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How Much Will Cuba Change?

President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba later this month has its many detractors both here in the U.S. and in Cuba. Normalizing relationships is beneficial for both countries, for the region, and especially for ordinary Cubans, but Cuba will no doubt change. I wonder what will be lost.

I visited Havana in 2009 so I could see it as it is before America, with its fast food and chain stores, returned and reduced everything to bland sameness. Here are a few things I hope won’t disappear.

Callejón de Hamel

Located between Calle Arumburu and Calle Hospital and about 10 minutes’ walking distance from the US Interest Section (now the consulate) in Vedado, Callejón de Hamel pulses with Afro-Cuban music starting at about 11 a.m. on Sundays. The rhythms, the vibe uniquely Cuban.  

Havana Callejón de Hamel

Callejón de Hamel

All around are murals by well-known local artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalon.

Havana Callejón de Hamel

Mural at Callejón de Hamel

Mural, Callejon de Hamel

Mural, Callejon de Hamel

Centro de los Orishas, Regla

Located about 20 minutes’ drive from Havana, the Centro de los Orishas in Regla is an open-air museum with wooden sculptures that depict the santería gods, Obbatala, Yemaya, Chango, Ochun, Babalu Aye, Eleggua and Ochun.

Havana, Shango and Ochun

Change (red) and Ochun

Havana, Yemaya

Yemaya

Billboard Free Cuba

Probably the first thing you’ll notice in Cuba is that there is no commercial advertising, no billboards hawking products. Instead, there are murals and signs extolling the revolution, and the country’s achievements. 

Havana mural

We I found this 300m mural on Mercaderes Street, across from the Marqués de Arcos mansion. Created by the artist, Andrés Carrillo, along with the architect Jaime Rodríguez, sculptor Nicolás Ramos Guiardinú and students from the San Alejandro Art Academy, the mural is made up of 52 panels that depict 67 outstanding historical and artistic figures in Cuba.  

Havana Libre

Vivo en un pais libre

Translated, this mural proclaims, “I live in a free country.” I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on the Cuban people.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

I found this etching of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Argentine-born doctor, guerrilla leader and a major figure in the Cuban Revolution on a sidewalk.

Havana Che

And this one across from Plaza de la Revolución (if you’ve ever seen video of Fidel Castro speaking to a multitude of people, that’s where they’d gather). Interestingly, it almost faces the statue of José Martí, another important historical figure.

Che

José Julián Martí y Pérez

There are several memorials to José Julián Martí y Pérez, a poet, journalist, revolutionary and national hero who was born in Havana more than 160 years ago and is revered as the father of the revolution.  

Statue of Jose Marti

Statue of Jose Marti

However, to me, this one shows Martí’s humanity.

Jose Marti

The inscription at the base reads, “to timely prevent with the independence of Cuba that is spreading through the Antilles the United States and fall with that additional force over our American lands. All I have done so far, and will do, is for that.” – Jose Marti, May 18, 1895, hours before dying in combat.

Havana’s Classic Cars

You’ll see these classic American made cars all over Cuba. Some, like this one, are surprisingly in pretty good condition. I wonder how quickly their Cuban owners will exchange them for much needed cash (and if the government will allow it). 

Havana car

Havana car

Classic Car taxi

Classic Car taxi 

Black Flags

One thing that, thankfully, has disappeared are the Black Flags. On February 6, 2009, the Cuban Government hoisted 138 black flags, each with a star, to commemorate the lives that were lost during the Bay of Pigs and other tragic events that the Cubans have attributed to the U.S. Government. Although the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1961, it maintained a presence in Havana.  

This photo doesn’t show it but the U.S. Interest Section is to the left of the flags. The building is several floors high and on the outside, near the roof, which lined up near the top of the flags, was a crawling informational sign with news and political information (Cuba controls information its citizens are exposed to). The thinking is that the government placed the flags there to obscure the crawling sign. The flags were removed in 2011 so the president will not see them when he arrives in Cuba later this month.

Havana's Black flags

Black Flags, Havana Cuba

Change is inevitable, even in a communist country like Cuba. The challenge for the government is to manage the change as well as the expectation of its citizens, many of whom are like my friend, Emilio, who’s happy to establish relations with the U.S. As Emilio said, “La gente esta muy contenta por el restablesimiento de las relaciones entre los dos paises.”

Linking with Travel Photo Thursday

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 

Caribbean Travel News: Cuba to Ease Travel Restrictions

Cuba Lifts Travel Ban

Come January 14, 2013, the Cuban government will no longer require exit visas and invitation letters from foreign nationals for Cubans to leave the country. What that means is that for the first time in 52 years, Cubans can leave their country. This is good news that I know my friends in Cuba, and especially those abroad, will welcome.

Havana Vieja

Havana Vieja

[Read more…]

Travel Photo Thursday: Cuba’s Classic Cars

As I watched a Godfather marathon on television recently, my eyes locked onto the Mercury Montclair Michael Corleone drove while he was in Havana. I thought of the cars I saw while I was there and wondered what the recent announcement that the government is planning to allow Cubans to buy and sell their cars and homes would mean.

Would Cubans exchange their iconic cars for much needed foreign currency? Would the government even allow them to?

In a CNN report, a Cuban is quoted as saying, “If these cars didn’t exist, not as many foreigners would come to Cuba to drive around in them and take pictures.” Fortunately, there is a lot more to Cuba than classic cars. Seeing them, seeing the old buildings – one other thing Cuba’s famous for – made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time.

Se Vende/For Sale Havana Classic Car

Se Vende / For Sale, Havana Classic Car

When I was going to Cuba, one of my friends told me she’d love to be able to own one of the cars. I took this photo for her. At the time, I didn’t even consider that it might have been illegal to sell them.

Classic Car taxi

1952 Oldsmobile

Quite a lot of the cars I saw were in pretty good condition considering they were 50-plus years old. There were, of course, some pretty banged up ones as well but for some reason, my photos of those didn’t come out very well.

Havana Classic Car

Green Chevrolet

Havana Classic Car

Red Plymouth

We noticed that quite a number of the cars were being operated as taxis. It’s quite inexpensive to take one, about $20-25 and tour the city. They’re big and roomy and can fit up to 6 people (depending on their sizes).

Classic Car taxi

Red Olds

Red Havana car

Red Chevy

Havana car

Cadillac

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website!

 

Random Havana Photos

Yes, I have still more photos. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I took nearly 400 photos in just a week walking around Havana. There was that much to see.

Hotel Inglaterra, Havana

Hotel Inglaterra

Hotel Inglaterra from Parque Central

Hotel Inglaterra, seen from Havana’s Central Park

 

Havana Taxi

Getting around

Coco Taxis

Havana’s Coco taxis an eye catching jolt of color that can’t be ignored.

Monument to Jose Marti in Plaza de la Revolucion

Spanish tiles from the restaurant at the Hotel Ambos Mundos

Statue of St. Francis of Assisi outside the Convento de San Francisco in Old Havana

Ladies in the courtyard outside the Convento

Old Havana Street

Mural in Old Havana

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