Bustling Havana

Chapter 7 - Friday, February 24, 2017

This was going to be another great day: discovering an obscure neighborhood brimming with color and imaginative art, a ride to a small coastal village, a boat ride, enjoying the lobby of a swanky hotel, being present at a presentation at the radio and television station, collectable cars, sloppy joe's, a long walk and a wreck on the Malecón.










Mark, John and Don outside the ICRT (Instituto Cubana de Radio y Television)

And, Raul at Fusterlandia >>>>>>>>>>


Heading out of Havana, Matt wanted to show us a very unusual neighborhood Northwest of the city in the Jaimanitas neighborhood.

And what to our amazing eyes did we see? A whole area, blocks and blocks, with multi-colored mosaics, ceramic tiles, art and fanciful creations that felt like we had wandered into a Technicolor fantasyland. Complete walls and buildings were covered in artistic creations using colored tiles and paintings. Weird, unusual, fun forms of animals, people and creatures that were conceived from the imaginations of the artists who created them.

Indeed, this outdoor fantasyland is called Fusterlandia, begun and inspired by José Fuster. The entire community around his home and studio has been decorated in José’s style of ceramics and paintings. It is totally surreal.



Visitors (there were a lot of them) roamed about the premises, up stairways to various levels where one might meet a ceramic encrusted cowboy, some crazy bird, arches, doorways and open fisted hands, you name it, it was there.

Unfortunately, having a tight schedule, Matt allowed us a limited time to take in this beautiful craziness. At an appointed time we were to meet and re-board Big Blue to continue the drive out to the town of Baracoa.


Fuster 4 IMG 2474 2











As everyone else was in the bus and started to leave, someone realized one person was missing. Who was missing? 

Who could that be? 

OH NO - where’s DON??

I hadn’t intentionally meant to be tardy, I had simply stopped at a little place along the street where the very nice Cubans there were selling souvenirs, with every little thing I looked at (not touched), they explained about it, and me not wanting to be rude, listened to everything they had to say. That included several items, including some hats that interested me, but which I really did not want to buy. That led them to bring out more hats for me to see and try on. Meanwhile time was ticking away and I didn’t realize I had missed our deadline (and nearly the bus). Still, the Cubans were being very kind to me, so I spent my time with them, returning the consideration of listening to what they had to say. 

Fuster SHOP MG 2016.jpg

Fusterlandia Souvenir Shop

Road to Baracoa IMG 2019.JPG


But, just as I was about to consider buying a hat, Raul appeared from out of nowhere and exclaimed “DON, we are leaving!! You must come NOW!”

That abruptly ended my little shopping excursion. I kind of felt bad that I did not make a purchase from the nice people, but Raul saved me from buying something I really did not need. 



Rushing back to Big Blue, the others had a good laugh for my lagging behind and nearly missing the bus. Oh, yeah, I was embarrassed, but they all were good-natured in their ribbing me and it ended up that we all got a good laugh (and it added some excitement and fodder for a tale to tell).

Baracoa Beach scene


Bicycle Taxi in Baracoa

Pelican scupture in Baracoa

Off to Baracoa we went, a small coastal town where we enjoyed a short walking tour and then ended at the home of local residents who were friends of Matt. They led us up to their home's rooftop from where they would entertain us. Chairs around a table under shade, was a wonderful place to enjoy their meals and from where we could look out over the river flowing by their house and out to the sea beyond. Their warm greeting and hospitality made us feel comfortable and welcome. Providing us with beverages and appetizers, we relaxed, chatted and viewed out over the town and the river and bay below.

IMG 2510.jpg



















                                                Our hosts with Matt and entrance to their home.

   

From their home we were scheduled to embark on a boat ride. When the boat came chugging up the river, a significantly smaller craft than what I had expected, especially if it were to go out into the ocean (which was pretty rough that day). A few of us had second thoughts about squeezing onto what, in my opinion, looked like an oversized rowboat with a motor and limited seating, primarily sitting on the edge of it. Normally pretty adventurous (as most of you know), to me this just was not looking very safe. If they were heading out to the ocean, which was in plain sight, it was looking like a dubious excursion at best. 

No thank you, I’ll stay on terra firma today. Mark and Raul were like-minded and so we stayed at our host’s home. They brought us more beverages and appetizers in the meantime, while they were downstairs preparing a fresh fish lunch for all of us.

 

Everyone else boarded the little boat, and to my surprise they headed UP the river, not out to sea. Obviously that would be less risky and may have altered my view of going on the cruise. But, after possibly 15 minutes, here came the little boat, back toward the bay and ocean. It turned left in the bay and then was out of sight. I hoped they would be safe wherever they had headed.

 Meanwhile Raul, Mark and I relaxed with drinks and more appetizers, overviewing the domain that lay out before us. Less than an hour passed and the boat came back toward the house. That was a short cruise!

 Apparently, the waters were a bit too much, even in the bay, and for safety’s sake they aborted and landed the crew back at the house. Those seafarers joined us landlubbers again where we soon were served lunch and more beverages. I can’t praise enough how gracious these folks were to us. An enjoyable time, again with local Cubans, giving us a more authentic feel about the people.

IMG 2541.jpg

 

Heading back into Havana, we returned on 5th Avenue (Embassy Row), passing some of the city’s most prestigious homes and foreign embassies, the Russian Embassy being notable with it’s tall tower overlooking everything else for miles around.

Having promised to attend the presentation at the radio/television station we arrived early spending some time across the street in an arts and crafts market where souvenirs could be bought. 

At the station, a few cars from the local car club were parked outside, including a 1956 Continental Mark II that reportedly had been owned by the wife of ex-president and US backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista prior to the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Julio and his wife with their 1959 Chevrolet

A crowd milled about outside until an announcement proclaimed the start of the ceremony. Crowding inside the lobby we observed an obvious political recitation from some school children, other announcements, presentations and a tango dance. Julio, with Nostalgicar, was present but he never was mentioned nor did he receive an award as he had been led to believe. Of course, not understanding the language, we were just observing.

Standing in the back of the crowd wearing a car club shirt with it’s logo, Fenders & Friends, I was approached by a gentleman holding a hand held movie camera. He motioned toward my shirt’s logo indicating he wanted to shoot it. 

Nodding my approval, he came in close to the logo, backed up a bit taking in more of me and scanned over me for a bit more footage. Mark and John, also with the same shirts with logos, stood nearby, but they were not included in this little documentation. We were a bit puzzled, shrugged it off and wondered if I were going to be appearing on Cuban National TV – or was there some other purpose…? Hummmm.

IMG 2567.jpg















Outside after the presentation, we hung out for a while where a friend of Mark’s from the US approached us. As a journalist he was recording this event and he informed us that we were standing next to a building that housed the Buick dealership in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution. 

He showed us a photo of that corner from January 1959 with armed rebels loaded in several cars passing by the dealership. Inside the building’s windows new ’59 Buicks were displayed. What an interesting documentation, and historical record of where we, in this day and time, were actually standing. If Mark’s friend Tom had not been in Cuba at the same time and shown us the photo, we would have been clueless about the location’s significance. I have to wonder how many of the old cars on the streets, now, had also passed by that intersection in 1959.

 

Having the rest of the afternoon and evening to ourselves, we returned, again, to Old Havana to visit the Hotel Plaza where Mark’s parents had resided during their honeymoon in 1938. Starting across from the hotel, we stopped in Parque Central (Park)                                                             to see the large gathering of colorful taxis/cars and horse drawn carriages, plus the passing scene of traffic, each moment presenting yet another old treasure and some surprising vehicles too. This was a very busy location as we eventually made our way inside the Plaza Hotel. There we lingered in the beautiful lobby, which probably had not changed dramatically over the years. While there we attempted to sign on using their Wi-Fi connections. My attempts were mostly futile.

IMG 2594.jpg

 

Since we were on our own for dinner, we headed up the street to a place also visited by Mark’s parents, Sloppy Joe’s, a restaurant and bar with a long history. 

Brenda had joined John, Mark and I and there we passed the time with several drinks. 

Service at this place was disappointing, as they had only two waitresses on the floor. As it grew later, we decided to stay for dinner, having…sloppy joe's! Their version of this American classic was not bad, but not “sloppy” and as tasty as we would serve.

You can have any rum you’d like - as long as it is Havana Club...

Night had fallen long before as we departed Sloppy Joe’s and chose to walk at least part of the way back to Casa Blanca. Walking  streets through areas that looked a bit rundown, other people were out and about, local children playing, but we were feeling no danger as we continued our long walk until we reached the Malecón. There we saw a nasty accident between a newer car and a very early 50’s Chevrolet, the poor Chevy having been hit really hard in the left rear quarter. It was hard not to feel very sorry for the owner, since such damage would be a real challenge to repair.

With a fair way to go before reaching our B&B, we walked up to a hotel area in hopes of more easily finding a taxi to take us the rest of the way. A Russian limousine, a Chaika, (perhaps this was one used by Fidel Castro) drew our interest and while we would have taken it, the owner, paying us no heed, seemed disinterested, not seeing an opportunity. But, then another man approached us offering us a ride. We thought he, then, might own the Russian car, but in trying to communicate he told us (in limited English) he knew us and had given us a ride several days before. We, all associating him with the limousine, were having a hard time following how he knew us (he knew enough details about us that we questioned our memories). Being friendly and persistent, he finally got us to remember and realize he did not own the limousine, but rather the 1950 Mercury parked ahead of it.

OH! Yeah!

Then we knew and understood.

This was the same driver who drove us home the first night in Havana after the musical entertainment on the Malecón. All smiles and laughing at finally understanding and remembering, we loaded up in the old Merc and headed to Casa Blanca.

A long day had passed. We experienced more of the life of Cuban people and culture, enjoyed some great scenes, food, drinks, history.

 The next day, Saturday, would be our last full day in Cuba.

 What discoveries lie in store for us?

IMG 2550 2




Returning into Havana from Baracoa on 5th Avenue, Embasy Row


At the intersection behind this car is where the rebels are shown in the 1959 photo.

This truck (above) is a taxi also.


kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012