The title of Jacob Forever’s Latino summer hit, which accompanied us everywhere in Cuba (and is now an entry in my all time favourites playlist), gives the Malecon, Havana’s legendary seaside promenade, a higher rating than I would.
However, Havana was one of the highlights of our journey. What a place! Beautiful buildings, nice restaurants, great bars, but above all a happening, happy vibe which makes it truly unique. Like any other big city with a not so well off population it has its downsides: petty theft, extremely friendly ladies (and I expect lads, too), who, as my old friend Don Antenno once put it during a legendary night, “won’t really love me” and a lot of other people who try to sell all sorts of things and services wherever you stand or walk. Most notably cigars, naturally the real Monte Christos and Cohibas, which are part of the workers remuneration package and sold by a cooperation. Which just happens to be somebody’s living room. I guess some people will buy the story and the cigars. And probably not notice the difference to the real real thing. Not that I would, either. Consistent with all my other cigar experiences (a corporate do in the UK in 1999, New Years 2000, Max’ birth in 2005) I enjoyed the first five puffs, fought my way through the rest of the cigar and felt strange for two days thereafter. But I smoked a big Cohiba (the chaps in the old Partagas cigar factory store called it a beginner’s smoke). Huh.
Back to Havana: we arrived there on April 20 and met Anna’s parents. Björn, Anna’s Dad, had booked us into a Casa Particular (a legal, privately owned bed and breakfast with a maximum of two rooms – even though the Cuban version of two would translate to three in countries that focus more on arithmetic accuracy) at the famous Malecon. Great location! And indeed, we had a fantastic balcony overlooking the Malecon.
However, to get there we had to negotiate a staircase which was closer to “narrow, steep ladder” than “staircase” as we know it. Amaryllis, the landlady, was lovely, though, and very helpful. Albeit in Spanish. Bit of a boost for our Spanish. Her son chauffeured us in his vintage American – without having to haggle Asian style. All in all a good start to Cuba. On April 21st we celebrated my birthday at the San Christobal. Just weeks earlier the restaurant hosted Barrack Obama (president of the USA from 2008-2016. Just want to mention that in case the Donald wins the upcoming election and changes the history books. He might just photoshop the pictures, though, and turn him white. Or orange.); our family had the pleasure to dine in the same room as Barrack – essentially the dot on the i on a wonderful evening in this quirky, but excellent restaurant.
Roaming around in Havana is great. There’s beauty everywhere (if you choose to see it), smiles wherever you look – it feels really good. One night Nina and Björn volunteered to look after the kids and Anna and I could go out proper (meaning without our son Canwegonow and our sleeping daughter Ieatonlypasta). A delight. We ended up in the O’Reillys 304 restaurant/bar serving delicious food and the Mojitos of my dreams. Uh, and it’s not an Irish bar: it is located at O’Reilly 304 (that’s the street name and house number).
Lately we’ve been talking a lot about places we visited during this trip and whether we want to return. Havana is a clear “return”. And a final comment: I am sick of Ernest Hemingway and all the bars he might have visited. Or rather, I am sick of the package tourists who have an overpriced drink in one of the waterholes that claim Ernest has been there feeling like they just fought the Spanish Civil War.