In the streets of Havana there are always people waiting for something. Perhaps like Santiago, the hero of The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway, that old fisherman with little luck who would watch the hours pass without anything biting his hook.
In many corners of the city the clocks seem to have stopped in 1959. Cigars, rums and music, however, live on alongside the latest phones in the few corners where Wi-Fi is present. And people are still waiting, but with their eyes on a screen.
HAVANA, THE EPICENTER OF YOUR TRIP TO CUBA
To walk down Obispo Street is to recognize the essence of Old Havana. Starting from the mythical La Floridita, the bar where the American writer was inspired to write some of his best novels among sips of daiquiri, begins a journey through the essence of a city that just recently celebrated its fifth centenary.
The blocks that make up this historic area are some of the few without ‘almendrones’, American cars of the 50’s that impregnate the air with a characteristic industrial smell. Unlike the clocks, life never stops in this part of the capital: it is intense in souvenir shops, coffee shops, bookstores and art galleries.
To continue walking towards the historic Plaza de Armas is to immerse oneself in Santiago’s own dreams in The Old Man and the Sea: a journey to the past where the fight against adversities seems to be one of the daily duties among posters of Che Guevara. The traditional Cuban music bursts from many hallways and it is not uncommon to be ‘accosted’ every few steps for an ‘invitation’ to a dance. The Paris bar, on the corner of Obispo Street and San Ignacio, is one of those must-go places for anyone looking for live music. Tourists and neighbors alternate until the early hours of the morning dancing and holding a mojito.
To avoid the black market, despite the insistent promises of being cheaper or sold directly by peasants, it is advisable to buy cigars or coffee in official selling places. Close to the Bodeguita de en Medio, another of Hemingway’s emblematic establishments and full of tourists nowadays, is one of the most popular shops to buy genuine Habanos, very close to the National Ceramic Museum, on Amargura Street (If you want to take a lighter as a souvenir, remember to check it and not carry it in your hand luggage. Otherwise, they will confiscate it at the airport control).
As a curiosity, less than a 5-minute walk away, is another of the symbols that define the Cubans’ tenacity remarked by Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea: the Museum of the Revolution, where you will find Granma, the yacht with which Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos arrived in Cuba from Mexico to begin the revolutionary process. Today, this boat is enclosed in a kind of glass urn as a symbol to “safeguard the revolution.” The building was once the presidential palace and in its decoration participated the American firm Tiffany’s.
THE FINAL TRAVEL GUIDE FOR CUBA
Although there are many bars and restaurants with the kitchen open all day, and some of them don’t even close at night, the menu cards in Havana are always illustrative. Many times the greeting is accompanied by the phrase: “Today I can offer you.” The island’s semi-autonomy causes situations unknown to some travelers such as the end of stocks of beers, soft drinks and other products.
To try one of the best hamburgers accompanied by craft beer you can visit the Taberna de la Muralla, one of the few traditional breweries in the city. As you sit in one of the giant forging chairs on the terrace in the Plaza Vieja, you will feel like in a place already familiar; this is because this part of Havana is one of the most restored areas, and the vivid colors of the facades and arches of the centenary buildings are reminiscent of fishermen neighborhoods of Mediterranean capitals like Mallorca, Valencia or Barcelona.
If you are looking to experience 100% Cuban cuisine in a bohemian atmosphere, the Chanchullero bar on Teniente Rey Street, between Bernaza and El Cristo, is a safe bet. It is one of the places that best exemplifies the transformation of Havana, a fusion between tradition and modernity. In the musical selection you may listen to a variety of options from the last hit of Shakira to a song by Bebo Valdés. The fried chicken salad dishes with avocado and cilantro are more than advisable. And to drink, catarro: a mixture of white rum with lemon and honey.
Inspired by these centuries-old streets, Hemingway was able to turn novels such as A Moveable Feast into 20th century icons, and many say his writer’s soul died the day he left the island. And, although the clocks have stopped in the 50’s, Havana is still an endless feast.
Visit Barceló Arenas Blancas hotel and enjoy the best beaches in Cuba.