A March 2002 trip
to Havana by alex b
Quote: Geographically, Cuba is an island but culturally it is a harbor. Only 90 miles south of Miami, Havana presents a striking juxtaposition of old world grandeur, revolutionary conviction and a curious yet critical take on its northern neighbor. The embargo places heavy restrictions on travelling from the U.S., yet students and those providing medical supplies will find an easier journey through the red tape.
Located on the balcony on the top floor of a beautiful spanish style building, El Balcon can be spotted a block away because of its red lights and the rows upon rows of hanging beads. El Balcon is advertised as being open 24 hours, but don't be surprised if you find yourself ringing the buzzer in vain. Don't be discouraged Daisy and her family live here and deserve some time to themselves. If you arrive between 7pm and midnight your chances of getting a table are good.
Once inside, expect a warm welcome from Daisy who will guide you into several rocking chairs on the balcony for a pre dinner drink. Your choices are Cuba Libres and beer.
The menu includes a wide range of fish, including very tasty shrimp and lobster, chicken and of course rice and beans. I found the combination plate ($15) to be the best bet here as you will get a sampling of all that Daisy's kitchen. After a stiff Cuba Libre you will be escorted through a beaded partition into the main room, decorated with a wide range of local art. During dinner, Daisy entertains with a generous helping of good conversation. After 15 years, she has amassed a good amount stories from the various visitors who have passed through her balcony.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 3, 2002
El Balcon del Eden
Calle K b/w 19 and 21
Attraction | "Cabaret Las Vegas"
Cabaret Las Vegas, located in Vedado, is a small intimate setting with a stage and a fairly good sound system. The bar is minimally stocked with cans of beer, but the musical fare is worth the price of admission. As is the case throughout the city, the price in pesos is not congruent with the dollar value which fluxuates with who is working the door.
Herrera's hip hop showcases draw a large, young and primarily Afro-Cuban crowd who show a great deal of enthusiasm for the music. Since the Hip Hop scene is small in Havana, most people in the audience know the performers personally, which gives the show a refreshing degree of comradery, something that is rather rare in the U.S. American visitors will find that the show resembles an underground/open mic performance than the Hard Knock Life tour. The young men and women in attendance know their hip hop and are determined to make their own unique stamp on the culture.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 2, 2002
Infanta 104 entre 25 y 27
La Habana, Cuba 10600
+53 7 707939
Attraction | "Plaza de la Revolution"
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 3, 2002
Plaza de la Revolucion
Restaurant | "Casa Del Amistad"
Located on Paseo in the Vedado district, Casa de la Amistad is one of the many archetectural highlights you'll see while strolling this tree lined boulevard. Casa de la Amistad is run by the Cuban government as a "friendship house." Lunch and dinner are served at mediocre prices and in the evening there is entertainment in the garden. The fare is a bit watered down, a troupe of tropicana girls in their feathered and beaded regailia dancing to recorded rhumba. All in all it resembles a weak throwback to the pre-Castro days when Cuba was considered by many to be the "bordello of the United States." This time around however there is more Disney and less brothel. But the building itself is a real treat to the eye, so emblematic of Cuba's multi-layered history.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 4, 2002
Casa de la Amistad
Calle Paseo 406, esquina de Calle 17
While the beaches to west of Havana are said to be more aesthetically pleasing, they are the property of the resorts that were opened during the country to bring in more revenue through tourism. Cubans are restricted from these areas and the resorts are known for their shady racial politics. Besides, if all you wanted was to sit on a beach with other Canadians and Europeans and go jet skiing, why not just go to Cancun? Playas del Este is the strip of beach where Cubans go to swim, play volleyball and show off some skin. This is not a mecca of spring break goofiness, but a meeting place of local life.
While there are some hotels along the eastern beaches, they are less exclusive than their western counterparts. Most like the Hotel Tropicoco are somewhat of an eyesore, but are convienient for bathroom access and calling a cab. There are several supermarkets in the area where you can stock up on beach snacks and there are many bars along the beach itself that serve (of course) mojitos and daiquiris.
Playas del Este are about a twenty minute cab ride outside of Havana proper. Most cab drivers are reliable to drop you off at a good spot. The ride cost about twelve dollars, but along the way you'll come across some camera worthy sites such as the national baseball stadium and an abundance of roadside billboards declaring the strength of la Revolution.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 4, 2002
Playas del Este
Avenida Máximo Gómez a Vía Blanca
La Habana, Cuba 19360
To add to this already tricky situation, the tourist industry has often been accused of practicing blatant racism. Black tourists (myself included) have been scrutinized by hotel staff thinking the guest to be not a visitor but a trespassing local. By no means is this treatment widespread. Outside of hotels, Cuba is one of the most racially integrated and tolerant societies in the world. In fact, the ideology of Cuban identity calls for its citizens to assert their Cubanismo (Cubanness) first and racial identity second. But, especially for non-white travellers, it is important to understand the reality of this situation. Everyone who visits Cuba should at all times carry a form of identitfication even while inside hotels.
You will inevitbly meet many Cubans who will become your guides and companions during your stay. Cherish these interactions, but it is important to understand that bringing a Cuban citizen back to your hotel, or to a bar or club or beach operated by a hotel will result in their being sent to jail (there is as yet no punishment for foreigners in this regard).In my experiences, 9 times out of 10 the places you will be taken by the people you meet in Havana will be far more exciting and enriching than whats going on inside of a hotel.
Keep this in mind when packing for your trip. Giving out extra medical supplies is as valuable as giving out money. I found it best to do this discreetly. Approaching someone on the street and handing them a box of condoms may not be a great idea (just imagine yourself on the recieving end in your home). If you are staying in a hotel, when you check out, leave the supplies on your bed. The staff will much appreciate this, believe me. Or say to someone "I have some extra supplies that i don't want to lug back home in my suitcase. Do you know anyone who could use these?" This will make your deed seem less condescending.
Also, tip as often as possible. There's no need to go over board with the amount. Dollars go a long way in Cuba. It is a responsibity of every traveler to Cuba to give a little back. Remember, the very act of getting on an airplane and leaving your country is a priveledge most Cubans are denied. This is a very poor country with a great deal to offer the world. It will go a long way to show some appreciation and support for the people you will meet.
Brooklyn, New York