By the time we arrived in Havana it was dark, so the first thing I did in the morning was look out my hotel window. This is what I saw.
I immediately noticed the cars. I had heard about all of the old cars in Cuba, but I still never got used to seeing so many brightly colored antique (by American standards) automobiles. The other thing I noticed was the buildings. It didn’t appear like a single building had been constructed in the last forty or fifty years. The most “modern” buildings in the skyline appeared to date from the 1950s or maybe the 1960s, but not later.
This is not to say that the city didn’t have its charm. We were only a few blocks from the ocean, and the rising sun reflected off the windows of a nearby building. Compared to Manchester, where the temperature was in the single digits, Havana was not bad!
After breakfast we all boarded a bus to head to the Center for Jose Marti Studies, our academic home during our time in Cuba. The Marti Center is located in a beautiful house where Jose Marti’s son lived. The bus ride to the Marti Center brought us along the Malecon, Havana’s seaside roadway.
At the Marti Center, Dr. Pedro Pablo Rodriguez gave a lecture the life of Jose Marti. It was an excellent lecture, covering Spanish colonialism, Cuba’s complicated racial history, and Marti’s life and political activities. It was informative and engaging, and I’m not just saying that because Dr. Rodriguez is a fellow historian. The white board at the end of the lecture reminded me of some of the best classes that I had taken as an undergraduate.
After the lecture we went to lunch, followed by a visit to the Jose Marti memorial. The memorial is a large tower overlooking a wide boulevard and surrounded by some of the key government buildings. Two of the nearby buildings are adorned with images of the revolutionary heroes and Castro confidantes Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.
The inside of the memorial has ornate mosaics with quotations from Jose Marti. Unfortunately, we could not make it to the top of the tower because the elevator was out of order. Outdated or malfunctioning technology and crumbling infrastructure are, unfortunately, quite common in Cuba.
We rounded out our first full day in Havana with a walking tour of La Habana Vieja–the old section of Havana. Here the buildings are old but architecturally impressive and full of charm. People strolled about, kids played soccer in the square, and street musicians performed for the tourists.
We were there at just the right time of day. The setting sun cast a glow on the surroundings and the moon was visible over the historic buildings.
Stay tuned–more to come . . . .