Cuba: La Havana – University and Wandering

University of Havana

I attended the university of havana for the month of February at a cost of $300.00 CUCS. The university itself is a spectacular array of classical style buildings with great columns set at the top of steep marble stairs. A friends said she thought she was in Athens on first sight of the university. Like the rest of Havana the university has seen better days and for the first three weeks of class we had to flush the toilets with buckets of water as the pipes were broken. The instructors were great, big hearted women with great senses of humour and they had plenty to laugh at with some of our language fauxpas. My class was great and had a variety of people from all over; Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, England, France and even someone from Campbell River, close to my home town on Vancouver Island.

I wrote an exam on the first day and was placed in the Elemental class with 16 others. Tom decided after a few days to opt for private tutoring made available through the owners of our casa particular. Turned out to be a good decision as his tutor became a great friend to us and I signed up for a few private remedial lessons myself. My spanish did improve but I was in over my head in terms of understanding the profesoras directions. Also for some reason the text book that was promised never appeared so studying from disorganized notes riddled with mistakes didn’t help. Eventually I was allowed to download the text to a flash drive but I only have my ipad and so will have to wait until I get back to my laptop to use it. I liked having the schedule of having a class for half a day and half a day to wander

Places of Note To Wander

Malecon

During the day and late into the night the Malecon is alive with people seeking refuge from the teaming narrow streets. Young Cubanos in particular spend time on the malecon, hanging, partying, singing, dancing, playing instruments and sometimes even fishing. The beautiful blue of the ocean water joins the sky on the far horizon and it is here that you sense that Cuba is indeed an island, set apart, different from anywhere else in the world. The rocky beach below the seawall is lost to the waves that crash up and over the malecon, sometimes right on to the avenida above. It is rumoured that American interests have pre-selected sites along the Malecon for their eventual return to Havana.

La Habana Vieja

As you can imagine, Havana is a haven for artistes and musicians of great talent. From the rubble arises great beauty and the talent and passion of Cubans is evident everywhere especially in Havana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Safe during both the day and the evening, Vieja (old) Havana is alive with pedicabs, restuarants, bars, music, hotels, museums, impressive buildings, theatres, parks and wide avenues for strolling and people watching. Rarely do you enter a bar or restaurant but there is live music, dancing and the clatter of dishes and the murmur of people talking and laughing. It is also a tourist mecca and so can become somewhat tiresome if you are in Havana longer than a few days. There is a hop on hop off bus that has a very long three hour route that gives a great overview of Havana including Vieja and costs only 5 CUC’s. In Vieja you can visit the Museum of the Revolution a collection of sad memoriabilia, including bullet ridden uniforms, personal items of dead revolutionairies and of course depictions of and homage to the heros of the revolution most notablly, Che and Fidel. Housed in a the former presidential palace the building itself is being restored and adjascent to it is the Granma, the famous boat that brought Fidel and Che back to Cuba from Mexico in 1956, where they had formulated and consolidated their plans for the revolt against the Batista dictatorship. Among the beautiful places to wander are numerous squares, generally flanked by churches, parks, cathedrals, government buildings, museums and restaurants. They are beautiful at night lit up and aglow dating back to the 1600’s and a time when high-walled facades hid exquisite interiors behind great wooden doors.

Behind every door or shutter are hidden from the curious passer-by centuries-old memories interrupted dreams, past loves, ambitions and sorrows that only they – the doors- have sealed, and that they will only reveal to those that have the key.” (Quote from Habaguanex, Company Turistica)

Museum of the Revolution

The former presidential palace now houses the museum of the revolution. Filled with sad reminders of the fight against Batista’s regime, heroic diaramas, bullet riddlen jackets and personal items of dead companeros are snuggled amongst a meticulous refurbishment of the palace. Central Havana And Vedado

Central Havana and Vedado around the University are great neighborhoods to wander and both lack the strong tourist presence of Viejo. A night out at the Teatro do los Americos in Centro Havana to see a comedy show was a cultural experience that if nothing else introduced us to Cuban audience behavior. The language was above our heads but we enjoyed watching the audience and since the first part of the show involved audience participation we were treated to a full array of Cuban humour and behaviors. Audience participants were given a much coveted gift of shampoo and conditioner. Walking between the univeristy and Vieja and through Havana Centro reveals a great deal about daily living, shopping, communication and just how the regular havana family lives. Family means a great deal and daily contact is the norm between generations and extended families. Families connections appear to be the key to getting what you need.

Casa Particulares – Mi Casa Es Su Casa!
Staying in a Casa Particular means living with a Cuban family. Generally you have your own room and as much company and Spanish conversation as you like. We were lucky to find a Casa close to the university owned by “Concha” who lives alone in her four bedroom apartment, a rare find in Cuba. The bedrooms are off a long hallway leading to the kitchen and our rooms had their own bathrooms with long shuttered doors leading to narrow balconies overlooking the street. The rumble from the old cars was ear shattering to begin with but soon we learned to live in the quiet moments. Casas are usually the least expensive and best option for a long stay as many of the government run hotels are expensive and staffed by “friends of the government” who have little vested in efficiency or productivity. These hotels are useful for gaining access to the Internet but charge exorbitant rates for an hour of time which you then have to use up in three days from purchase.
Conchas family was close by, her son and daughter in law helped with the running of the place and would make meals and do laundry for a price. Lovely people they were a good mix of friend and business owners. Three rooms were for rent in the Casa, the fourth bedroom belonging to Concha. At twenty five CUC’s per room times three rooms, Concha was earning many times what my profesoras made in a day. Clearly owning or renting a multi bedroom apartment is a cash cow in Cuba.

Author: scbates

I love to travel, solo or together with friends. I seem to have fallen into a pattern (at least for now) of Europe in the fall, Latin America in the winter and home on beautiful Vancouver Island for spring and summer...but this could change anytime.

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