Our Cuban cruise continues. Santiago, our first stop is located in the Southeastern portion of the island. From there we sailed east and around the tip then west to Havana which is located not far as the crow flies but a long way via boat—toward the Northwest portion of Cuba. As we moved along in the early evening I saw a bunch of lights on the coast and thought…that must be Guantanamo Bay, and a minute later it was confirmed via announcements in six languages over the ship’s speaker. 
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Day at Sea

As we sailed for a day, it was relaxing on board and some of the options besides sitting in the sun, swimming, and having delicious daiquiris included a variety of lectures on the Cuban culture as well as their fauna, which we joked about but my dad attended and said was in fact interesting. At night, we were so far out to sea we experienced rough waves which had us rolling and cringing a bit, scared a bit and thinking about the collision last summer.

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Mom and Dad in front of the church in San Francisco plaza. The Mexican doggie sculptures were on display.

Havana

The following day we docked in Havana. As we stepped out of the terminal, we crossed a busy street and started our walking tour in the San Francisco Plaza. We were treated to a beautiful display of large sculptures of Mexican Chihuahuas—all painted differently—similar to many projects I’ve seen in the states—in Michigan they did Bears and my Aunt bought the blue Shakesbear which sits on the shore of Walloon Lake. But I digress…shakesbear1

Our guide, who was wonderful, took us to four different Plazas in the city. Each had its unique charm. As we approached one plaza there were some gentlemen sitting on chairs playing instruments. Throughout the city there were dancers, singers, human statues, artists, and other performers. A number of entrepreneurs were selling crafts, art, tchotchkes, and photo ops with little dogs.

Hemmingway's Hotel

Hemingway’s Hotel (tall pink building)

We passed by the hotel where Hemingway stayed and came to a plaza filled with people selling antiques. It was fun to check out the old books—encyclopedias, titles by and about the revolutionary leaders—as well as old cameras, stamps, vintage movie posters, and more. We had a chat with one young man who told us some of his relatives were in the states and never wanted to come back to Cuba.

Another plaza was home to a cathedral and had a huge human size nativity display. I recently talked with people in my church small group and prayed for a group heading to Cuba. These people had challenges ahead, including prohibitions against bringing bibles with them and stories of homes being bulldozed because the owners had meetings with more than a handful of people in attendance. I did not see evidence of Christian oppression out in the open because of all the open churches celebrating Christmas, but there are still many policies and obstacles to freedom to overcome for the people of Cuba.

The longest cigar in the world.

The longest cigar in the world.

In any case, we loved Havana. Later in the day we took a bus tour and visited a cigar store where they showed us how they rolled the leaves and we bought some contraband to bring home. The cigars were actually expensive so we only bought a few. After suffering through a bratty display of rudeness from a teenager and his obnoxious family who were berating our guide for taking us there to shop, we headed through the city catching a glimpse of our new embassy, stopping at a huge open area where massive crowds would gather to hear speeches, and then on to some museums.

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The Museum of the Revolution. Some hard core war machines dotted the lawn.

The Revolutionary Museum

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The US President’s depicted as “cretons.”

We couldn’t get into the art museum—for some reason it closed early—but we did get to see the museum touting the wonderful exploits of the revolution. It was a so-so place—pretty low tech but some interesting displays. It was heavy on the propaganda but did state some facts about how bad our CIA was back in the 50s and 60s. I didn’t really appreciate seeing three of our President’s displayed as dictators and Nazi’s but their policies of blocking Cuba from participating in international trade earned them a place on Cuba’s hate list.

Flea Market

cuba painting

The piece I bought was an acrylic painting on some sort of linen. Beautiful colors and you can see the clotheslines, water tanks, and the Capital building in the back. It was done by a young girl with lots of talent.

Our guide let us off at a flea market for some quick shopping at the end of the day. I had to laugh at the hypocrites who yelled at our guide earlier but who now wanted to go shopping. We bought a few t-shirts and then I spotted a ton of beautiful art all along the outside walls of the market which was located in an old train station. I bought a piece by a local that represented the colorful houses you see throughout Cuba.

On Our Own

We spent the next morning walking around the city on our own and had the best time of the trip. We stopped in a tiny museum that housed arms—a collection of Castro’s rifles and more. We were drawn into the place because there was a DuPont sign above the door—presumably because of the company’s early beginnings in the gunpowder business. One of the museum guides did not speak English but did a pretty good job of telling us about some of the displays—writing dates on her hand and using some non-verbal language to explain what we were looking at.

Castro's collection of rifles.

Castro’s collection of rifles.

We toured a fort, shopped the local stores, had a quick lunch at a local restaurant, and took in the sights and sounds of the locals. I wish we had more time to make our way through more of the old city streets but alas, back to the boat we had to go. Havana was really a neat place. We only saw a small portion but it was a lot of fun walking around and experiencing their culture.

Next stop was a day at the beach!

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The old books and encyclopedia’s on the street vendor’s shelves.

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The vendor’s set up all around the Plaza de Armas in Havana.

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One of the many artistic sculptures in Cuba. This was outside one of the churches.

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Dad stands near one of the blocked off areas in Havana that run down the streets–it’s a sort of water system where the water comes from the hills and flows through the streets and you can collect water from these collection points.

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A local girl plays with the birds in Havana–and a street band plays behind her.

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Just like everywhere, neighbors chat with each other on balconies.

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This guy was selling some sort of fried chip. It tasted okay–evidently was a local favorite.

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More vendors around the plaza.

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This entrepreneur has two laid back dogs who help him earn a living–getting photo ops with tourists. Christmas was the theme this week.

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Nativity display.

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Old car, guy selling fruit and veggies off a cart, all typical scenes in Havana.

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The new American embassy in Havana.

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Tourists get rides in the beautiful old cars they have kept running.

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A strange sculpture in Havana of a young naked girl on a rooster with a fork. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Some of the vintage trinkets found in the vendor stalls in Havana. Almost bought one of the cameras!

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A little boy gets a kick out of the human statute who moves ever so slow to shake his hand.

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No shortage of performers in Cuba. Dancers and musicians walk down the street on stilts with hands out for payment.

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Sun sets over the city. A view from our ship at the port.

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A view of the city as we leave on the ship. A large park sits along the water with the capital building in the distance.

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