CUBA CRUISE 2019: Part 3 - Exploring In Havana, Cuba

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                                                         Don, Penny, Mark, Stu and our ride, a 1959 Ford Fairlane

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Having met our Havana guide, Annalise in the famous Plaza de San Francisco, she identified several of the surrounding buildings, their significance and brief history of the plaza. Dating from 1575, this plaza was a commercial hub, having taken it’s name from the Franciscan convert built there. Located directly across from the Havana habor, it was a market for many years and among other activities that occured there was it's period as a slave market. The monks in the nearby convent, annoyed by the noise in the market, successfully petitioned to move the market to the nearby Plaza Vieja. Now the spacious paved square is a meeting place for tourists where, nearby, one may hire a vintage American made car/taxi enjoy a meal in a nearby cafe and where children play and scamper amongst the pigeons.

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Annalise led us down one of the narrow side streets, bustling with foot traffic pointing out places of interest along the way. Outside the cathedral is an interesting bronze statue, El Caballero de Paris dedicated to a penniless itinerate man who wandered Havana's streets, fancied himself a Parisan nobleman, lacked full mental capacity, but who was well known to all the locals. The statue,  its long beard and pointed finger are well polished by those who touch the image in hopes of better fortunes for themselves.

We learned of the first aqueduct in the Americas, a system that supplied fresh water to Havana and to the ships, a remnant of the aqueduct ditches being pointed out to us by Annalise.

Our walking tour led us through the Plaza Vieja with it’s amusing statue of a nude girl riding a rooster and then on to the Plaza de Armas, from which the city of Havana grew. Nearby is a monument on the actual site of Havana’s beginning wherein is a massive mural depicting the early days of the city. 

As we walked the narrow paved streets, Annalise provided us more narratives of the history and people of Havana and Cuba.

While trying to descretely video tape a street scene with a colorfully dressed street vendor selling peanuts, the lady came right up to me and planted a kiss upon my cheek. She obviously recognized my intent to capture her image and turned the tables on me. She was jovial and a bit solicitous with me. Although I didn’t buy any of her peanuts, we did give her some money in return for the photos taken. 




We visited a bodega, one of the government food distribution stores, that sells food staples for low prices. Cubans are allowed alloted amounts (rations) which is regulated by a coupon book and recorded by a clerk. At times, not all staples are available. There are other stores where these things can be bought, but generally they are more expensive and not readily affordable to most Cubans. Average Cuban wages are low, barely enough to cover even these lower priced purchases. Residents can only buy from their neighborhood bodegas. 

Soon after, we stopped briefly at a cigar shop that was flooded with people. Not caring to buy any cigars and not wanting to navigate through the crowd inside, I waited outside and watched the passing scene until we proceeded to Cathedral Square.  Large groups of people were all about in the square, admiring the church and other architecture there around. We did not enter the church but made our way out to an area where many vintage cars were parked. It was there that we met our driver, Ricardo and his 1959 Ford Fairlane, our transport for the day.

As is often the case, this car had been modified with a diesel engine. Regardless, it was a treat to ride about Havana for the rest of the day in this classic automobile. 

                    Penny & Stu with front row seat

Riding west out of Old Havana we arrived for a tour of El Cementaerio de Cristóbal Colón. Many influential and noted Cubans and Cuban families are buried there. Of note is the largest monument devoted to the firefighters who died in a tragic inferno in 1890.  Vaults, mausoleums, chapels, tombs and gravestones cover the very extensive cemetery. Many are richly adorned with angels, crosses, cherubs and elaborate decorations. A small central chapel is a place of quiet reflection and reverence. Allegedly Christopher Columbus was buried there but later exhumed and moved to Spain. This cemetery holds not only the bodies of over 800,000 souls but is ever as much a museum with its fine sculptures, statues and stylistic structures.

As the morning had passed, we hungered and made our way to the famous Sloppy Joe’s Restaurant, one of Ernest Hemingway’s hang outs (and in 1938 of the newly wed honeymooning Nowery’s). While Mark and I had enjoyed drinks and sloppy joes there in 2017, this was a treat for Stu and Penny. I ordered a pork sandwich but was told they had no pork. Instead I ordered a Ham and Cheese sandwich, which was possible. Interesting - ham but no pork??

As noted earlier, Penny and Mark’s parents honeymooned in Cuba in 1938, staying at the Plaza Hotel. That hotel was just up the street from Sloppy Joe’s and across from Parque Central. Paying homage to their parents, we all visited inside the lobby, imagining a bygone time which in appearance had changed very little in over 80 years. 

Completing our day’s tour we returned to the harbor and boarded our ship. Once onboard we had ample time to relax, refresh and dress up for a overflowing buffet dinner. Part of dressing up was for a special event included in our Azamara Cruise, an AZ Amazing Evening. That event was held in Havana at an arts center. 

To transport all the ship’s passengers, group numbers were assigned by decks which then corresponded to numbered buses awaiting on the pier. Arriving at the open air performance hall, we were treated to a spectacular performance by the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba Company. Having performed around the world, the dance troupe this evening entertained us with a performance that was a fusion depicting Cuba’s many cultures including African, Latin, Caribbean dance and music. Calypso, mambo, tango, salsa all blended into a spicy mix of sultry, firey and energetic composition. The music, the dances and the colorful costumes set the mood for a sensational visit to Cuba, where we were similarly entertained at each port of call.

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Upbeat and energized by the evening’s tropical Caribbean stage show, we returned to the ship, looking forward to our next day exploring Havana. 

Scenes from around Havana:


Penny and Mark in Plaza Hotel lobby and kittens slumbering on sombreros. 

Old and new, or old and older transportation in Havana

In the Colón Cemetery - one of many beautiful and elaborate mausoleums, interior of the main chapel and beyond the car is the cemetary's largest, tallest marker to the fallen firefighters in a tragic 1890 fire.

Leaving the Port of Miami (photos by Mark Nowery):

u © Donald E. Kline 2012