Category: Cuba, 2013

Tropicana, Without Desi.

April 27

Met in the lobby at 6:15 for a pre-dawn walk to catch the early light. Great opportunity to photograph old Havana just waking up.



Over to the bay to photograph some fishermen, then wend back to the hotel for buffet breakfast on the pleasantly cool rooftop. Hour to relax before meeting again at 9.

Dustin explains that any transaction with the government takes place in the local currency of pesos. Cubans receive monthly ration cards that allow them to buy modest amounts of rice and other staples at the markets. These cards used to provide for much more, but are being scaled back.

Prior to the revolution in 1959, Cuba was effectively under US control, with Batista acting as a puppet head for US corporate interests. Many people fled prior to the revolution, after which everything was nationalized, including many of what used to be fine single-family homes in old Havana. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia provided everything to Cuba in exchange for sugar and sugar products. After the collapse, the Cuban economy fell to pieces and hungry people tried to flee by boat to the US and elsewhere. The embargo of Cuba by the US and prohibition of travel there has had a big effect on Cuba, and is part of the reason why there are some 55,000 pre-1959 American cars in working order in Cuba. Today, the biggest share of tourism comes from Canada, though there are many direct flights to Cuba from Europe.

Meeting at 9, we break into two groups. I’m in one led by Jorge, the Cuban photographer, and Nevada. We take a very long walk in the old Havana area, stopping to talk to people, looking into building vestibules and generally soaking in the atmosphere of Old Havana. An enormous amount of restoration work has been going on for some ten years. Before and after photos attest to significant progress. It’s hard to imagine that Havana will not eventually be restored to its former grandeur, as one of the world’s great destinations.




We stop in at a Catholic church, Church de la Merced, which doubles for people descended from Africans who are in the Santeria religion, which has blended IRS gods with the icons of Catholicism. Small shops in the area sell artifacts for use in the Santeria religion. We see initiates dressed all in white, with white umbrellas. Many babies are being baptized at the church.

We stop by a place where young boxers are being trained, put through their laborious exercises by a trainer. We see them sparring, exercising, jumping rope, shadow boxing and punching bags. We take way too many photos of them.




From there another sizeable walk to a third floor walk-up restaurant, El Asturianito, where food is plentiful and quite good and, more importantly, the beer is very cold. Slip off my shoes during lunch and am among the half of the group that opts to take bicycle taxis back to the hotel, rather than walk; a very good decision. Visit the room in the hotel that Ernest Hemingway used to stay in, a few doors down from my own. he wrote three books there, including Death in the Afternoon. A brief few minutes in the room before meeting in the lobby to board our bus.

We ride a fair distance to a tree-shaded square, Casa de Rumba, where dancers, singers and musicians will perform sambas, rumbas and other high-energy dances. It’s as interesting to watch the large crowd seated around the square, who are very into the music, singing and moving with it. Members of the audience, ranging from a baby to old ladies to everything in between participated, and some were terrific. Much of the dancing was overtly sexual. While it was quite fun, an hour and a half was more than I needed.




Dropped at Park Central Hotel, where I signed up for an hour of wifi, posted yesterday’s blog and checked emails. This may be the last post I can make while on the trip. Bummer.

Walked back to our hotel down Obispo, a main walking street, loaded with people. Old Havana has a great feel to it. Greeted in the lobby by Nevada, who told me the water was out again, so sat down for a beer, looked at photos and caught up on today’s blogging.

Almost 8 PM, and still no water. I’m to meet most of the group in the lobby in 45 minutes, and then taxi out to see the show at the famous Tropicana night club. Prices in Havana have been very modest, but we’re blowing our budget tonight, spending 100 CUCs each (over $100) for front row seats. We may be a pretty smelly bunch. Miraculously, water (cold) materializes at 8:25, thus making getting into clean clothes plausible. The show at the Tropicana was spectacular, definitely worth the price. An open air night club that holds 1000, with stages on different levels around the grounds. Two hours of brilliant dancing, costumes and singing.







We are driven there and back by a driver in a 1951 Chevrolet that’s in great condition. Our driver speaks quite passable English, has medical training, owns a farm and has relatives in the U.S. He hopes for better relations; we are not enemies.

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