The Sunset on Castro’s Havana

The view from the NH Paque Centrale Hotel was one of many reasons to pay the few extra dollars to stay there. We were so lucky that they actually read my request for a room facing the square for photography. We had to wait an extra hour or three to get it, but being able to watch the tropical storms come into the square or see the night life from above was a special experience. The shot above was taken from the roof, where they had a nice pool. We had been swimming the evening before and knew that if we went up on our last night, then we could get some beautiful shots of the city.

These angel/monsters creeped me out. Hotel Ambos Mundos had them placed all over the hotel, each one different and more frightening than the last. We had some in our room’s weird “smoking room”. This was taken from an altar-like set on the rooftop of the building, and their hands are less terrifying than the ones in our room. I believe that a local artist did each one specifically for the hotel; they remind me of creatures found in my favourite video game, Silent Hill. I feel like this might actually be a “god” of some type to the local people; a house deity that you observe – the placed coconut on the right means it is important to someone. I just know that the image resonated with me in a dark recess that I would rather not dwell on.

V. loves ice cream. Our first attempt to secure some in Havana was a disaster. The locals were lined up for soft serve strawberry all over town, so we decided that it would be a reprieve from the heat. Imagine shaving cream and you might be happier than we were with the flavour. As reparations to poor V., when we came across the “people’s ice cream parlour” a few blocks from the Hotel Nacional, I knew we had to go. Unfortunately, there were two hour lines to enter the giant UFO-shaped building built in the 60s when UFO-shaped buildings were cutting-edge. We tried to enter one of the side cafes, but were turned away because we were tourists. Eventually, a local took pity on V. and silently led us to an empty corner where they allowed tourists to buy their goods with CUC dollars. Two sundaes and about $10 later we felt like Cuba knew what good ice cream was even if there was very little of it available to the average citizen. Coppelia is worth a visit, if only to get a sense of how the Revolution began.

I just had to take a photo of this bicycle seat. The motorcycle with sidecar in the background was an added bonus, but the sheer determination to keep using an ancient seat by wrapping it with packing tape struck a chord with me. In America we would have tossed the seat as soon as it began to show any wear; I cannot imagine anyone stubborn enough to keep using such a seat here. Perhaps that is why Cuba has remained strong against the trade embargo where others would have long since crumbled: they will persevere for what they believe in. What does America persevere for?

The final image scanned tonight was another classic car. This one was well-worn and rusting; its paint was smeared with a paintbrush and its hood ornament was long gone. Still, it seems a preferable ride to this year’s American and Japanese offerings.

Cuba appears to be coming back onto the international radar this week as Castro rises from the dead to put on his battle fatigues (sans star or medals) to speak to his people once more. Whether this is a rally or a death rattle remains to be seen, but I am just happy to have been able to experience the real Havana before it disappears to capitalism or decay.


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