After visiting three squares in Old Havana (see Cuban Diary Day 2: Squares of Old Havana), we took the bus to Prado 115, a private restaurant, for lunch. Lunch was squash soup (delicious), salad, rice, chicken, and melting chocolate ice cream for dessert.
After lunch, we took the bus to visit the House of the Boy and Girl (Casa del Niño y la Niña). (Our tour guide advised us that it is illegal in Cuba (according to their constitution) to take photographs of students, so we have no photos of our activities there). It is similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs at home. It provides extracurricular activities for children from 2 to 18 years old. It occupies only one large room in a poor neighborhood. For special occasions, the street is closed for their activities. The lady who runs the center spoke to us at length in Spanish and the guide translated. She introduced two staff members. Then she called five children from the other side of the room (behind a temporary wall). One of the children, a small boy, managed to cut his leg getting into a chair and bled profusely. Once it was pointed out, he played it up and limped from the room to be treated. He was back almost immediately, and all five children spoke (one in English), telling us their names, ages, what they want to be when they grow up, and something that they think is the right of any child (e.g., free education, free health care). There were two girls, aged 14 and 13 (‘almost 14″) and three boys, all 9 years old. The girls wanted to be a dancer and a dentist; the boys wanted to be a computer scientist, a pilot, and a doctor (speciality not decided yet). They were asked whether they played sports, and they all do. The dentist-leaning girl plays volleyball. After that, the chairs were stacked away and the children led us in dancing, ending in a congo line.
After this, we were bused back to the hotel to “freshen up” for the evening’s activities: a welcome dinner at the El Templete restaurant and El Cañonazo, the daily 9 pm cannon firing ceremony. Caridad spent an hour blogging, and then we napped until time to meet the group again.
The 13th group member arrived before the evening excursion. The guide arrived just before 6:30 and we headed out to the waterfront restaurant. The view of the street, old cars, and the waterfront was excellent. From the restaurant, we also had a beautiful view of the Christ of Havana (Cristo de la Habana), a 20 meter tall sculpture of Jesus of Nazareth, made of Carrara marble by the Cuban sculptor Jilma Wood.
The meal at El Templete included appetizers of garlic fried shrimp, breaded deep-fried (something) and red bell peppers stuffed with tuna; a main course of fresh grouper; dessert of a chocolate brownie and strawberry ice cream; and espresso. This is the best meal we have had so far in Cuba.
After this, we headed on the bus to the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana, a fort on the top of a hill, for the cannon firing ceremony. El Cañonazo is a 200-year-old ceremony to announce the closing of the city gates. (The 6 am opening of the gates is no longer celebrated.) The ceremony was carried out by a group of young men in white uniforms, who do this as part of their mandatory military service. They were quite serious, and, as far as we could tell (not understanding a word they said), the exhibition went off without a hitch, ending in a satisfactorily loud bang.
We were given a half hour to wander around the fort in the dark, which provides excellent views of Havana across the water.
Back on the bus, the guide described tomorrow’s activities and options for dinner tomorrow night (which is not included in the tour), which will be followed by a dance program where we will learn to dance salsa in one hour.
Back at the hotel, we all headed to our rooms. After blogging, Caridad and Lazaro went to bed.
Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. If you want to catch up on the first days, read: