¡Vamos a Cuba!, Part 3

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We started he day with a procession of Castro’s ashes passing in front of the hotel. It seemed like all of Havana was up early to line the Malecón to pay their respects one last time. Our tour group gathered in the lobby a few minutes later to head to Revolution Square, where just hours earlier, these same Cubans had gathered to say goodbye to their fallen leader. Crowds there were estimated at close to million people. All the roads surrounding the Square were closed off to accommodate the masses.

Because of the memorials and tributes to Castro, our hotel is packed with dignitaries. Last night, we had to wait in the bus on the street just short of the hotel for almost 45 minutes while some or other president checked in. Tonight, while waiting to catch the bus for dinner, I had a short conversation with Rev. Jeese Jackson.

It’s been a strange and wonderful experience. I’ll tell you the rest of what our first day was like in a bit — first, I want to capture our Wednesday.

After some time at the Revolutionary Square, we headed for a walking tour of four squares: Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral, and Plaza de San Francisco de Asís. There was so much to take in, and looking back at the photos as I write this, I’m having a hard time believing we saw all this stuff before lunch. between the sights on the Square and the landmarks along the other four plazas, I’m also having a hard time deciding which nuggets I learned to share with you. Here are some brief highlights:

This road passes in front of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales Casa de Gobierno. It’s made of wooden bricks. One of the generals who lived here had the red bricks replaced with wood ones because the horse and carriages rolling by made too much noise for him to enjoy his siesta.
Meet Kenya, our tour guide all week. She’s showing us her ration card that she and her mother use to get their monthly food allotments.
Hotel Ambos Mundos is where Hemingway lived for 22 years, and La Bodeguita del Medio is where he drank his mojitos. We’ll learn more about his time in Cuba later today.

Framing the situation.

We did all that before lunch. Then, we headed to La Guarida, our first paladar, private restaurants that have opening after the State relaxed its rules about private restaurant ownership few years ago. We climbed the steps to the third floor, past two levels of heavy remodeling construction, opening into an old, top floor residence converted into a restaurant, dining tables in every room. We sat at two long table, and were served course after course of local staples, including black beans and rice, plantain chips, and yucca. Since its opening, La Guarida has hosted many diplomats and officials from the U.S. They have a framed letter of appreciation form the first of these guests, former Senator Dennis DeConcini. still hanging on the wall.

After lunch, we fought off our siestas on the bus ride to the Hemingway house, east of old Havana.

I’d been looking forward to this the moment I saw it on the itinerary. I was glasd to see it stayed even after Castro’s death. I could do an entire entry, maybe two, on this place. There’s so much to tell you about.

I might later.

Papa’s palace.

The house was built by a Spanish architect in the 1880s, but Ernest Hemingway didn’t move into it until 1939, after his then-mistress, Martha Gellhorn, renovated it. The rent was $100 a month, but by the end of 1940, they had gotten married and bought the house with the money he earned from the movie adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Ernest stayed until late-July 1960, but by then, he was living with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh. When he died in 1961, his will left his boat The Pilar, to its captain Gregorio Fuentes, and the house to the Cuban government. The house opened as this museum in 1962.

Home is where the hotel is.

We ended up back at the hotel, where I went for a quick swim, saw some peacocks, and had a chat with Rev. Jesse Jackson. Then, off to dinner at La Moraleja, another paladar, whose owner, Jorge Luis Trejo, was recently recognized with a food award, but he hasn’t been able to get a travel visa to accept it in the States.

I’d intended to stay up reading The Old Man and the Sea, but it was a long day. I didn’t even have the energy to figure out the Wi-Fi, which is why you’re reading this days later. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a little less exhausting and I’ll be able to post the details when our day is through. Until then, hasta pronto.