Men looking after their cars, Havana, Cuba.

Havana – A post card from the past

Havana captivates in so many ways. It’s like time stood still for the last seven decades. The sunbleached facades, the absence of internet, and of course, the anachronistic Cadillacs rolling in the streets. It’s one of those places you only go to once, but will remember for the rest of your life.

Taxi driver, Havana, Cuba.
Taxi driver, Havana, Cuba.

Have you ever wondered where all the old cars driving around the city come from? In the 1950s, Cuba was one of the largest buyer in the world of American cars. However, import ceased during the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro imposed strict trade restrictions. Since then, the country has had a hard time replacing them. The solution? You keep the cars as they are and make them a symbol of the city.

Men looking after their cars, Havana, Cuba.
Men looking after their cars, Havana, Cuba.
A green Chevrolet, Havana, Cuba.
A green Chevrolet, Havana, Cuba.
Car passing a public building, Havana, Cuba.
Car passing a public building, Havana, Cuba.

Havana is not the place you go to for honeymoon. For me, it’s all about the people. If you’re into street photography, you’ll love it. People of Havana just are. Standing in the streets. Window-watch you. They play and dance. And the night brings a fusion of daiquiri drinks, cigar smoke, and salsa dancing. It’s so much street. So much character. But there’s something else too. A sadness. You can see it in their eyes. As they are trapped in their own lives and just want to embrace the outside world.

People of Havana just are. Standing in the streets. Window-watch you. They play and dance. And the night brings a fusion of daiquiri drinks, cigar smoke, and salsa dancing.

In Cuba, you either stay at a hotel or, which is much more interesting, in a family owned “Casa”. They are as common as hotels and can be pre-booked before your arrival. You get a better insight in the daily Cuban life and they will serve you freshly-baked bread for breakfast (a small luxury in Cuba).

Barber shop, Havana, Cuba.
Barber shop, Havana, Cuba.
Boy playing, Havana, Cuba.
Boy playing, Havana, Cuba.
Woman smoking cigar, Havana, Cuba.
Woman smoking cigar, Havana, Cuba.
Girl eating ice cream, Havana, Cuba.
Girl eating ice cream, Havana, Cuba.

I soon noticed that just about everything in Cuba is strictly regulated. Taxi from the airport? “Twenty five pesos, por favor”. End of story. You wanna rent a car? It’s minimum five days. Book three months in advance. After all, it’s one of few true communist countries in the world alongside China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea. It’s a strange feeling when you visit the local supermarket. Empty shelves. People queuing up. The store filled to the top with three things. Canned-food, bananas, and rhum. Lot’s of rhum.

I soon noticed that just about everything in Cuba is strictly regulated. Taxi from the airport? “Twenty five pesos, por favor”. End of story. You wanna rent a car? It’s minimum five days. Book three months in advance.

I asked my host family if they had wifi. “Si, si. No problem senior. But only wifi, no Internet. Internet too expensive.” And expensive it was. You have to buy a government issued “internet card” to get online. It’s a dollar an hour. And maximum two cards per person. So don’t get surprised if people rather than surf the web stand in their windows or graffiti some street pop art on the wall next door.

Police officers taking a rest in a park, Havana, Cuba.
Police officers taking a rest in a park, Havana, Cuba.
Central station, Havana, Cuba.
Central station, Havana, Cuba.
Street art, Michael Jackson, Havana, Cuba.
Street art, Michael Jackson, Havana, Cuba.
Primavera Monument, Havana, Cuba.
Primavera Monument, Havana, Cuba.
Boy playing, Havana, Cuba.
Boy playing, Havana, Cuba.
Old cars cruising, Havana, Cuba.
Old cars cruising, Havana, Cuba.

So you’ve walked around the narrow streets of Habana Vieja all day and want some nice places to go for the night? El Frente is literally a hole in the wall and a hard place to spot if don’t know it. It’s an organic restaurant and we ended up going there for dinner almost every night. They serve great drinks and have a rooftop bar with DJ. You can also head to the rooftop bar at Gran Hotel Mazana, today called Kempinski La Habana, and catch the sunset. It’s the first hotel to open after the revolution and the view is astonishing.

El Frente is literally a hole in the wall and a hard place to spot if don’t know it. It’s an organic restaurant and we ended up going there for dinner almost every night.

Paladar La Guarida is situated somewhat outside the old city, but is definitely worth a detour. The atmosphere is an experience in itself. Finally, La Badeguita del Medio, one of the Hemingsway spots. Go for the traditional “lechón asado”, roasted pork, or a keep-’em-coming-mojito-session in the bar. Immortalize your visit by writing your name on the restaurant wall.

Concierge service, Mazana hotel, Havana, Cuba.
Concierge service, Mazana hotel, Havana, Cuba.
Skyline from the Mazana hotel rooftop, Havana, Cuba.
Skyline from the Mazana hotel rooftop, Havana, Cuba.
La Pina de Plata, Havana, Cuba.
La Pina de Plata, Havana, Cuba.
Paladar La Guarida, Havana, Cuba.
Paladar La Guarida, Havana, Cuba.
Paladar La Guarida, Havana, Cuba.
Paladar La Guarida, Havana, Cuba.

All images © 2020 Erik Ekberger.

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