? Did they meddle in our election? You decide.
Rosie’s first cheerful tour stop was at the Cementary de Colon. She killed it, rim shot!
Our local guide was well versed, but appeared to be giving his talk by rote. It was our first zombie encounter and it was likely that we could out run him if he attacked, nonetheless we kept our distance. Santeria is practiced here, so you can’t be too careful.
About halfway through his tour his cell rang ” Da da-da, da DA!”, it was George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone. A little graveside humor.
One interesting story is the legend of “La Milagrosa” or The Miraculous Woman. The story is about an upper class woman named Amelia Goyri de la Hoz who fell in love with Jose Vicente Vicente, a man her father did not approve of. So she waited until her father death to marry Jose. Unfortunately about a year latter in 1903 at 23 years of age, she died along with her newborn during childbirth. They were buried together with her child placed at her feet. Her grieving husband would visit the grave daily over the next seventeen years until his death. He would talk to her after tapping with the brass knockers on top of the crypt. He would then leave always walking backwards in hopes of seeing a glimps of his beloveded. Years latter after she was exhumed, she was found with her child cradled in her arms. Today people still bring flowers and small gifts while tapping with the bronze knockers in hopes their prayers will come true. Our tour guide with great respect invited us to do so.
Today Cubuns get a crypt for 2 years with a small charge of 50 cents per month and then they are moved to wherever the family now wants them buried. This is so that all families regardless of income can enjoy crypt side mourning for two years. In Havan approximately 85% of the people are buried here at Cemetery de Colon.
After paying our respects we boarded the bus where Rosie did a bit of an awkward rant about Cuban/ American relations and how the USA were the jerks of the relationship. Was the government listening in? You decide. Okay…we liked Manny from our previous tour!
Our next stop was Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba house, which is located 10 miles east of Havana in the town of San Francisco de Paul. It took about 45 min to get there and we saw lot’s of ”Local Color”, our travel term for ghetto neighborhoods and blight. If Ernest could see what has happen ( or didn’t happen) to his beloved Cuban neighborhood, he would spin in his grave.
The house was built by Spanish architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer in 1886. It was named Finca Vigia or “Lookout House”. Hemingway bought the house in 1940 for $12,500.
Hemingway’s estate was cool. There were plenty of Cuban babushka ladies to keep people from going in the house, you could only peer in from the Windows. Sad. In Key West we went all through his house and the grounds. Oh well, when in Cuba.
After wandering around the lower floors of the residence we ascended up a four story tower where the Hemingway’s had added on a writing room. The view was awesome. Also one very kind lady took took photos for us inside the room.
Farther out on the estate we found Hemingway’s restored boat the Pilar , which is permanently dry docked on the tennis court. We were also able to check out his swimming pool and baseball diamond. The pool seemed smaller then expected.
In the 20 years that Hemingway lived here he wrote two of his great works, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and The Sea”.
Then in 1960 during the Castro led Revolution, Hemingway with his fourth wife Mary fled Cuba. After Hemingway’s death in 1961 and with special permission from the Kennedy administration, Mary returned to Finca Vigia to retrieve as many possessions that she could carry. Fidel Castro, a huge fan of Hemingway’s, presumably helped.
In that same year the Cuban government took over the properties ownership and upon which it fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until 2002 with the cooperation between a Boston based nonprofit the “Finca Vigia Foundation” and the Cuban government that restoration efforts were put in place.
After our visit we headed back to the bus where we cruised over to the barrio of Jaimanitas. This neighborhood features art work from the artist Jose Fuster, who was influenced by Gaudi after visiting Barcelona. The walls along the street were decorated with broken tile artwork.
The followers of Fuster have continued to create Gaudi like figures, whimsical art and murals. It was like a scene from Alice In Wonderland.
One art gallery was packed with tile art and we didn’t have enough time to enjoy it. Sticking to a schedule is life on a tour. We were about to board the bus when a man shouted “Come see the worst art gallery in Cuba” and we all laughed at his marketing ploy. This schedule seemed a little tight and we spent too much time getting to locations than at the location, it wouldn’t have been so bad if the scenery was pretty and not so * colorful.
The next stop was lunch and we were promised a free lobster dinner. The restaurant was a little Cuban place overlooking the ocean complete with a three piece band that started to play just as we were having a good conversation with our table mates.
Our table mates were three sisters from Alabama, Florida and Connecticut cruising with their mother who was celebrating her 80 th birthday. The three sisters planed a cruise to coincide with all their and mom’s schedule. One of the sisters had lived in Corona Del Mar not far from us. We talked about travel and cruises and I happen to ask if any of them had done genetic testing from Ancestry. Com or 23 and Me, and they all gushed “yes” with some conspiratorial glances at each other. I then asked if there were any surprises thinking a different lineage may have popped up other than originally thought. They answered with nodding heads and laughs. Apparently one of the sisters had recently taken the DNA test and a half sister popped up that no one knew about. They concluded that their father had probably not know about her either. She was older and born in a home for unmarried women before their father married their mother. They had met with her in Florida just before the cruise and were still giddy having a new sister. She had been adopted into a good family and had been successful in her own career. What a story! The new sister wanted to know all about her father and had never really investigated her biological parents, until now.
The so-so lobster lunch finished and we visited a cigar and rum shop on the way to Revolution Square. Of course two cigars were purchased for band mates.
At Revolution Square the famous Cuban taxis were out in full force. It looked like a classic car show. We took some photos and it started to rain. The convertibles had their tops up in seconds, and their business all but stopped, until the rain cleared.
I asked Rosie about the inordinate amount of convertible cars and she laughed that making cars into convertibles is an entire side industry. She also said that cousin’s Chevy also had various parts in it to kept it running including a Honda motor.
Our final destination was the San Francisco Market Place and we were allotted only 35 minutes to shop. Apparently we ate up some of our shopping time at the cigar store. Darn. We could have spent at least two hours in this massive building filled with local vendor booths. We could haggle! We were only going to buy a magnet as is our tradition ( you should see our refrigerator at home), but one thing led to another.
Everything was so cheap, that we didn’t even haggle. We bought a magnet, a clave percussion instrument, two stuffed voodoo dolls, two cigar cases and a decorative mask with ten minutes to spare. It was raining hard now and we had missed these forecasted thunderstorms all week so we didn’t mind getting soaked splashing towards the bus. The bus windows were fogging up from soaked passengers boasting about their purchases. A passenger next to me had bought a case of the best Cuban cigars, Cohibas, for his barber costing around $200.
Once again, we were too beat to hang around Havana any longer and we dashed up the gang way in the rain into the ship.
The crew was waiting with pool towels and smiles.