After an amazing month long road trip through Central America we departed Panama City bound for Cuba for our final country. We’ve had 3 days in Havana before our tour commenced and 2 days at the end
We started in Havana with an 1 hour queue at the bank as the ATM refuses our card – a recurring theme throughout our stay in Cuba. They operate a dual currency system here and we’re in search of CUC’s, Cuban Convertibles which attract a decent exchange when exchange for Sterling, Euros, Swiss Francs or Canadian Dollars. But attract a 10% commission when exchanged for US Dollar. We eventually managed to exchange some sterling and take our first wander around Havana. Sadly, these are not the only queues that we observe throughout our time on the island. As we wandered around the edge of Havana old town there appear to be food queues at regular intervals.
A swathe of Havana adjacent to the Old Town is run down and dilapidated and it’s hard to comprehend how people can live often in large numbers in buildings that quite frankly look like they could collapse at any moment. The moist salty sea air corrode the concrete alarmingly. Admittedly, it’s initially unnerving to walk through street after street of beautiful buildings that are shadows of their former selves. We close our eyes to imagine just how grand this architecture once was, pre-revolution. But we get used to it and feel incredibly safe walking around both day and night. The reality of communism and the American embargo is all around us and we will learn just how much as we travel around the island.
We took an open top bus tour of Havana and there’s classic cars everywhere you look, more about them in a separate post. Havana is huge and the new part of town plays host to embassies from around the world in some of the most opulent and decadent mansions in town. The area was were the pre-revolutionary rich Havanan’s used to live, where American film stars and musicians partied. Scratch the fading peeling paint and plaster and the houses reflect their former owners wealth.
It’s impossible to escape the Revolution in Cuba and we visit the Revolution Museum and embark on our Cuban Revolution education.
In March 1957 the palace was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Batista led by revolutionary student leader José Antonio Echeverría. Bullet holes from the failed attempt are still visible in the Palacio’s main stairway. The museum itself descends chronologically from the top floor starting with Cuba’s pre-Columbian culture and extending to the present-day. The downstairs rooms have some interesting exhibits on the 1953 Moncada attack and the life of Che Guevara. Most of the labels are in English and Spanish. In front of the building is a fragment of the former city wall, as well as an SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs. One hall is dedicated to the so-called Special Period.
Behind the museum (and included in the ticket price) is the Pabellón Granma, a memorial to the 18m yacht that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Tuxpán, Mexico, to Cuba in December 1956 to launch the Revolution. The boat, displayed behind glass, is surrounded by planes, vehicles and weapons used during the Revolutionary wars against Batista and in the Battle of Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs).
Over in Revolution Square, a large image of Che Guevara is displayed on the Ministry of Interior building with the slogan “Until the Everlasting Victory, Always”