Cuban Diary Day 2: Squares of Old Havana

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Today is our second day in Havana, Cuba.

Caridad got up at 6:30. We discussed turning on the TV to see what Cuba shows looked like, but decided against it because it was still early. At that moment, a sound like a jackhammer began at the wall with the TV. After checking the TV (not on) and the refrigerator (no sound), we concluded that the sound was airhammering in the waterpipes. As confirmation, the jackhammer stopped in a few minutes and we could hear the sound of the shower of our next-door neighbor. Well, after that, we knew we weren’t waking up our neighbor, so we checked out the TV shows, which weren’t that interesting, so off the set went again.

Salon Miramar Buffet in Hotel Presidente

We went down to breakfast in the hotel breakfast room, the Salon Miramar Buffet, at about 8. Breakfast was buffet style, and nothing looked appetizing, ranging between the unappealing and the inedible. We each tried eggs, fruit, and other options, and settled on toast as the best choice. This was only possible because Lazaro repaired the toaster, which had serious flaws: the bread went through so fast that it had no time to toast, and because of the speed and the misalignment of the conveyor belts, the toast was propelled off the conveyor belt at the back of the run, requiring the use of tongs (and risking a burn and electrocution) to grab the toast. Lazaro assessed the problem and adjusted the speed and the alignment of the toaster conveyor belt. After this, there was a great demand for the toaster. (We expect that the toaster will be returned to its previous inefficient operation by tomorrow. We shall see.) Caridad’s hard-boiled egg was normal and she was thankful for that. Among the pastries were baguettes, which looked unappetizing and would make a Frenchman cry. On the other hand, after the first cup (which was only creamed water as it came out of the coffee maker), the coffee was delicious. We can’t understand why the food is so bad, since the ingredients are available. They are just badly prepared.


We were in the lobby waiting for the guide well before the 9:30 meeting time.  We met the rest of the group: the other 5 group members arrived yesterday on flights from Miami. The 13th group member should arrive sometime today. While waiting, we learned from other tour members that they had tried to buy internet cards but were told that the internet is not working anywhere in Havana because it is Mother’s Day. (The guide told us later that the internet was overwhelmed by people calling their mothers.)

The weather continues to be fine, mid to high 70s and breezy, with a few beautiful clouds in a light blue sky. Sitting in the outer part of the hotel lobby is very pleasant. With the doors and windows open there, the breeze is quite pleasant. The walls are covered with framed photographs of buildings, which must be Havana; while the pictures are unremarkable, the total effect is pleasing.

The bus took us to Old Havana, where we explored three important squares and surrounding buildings (outsides only): Plaza de San Francisco facing the harbor at the entrance to Old Havana; Plaza de Armas with its statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo and second-hand book stalls, and Plaza de la Catedral.

At the Plaza de San Francisco, there were two ladies in costumes with props of flowers, wanting money for picture taking. Since we had no small bills, we declined the opportunity. At this square and the next, there was a sketch artist who would sketch out a picture of a group member and then approach that person to be paid. Usually we were safe from such people (except the “artists”) when in the group, but anyone stepping away from the group to look at something or take a picture seemed to be fair game.

The statue in the Plaza de Armas used to be that of King Fernando VII, but after the revolution, someone cut off the nose of the statue; this statue now stands in the loggia of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales on the west side of the plaza.

The above pictures were taken in the Plaza de la Catedral.

We also spent a few minutes in Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a fort bordering the Plaza de Armas.

At the corner of Calle Obispo and Mercaderes, the guide pointed out a window of a room rented by the famous writer Ernest Hemingway on the top floor of the Hotel Ambos Mundos.

Around the corner from this hotel is La Bodeguita del Medio, a bar frequented by Hemingway, which served, in his opinion, the best mojito (one created by himself). (An internet search suggests that Hemingway’s involvement with this bar and with mojitos may be a fabrication that began as a joke but became a legend.)

Our group of 12 (at the moment) seems to be widely different in interests and political views. The guide listens politely, but quickly changes the subject back to what we are there to see. The guide has a very good understanding of the history of her country, and she and we understand that she is doing her job.

Stay tuned for more of our Cuban Diary.