With the first half of my Cuba journey behind me, I now had six days to soak in Cuba’s heartbeat: Havana.
On the afternoon of my second day, I joined one of Havana’s free walking tours. One such tour is of the section of the city known as Old Havana (La Habana Vieja). This includes blocks of ornate architecture from the late 1800s-early 1900s and then a walk through structures much older from the Spanish colonial period.
Our guide first showed us the wow factor of pre-Revolution Havana.
Opera house, hotels, and the Capitol building are some of the structures here.
Wow indeed. I didn’t know Cuba’s heart once beat so loudly. I realized here the degree to which my knowledge of Cuban history stopped in 1959: the year the Revolution took over the country and the beginning of the end of U.S.-Cuba relations. I hadn’t known how strong the relations had once been and how prosperous this country once was.
These buildings contrasted those I had been photographing earlier this day. Walking about Havana that morning, I was equally struck by the dilapidation of Cuba since the Revolution.
As I recently presented at an event about Cuba, this country contains two opposing aspects: extraordinary expression and extraordinary repression (economic and artistic).
After viewing the Capitol building, a middle-aged woman in our tour began asking our guide about the deteriorating side of Havana. Actually, that’s putting it kindly. The Ukrainian (formerly part of Socialist Russia) badgered him about Havana’s crumbling buildings, the meager markets, and the low wages throughout the country. This was an unexpected offering on this tour, an exemplification of this classic ideological clash between communism and capitalism. I shared this story of their back-n-forth in a previous post. I’ll offer the video again here.
After the pre-modern section, our tour went back in time further. Before the Revolution, before the birth of Communism, before the U.S. was even formed, Spain colonized this island in the 1500s. Old Havana also offered structures representing these ancient days.
By the end of this afternoon tour, I learned about ancient, pre-modern, and post-Revolution Cuba. Havana is a rich offering of history, social systems, and of course, controversy. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see it all come to life before you in one day.
Next time, I’ll show you the everyday aspects of this city.