Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Cuba: The streets of Havana

We came to Havana to 'live' streets like these.  And we did!  Over three weeks we paced and photographed 125 miles of them (according to my FitBit) in the cooler temperatures of late winter that still topped 30C every day.

It's difficult not to stand out as a tourist when you're armed with a camera, protected with sun cream, hats and glasses and always carrying a bottle of mineral water.  Those things, while necessary, set you apart and make you feel cosseted from the challenges and difficulties which face Havanans every day in this beautiful, but neglected city.  But we tried to overcome the tourist/local barrier, to smile and chat and learn about life in Havana with anyone we could.

There is great spirit and friendliness here.  We felt safe and welcome. Yes, we were sometimes asked for things which we had to refuse but this was was never a problem.   I was surprised at the lack of resentment of tourists who are so visibly privileged when life here is so difficult. 

On the hottest days I sometimes felt that deep-seated resignation hung in the air with the dust but not everywhere.  There is also tremendous ambition and hope for the future.  We met some amazing young people, bright, hardworking and passionate.  As we wait to see how the promise of a rapprochement with the United States pans out, we will have our fingers crossed for them.  That is one of the great things about travel; it makes you care about people.

But back to the street ...

This one is called 'Compostella'.  It's in Old Havana; a street full of heart and soul like pretty much every one we walked along.  You could sit on a bench all day and watch life being played out here.  You would not be bored.  Much of life is experienced in the street. There is not the same boundary between indoors and out that exists in cooler climates.

You can see how vibrant the street is: the colours of the old buildings, the blue of the sky and in the foreground the ubiquitous 1950s American car; this one a more unusual Desoto Fireflight. 

You need to use your imagination for the rest.  Feel the heat of the sun, the dust in the air, the humidity.  Hear the sparrows, the caged songbirds, the pedlar crying his wares as he comes around the corner, shouting loud enough for the whole street to hear him coming.  And be ready to dodge.  A piece of crumbling masonry is about to fall from one of those balconies at any moment.  Or someone is going to throw a bucket of water out.

As an old man observed wryly after a loaf of stale bread flew over a balcony narrowly missing my head:  'Welcome to Cuba.'

After a three week trip, I find myself fascinated by Cuba and fond of its people, some of whom I now call friends.  However, I am no expert.  Please forgive any unintentional inaccuracies.  I still have so much to learn about the history, culture and politics of this country. 

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