Monday, April 24, 2017

Cuban Road Trip - Day II

After a good night of sleep, we were ready to start a more thorough exploration of the Cuban capital.

CUBAN FACTS OF THE DAY: Of the 11.4 million inhabitants of this wonderful island, 2.2 million of them live in Havana. 

La Habana lies 93 miles south of Florida's Key West on Cuba's northwest coast.

Monday, April 17, 2017:

Where to start?

Why with a hearty breakfast
at La Casa Azul of course!


The island has signs everywhere encouraging the populace to fight on daily despite the hardships that they face in their daily lives.

26 de Julio, 1953

This was the date that Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led an abortive attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba signaling the start of the Cuban Revolution that would end with Castro's rebel forces victorious on January 1st, 1959.

 Self explanatory

Camilo Cienfuegos and
Che Guevara

Jose Martí is Cuba's
biggest hero vs. oppression

Sorry Fidel.

 The revolution is invincible

Man of Action and Courage

The Blockade
History's Longest Genocide

After breakfast, only Sophie and I were ready to roll as everyone else still needed time to face the new day.

Undaunted, the two of us opted to explore the neighborhood by ourselves for about an hour.

We walked

After visiting a small arts and crafts market, we agreed that an ice cream was necessary so we went straight to La Habana's iconic heladeria . . .

Closed on Mondays

Darn, no ice cream for us.


The old Havana Hilton

We proceeded a few more blocks only to stumble upon the edge of . . .

The Universidad de La Habana
founded by Dominican friars
in 1728

Among its alumni are my father Jorge, uncle Mauricio and Fidel Castro.

Dad majored in Medicine, my uncle in Chemical Engineering and Fidel in Political Turmoil.

 Standing on the Escalinata
with the Alma Mater statue
in the distance

The Alma Mater of the
Universidad de la Habana

Unfortunately, this is the University's Spring Break and no one is allowed on campus so this is as close as we could get.

Park honoring some people who
faced a firing squad here
a 100 years ago

Random Colonial style buildings

Meanwhile, back at the
Hotel Nacional de Cuba . . .

We enjoyed the auxiliary
pool view while writing out
a few postcards

 The ornate lobby of the
Hotel Nacional de Cuba


Mark is most definitely not retired. He is heavily involved in negotiations 24/7 so being in Cuba presented a huge problem for him.

La Casa Azul does not have wifi and neither do most restaurants or bars. We could get wifi at the nearby Hotel Nacional for $7 CUC per hour.

That was doable but Mark needed phone service too. His phone provider back in Seattle assured him that his phone was unlocked and he would just need to buy a Cuban sim card and his problem would be solved.

We were told that we could find what we needed at the Etecsa  communication store near the Nation's Capital building.

Thus the six of us got into a van and headed to . . .

Havana's China Town

Yep, that's it!

Mark in purple about to join the queue

Much of daily life for Cuban's is getting in one queue after another.

After being in the queue for about 30 minutes, we got to the front of the line by a closed door that only opened to allow one customer at a time.

When our turn came, the man who opened the door asked what service we wanted. When I explained Mark's need for a sim card, he looked at us and said, "Why didn't you ask me sooner? You are at the wrong place."

"Maybe because you were behind a closed door most of the time you twit!" I most certainly did not reply.

Instead he pointed us in the direction of a large building a block away.

 The Museum of Communications

 Cool old phone

The Museum also houses our needed Etasca office that we were sent to by the other office's doorman.

The queue here was much longer than the one outside at the previous store plus the air was still and humid inside the building.

The young man in charge was easily accessible so we asked him if standing in this particular line would lead us to what Mark needed and he said, "Si."

We further asked him how long it would take us to get to our turn and he said "At least an hour."

Gallantly, Mark told Sophie and I to go explore and return in about an hour.

Laurie, Susie and Mallory were already exploring, searching mostly for a shady spot to enjoy a beverage or twelve.

I would return in about 45 minutes but not before seeing many interesting things.

Laundry Day

 El Capitolo

More Colonial Architecture

The Old Partagas Cigar Factory

Republic of Cuba

 Giving El Capitolo's Dome
a face lift

Bright colors are a must!

 The Gran Teatro de La Habana

This is Havana's old Performing Arts Center.

A local jail?

Rice being transported to market

More of Laundry Day

Meanwhile, back at the Etasca office, Mark had just gotten to the front of the line only to find out that he needed his passport which he did not have. None of us did as we had given them all to Luis at La Casa Azul before leaving as he needed to record all of our data so that he could legally get the extra rationed goods for our stay that casas particulares are allowed in order to do business.

Without a passport, we would have to start the process all over again. The young man in charge then offered to let us use his ID to get the sim card.

So, in we went.

We got the $40 CUC sim card after filling out the paperwork.

The young lady helping us then inserted the card in Mark's ancient Blackberry phone and voilà . . . it didn't work because the phone was still locked.

No problem, Mark was packing a second phone, and a smart phone at that, and voilà, it was locked too!

Next solution, buy a $38 CUC Cuban burner cell phone that included ten minutes of cell phone usage. Since the call rate to the USA was $1.20 CUCs per minute, Mark also bought an additional $40 CUCs worth of cell phone time.

Thus, our simple transaction was now up to $118 CUCs. By the way, remember that a CUC and a US Dollar have a one to one rate of exchange minus the 10% Cuban government surcharge.

We were all good until we were just about to leave and she showed us the code to see that Mark had his full $50 CUC phone time added to his account. The last part of said code was the # sign.

It didn't work.

She can not legally let us go with a phone not in 100% working order.

We had to start the process all over again.

The young lady who helped us
and the young man who lent
Mark his ID information

Finally, we were done! It took about three hours, but we were finished.

Time to continue to roam the sidewalks of La Habana. 

Large sidewalk pothole

The infrastructure could use a bit of repair work.

Mark and Laurie at an
outdoor café/bar

This is where our four friends had nested to beat the heat and humidity while we were in the Etecsa office.

We joined them as we were quite parched ourselves.

Vintage Cars

Time for some pictures for our car buffs of La Habana's ancient taxis.

There were green ones . . .

. . . pink Cadillacs . . .

. . . multicolors . . .

. . . big convertibles . . .

. . . lime green ones . . .

. . . two tone pink and white ones . . .

. . . purple ones . . .

. . . and red ones competing . . .

. . . with these CoCos for your
transportation peso

Fully re-hydrated, we decided to get a better handle on the cityscape by boarding one of La Habana's double decker, hop-on-hop-off tour busses for a 90 minute ride around the city.

 Nice statue

I could use a Cuban café about now

Locals taking in the activity
in the streets


The El Morro Lighthouse

 A fixer upper

More OSHA fines coming

Cool sculpture

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Florida is that way

Estadio José Martí

Locals on El Malecón

Great colors

 Prepping for a photo op

 Monument and Museum
dedicated to José Martí on
the Plaza de la Revolución

Camilo Cienfuegos

Che Guevara

 Pink is the "IN" color this season

Another nice statue

 Check out the fish by the Malecón


President Fulgencio Batista's Palace

It now houses the Museo de la Revolución.

José Martí at Parque Central

It was worth the time but once we finished our bus tour, we were hungry again, but first . . .

We needed to dole out needed
 items to our newest  friends

This tyke just needed a
new baseball

Supplies for an
Habana Vieja primary school

Finally, LUNCH!

Sloppy Joe's wasn't sloppy at all

This bar was the basis for Freddy's Bar in Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.

Happy Campers

 Happy Friends

Fully sated yet again,
we hit the streets

and LIVELY streets at that

The old Bacardi Building
built in 1929 Art Deco style

Plaza de la Catedral

 Street Market 

La Habana has ALL three
flavor of Ice Cream,
Strawberry, Chocolate
AND Vanilla!

The 1791 Palacio de los
Capitanes Generales

It is now home to the Museum of the City of Havana.

 Laurie is, at times,
a bit dingy

Sophie, not so much.

 An old fort

It was a busy day of
exploration for us all

Time to head back to La Casa Azul
in style and comfort

We made it!

Is anybody hungry yet?

We decompressed for awhile before trying dinner at another neighborhood, outdoor restaurant, the El Conejito Parrilla.

Another cell phone free meal with friends made my soul smile.

Reading Is FUNdamental

A solid vacation read
but not great

Despite the Ordeal of Mark's Phone, it was a GREAT day!

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