We turned right out of the apartment building and walked a couple of blocks over to the main thoroughfare that runs through Vedado. A few birds flew overhead, one car drove by. It was almost noon but everything was eerily still on this second day of exploring Havana.
So eerily still, until we turned onto famous Avenida 23. Within one block, it suddenly seemed as if we had been transported into a completely different city than what we had witnessed the day before.
Here were restaurants, a couple of bars, a scattering of shops, a cinema, a small group of prostitutes, a huge art-deco hotel, food stalls, a market and hundreds of people moving around everywhere. There was a higher level of that Caribbean oomph in the way people walked and talked and went about their…whatever it was they were going about.
It could have been almost anywhere, it could have even been Miami Beach, maybe a couple of decades ago.
We walked along, feeling good, chatting, laughing, enjoying this influx of sights and sounds and activity that we had assumed didn’t exist.
Exploring Old Havana
At the far end of Avenida 23, where the road gently slopes down before reaching the water, we hailed an old-school Lada taxi and drove off to Plaza Viejo in Old Havana.
We then wandered up Calle Obispo and along Calle O’Reilly.
We ate lunch at Variedades Obispo – a local fried chicken and rice joint where you sit at a long, old, dirty, yellow bar and eat your food, with either a local beer or an orange soda. The stool I sat upon was ready to snap off it’s hinge, the silverware I used had only been given a quick tap water rinse, one of the employees tried to charge us 3 times the normal amount for our food.
My friend and I went to the Santa Rosa Cafeteria & Bakery where we ordered some poor-tasting, bland pastries and watery coffee.
We stumbled into art galleries so full of fascinating pieces that could only come from those who are forced to express themselves in unique ways.
We ate pork sandwiches from a guy serving them up from behind a small table on the edge of the street.
We stared at the colorful Chevrolets all lined up ready to take tourists for a spin.
We people-watched and ignored the ‘today is a cigar festival’ scam attempts.
The blazing hot day rolled along – a fortress visit here, a coconut shell full of ice cream there, looking through old coins and passports and trinkets at the market, walking down side streets and into random plazas – until it was time to rest.
A Very Cool Ride Home
At 5:00pm we took another surreal Lada taxi ride back to our guesthouse with an elderly and extremely kind driver that pointed out every possible ‘sight’ along the way. The Cardiac Hospital, the Maternity Hospital, cultural centers, parks, walls, night markets, famous hotels and more.
I was only half paying attention though as the breeze bounced off my growing afro, the sun warmed my outstretched arm, the car hummed along, the dreamy Malecon flitted by and I kept thinking to myself, recalling the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Do You Believe in Luck?
After a quick nap and shower back at the guesthouse, we went for another stroll along that same Avenida 23, this time exploring Havana at night.
At one point, as my friends and I were waiting to cross an intersection, a woman yelled out “Hello” from behind me. I turned around, only to be greeted by the raised hand and smiling face of a provocatively-positioned prostitute dressed in a tight blue miniskirt.
I nodded politely, said “Hola” and then crossed the street.
We passed a hot dog stand with a long line of customers and eventually we found a small, dimly lit pizza shop that sold bottled water.
So I lined up and pretty much ordered all the bottled water that the pizza shop had in their refrigerator. When I asked the man for a bag to put it all in, the woman in line behind me laughed out loud and shook her head, as if to say, “Good luck with that my friend.”
It caught me off guard for some reason.
‘Luck?‘, I suddenly thought to myself, taking a quick glance around at my surroundings here in the center of Havana. ‘I stopped believing in luck a long time ago.‘
A minute later, with those words stuck in my head, and with 10 bottles of water in a plastic bag, I started walking back to the guesthouse with a little extra energy in my step.
This was my trip to Cuba.
I was running the show with confidence.
I was present, observing and learning.
I was opening myself up to people and places like I hadn’t done in a very long time.
Finally, with control – not luck – I was getting my life in order again.
Is Cuba a destination you want to visit? Is Havana your kind of city? Do you believe in luck?