“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Havana

I just got back from our latest featured trip to Havana aboard the Norwegian Sky. Since it is a relatively new destination for Americans, I wanted to see it for myself now before it gets overrun with tourists. Besides, I have always been a fan of Cuban food and music and culture. We only had a day and a half in port, so all I could collect was a sort of whirlwind impression. I had been concerned that we might not be allowed to explore other than on group shore excursions, but that didn’t prove to be the case and we did some wandering on our own.

My first impressions, as always, were of the architecture, which is still very much in the style of Spanish colonial and the late nineteenth century with some buildings from the early twentieth century. Many of the public buildings were well-preserved or rehabilitated, but a lot of the privately owned structures show the long period of poverty and neglect. At the same time, the government has obviously put much of its resources into parks and art and other things to benefit the public. I hope that, as their fortunes improve, they will channel funding to renovate and restore more of the infrastructure.

The Cuban people were delightful — joyful, kind, hopeful. Many of them expressed how much they like Americans and I felt this was a genuine emotion. Unlike my experience in many foreign (not to mention U.S.) cities, I saw almost no one panhandling; I was only asked one time for a handout.

They have endured more than a half century of deprivation and there is still rationing and scarcity, but they clearly are very eager to flex their entrepreneurial talents. This is expressed in the many private shops and restaurants along the streets and by the various modes of transportation available. Besides regular taxis, there are pedicabs and horse-drawn buggies, and the little yellow coco-taxis that are everywhere. And there’s the old and lovingly-maintained American-made cars, many of them available for hire. Such vibrant colors! They are kept in almost-mint condition, utilizing privately-imported or locally manufactured parts.

 

There is art and music all around, not only murals and statuary in the beautiful parks, but also in galleries and spilling out of shop fronts along the way. The music provided a constant beat wherever we went — fast and vibrant. Music drifted out of the little cafes and bars and erupted from musicians and little combos on street corners.

We even ran into a Carnival-like procession of stilt-dancers and musicians!

Which brings me to my favorite shore excursion to the Habana Cafe. We sat cheek by jowl at an assortment of tables of every description, small round ones and long ones, with a yellow-and-white 1950s Bel-Air and a red-and-white 1957 Buick, plus a red 1947 Harley, and even a white two-seater airplane hanging from the ceiling emblazoned with the word Cubana. And the music!

The Buena Vista Social Club provided two hours of non-stop Cuban music. This ensemble of Cuban musicians was established more than twenty years ago to revive the music of pre-Revolutionary Cuba. They showcase the popular styles of the 40s and 50s, such as son, bolero, and danzon. The gorgeously-costumed Habana Compas dance troupe never stopped either. They had us dancing in our seats!

 This was a great trip and I learned so much! I plan to go back before long to see how much it all changes. I trust I won’t be disappointed.