Habana is not black and white. Habana is patriotism, hand-drawn flags and stray cats and dogs.
Habana is cars. Habana is tall doors and stained glass, street art and less propaganda than expected. It’s odd food and odd fashion choices (leggings of doubtful taste seemed to be all the rage) and a slow relaxed way of life.
Habana is abandoned houses and mojitos.
Habana is statues and street artists, and street artists that look like statues.
Habana is unexpected flowers and tasty meat, but fish and seafood that is sparse on the menu. The women working for the customs office wear fishnet stockings with flowery patterns. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of them – thought it might not have been the most intelligent thing to do!
Habana is people.
Habana is the Malecon, with its gigantic waves that break on the road and leave layers of seaweed and salty windscreens.
Habana is standing in queues. We were baptised right at the start, with a one and a half hour queue at the airport for passport control. There are queues for everything and anything – to get the bus you have to go early in the morning of the day before and queue up behind dozens of people to buy the ticket for the next day. And most of it is a “virtual queue” as one patient queuer explained: half of the people there worked for businesses and although they were physically one person, they were there to buy tickets for up to twenty people who weren’t there. Hence, the “virtual” adjective.
Habana is Plaza Vieja.
Habana is art and attention to details.
Habana is music, great music, but boring, unoriginal food. Yes, people will disagree with me, but I have to insist: the food is always the same and non-creative. Soup. A protein with rice, beans and vegetables as sides. Sometimes fried rice is offered, which is the rice with the protein and sides all cooked together, but that’s about the extent of their cuisine. What they have is good, make no mistake, and I understand that the embargo makes things complicated, but the options are not as few as the menus suggest.
Habana is the house of rap.
Habana is smiling faces and friendliness everywhere.
Habana is money.
People ask you for money, try to take more money than they should, haggling and bartering. Habana is safe, safer than most countries, but in Habana boyfriend was mugged by a wandering rogue on the streets around Plaza de la Revolucion. We had seen him before, but this didn’t prepare us for him jumping at boyfriend’s neck and grabbing the little gold chain that I had forgotten completely about – seeing too many series, I was convinced the man was crazy and was tryign to kill boyfriend. We yelled, we screamed, we tried to get him off. Less than a minute of utter surrealism and then two tiny old Cubans came to our aid, scaring the criminal away once and for all. A bruise, a scratch, a racing heartbeat and a broken chain were all we were left with – he didn’t even manage to steal the loot.
Habana is two grandparents that escort you to a more touristy area to make sure you get there safely.
Habana is views and beautiful at night, too.
Habana is realising that it’s not 2015. It’s the 56th anniversary of the Revolution.
Leaving Habana, we discovered that Habana is not Cuba. Cuba is different, but Habana is not less interesting. Cubans that live elsewhere hate Habana, describing it as dangerous, expensive and dirty. We loved it, mugging and spending aside – it would definitely be a place that I would like to visit again. And that’s not something I say often.