After breakfast we went to Old Havana. The taxi left us in front of the Capitol. We tried to enter the Museum of Generals, but it was closed. We went to the Royal Force’s Castle Museum. We were accompanied by Jeyson, a Cuban boy who is friends with Gaby’s aunt. We walked through Obispo and Chacón street. We went to the convent of San Francisco de Asís, and we touched the beard and the finger of the statue of the Knight of Paris that are at the door. We entered the Greek Orthodox Church, which is located just to the side. The little church is decorated everywhere and what caught my attention was that it had air conditioning.
Jeyson took us on a long tour. His opinion on the economy of the country was similar to that of Meikel. Jeyson, who works at a pizzeria in Old Havana, has a mother who is a doctor and a father who is a taxi driver. He told us that he studied languages on his own, did not go to college and earns more a month than his mother. We asked him if there was any job that young people wished to have, and he said the dream job was being a taxi driver. Finally, we went with him to the Chocolate Museum and the cathedral.
Outside of the cathedral there were many santeras, inside they were selling images and stamps of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. We paid 1 CUC to climb one of the towers. From above I loved the view.
Again, I could see that in Cuba everything belongs to the state. For example, in front of a museum, there were three government dogs that the state cares for and feeds. In general, it seemed like Old Havana was a different country. We walked through clean streets and painted buildings. There were many tourists and if people only saw this part of the city, they would consider it as a place without poverty. However, as soon as we left those streets, we saw smelly and dirty streets. It seemed to me that Old Havana is a facade that creates a positive image for tourists.
From there, we went to meet a Cuban friend of my aunt who she knows through a language-learning website. He gave us a tour of Old Havana, and we saw several plazas, a maritime museum in the Castillo de La Real Fuerza, and a beautiful small church. We saw the oldest building in Havana, which has a ceiba tree in front of it. He said that the ceiba tree was meaningful to slaves, because it resembled a sacred tree in Africa, and therefore they always replaced that tree with a new one when it died – the tree that is there now is the 12th ceiba tree in the same spot. He also told us the legend of the Giraldilla, who would stand in a tower watching the sea and waiting for her husband’s return. We also saw a building made of coral with pebbles stuck in the pillars, which were put there by slaves to mark the death of their friends. In the details he told us, I noticed a dedication to the history of the slaves who built the city, which I thought must come from a state effort to teach that history.
The first thing we saw when we arrived was the Capitol which looks similar to the White House in the United States. Then we walked to Obispo Street, which is one of the busiest streets in Old Havana. It was in Old Havana that I could really see the culture of music. In each corner there were groups that sang traditional Cuban music. We could see the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña and there we learned a lot about the aborigines and the conquerors. They had objects on display demonstrating the history of Cuba. Additionally we saw the only Greek Orthodox church in Havana and I found this interesting since most Cubans are Santeros and Catholics. Even outside the church there was a picture of Castro and the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, pointing out that they essentially had a good relationship.
On Calle Obispo, there was a young woman begging on the street not for money, not for food, but for soap, shampoo, and conditioner and I think about the Soviet Union flag that flies proudly next to the outdoor patio of Hotel Presidente. I also see a few crossdressers– men dressed women with braids, heavy makeup, and flowy dresses or skirts, just like in Petra von Kant. I haven’t seen any women dressing as men and I wonder if that has to do with sexism.
Once we arrived at the park, we wandered until we reached la Calle Obispo. We visited La Habana Vieja, la Catedral, and the first fortress ever created which rested alongside the canal. We walked along the streets and meandered into various shops and cafes along the way. It felt like we were walking through Europe due to the old buildings, cobblestone streets, and the various cafes in the middle of the alleys. Everyone we met was very friendly — sometimes too friendly. During our visit in the fortress, one of the guides saw us taking pictures and offered to take some for us. It turned into a whole photoshoot that we did not anticipate. She started running around with my phone taking pictures of everything she could find. Afterwards, she started asking us for money even though we didn’t ask her to take those pictures.
We stopped at a small diner on our way back from Calle Obispo. Two of the waitresses sat down and started talking to us. We asked for food and tourist recommendations and they were happy to be consulted. We started talking about romantic partners and one of the girls told us she has been with her boyfriend for 8 years and is planning to get married. It was amazing to me how open these girls were about their personal life after just meeting us on the street. They were very friendly and had no qualms about their personal lives. Then they asked us what type of guys we liked. They made the comment, “Les gustan a los negritos?” followed by a giggle. Race is definitely an interesting topic here. Many say that racism doesn’t exist anymore, but it shows up at random times in conversation.