12/8/07: Today I packed and left at 10:30 in the morning after saying goodbye. I arrived in Havana at 6 P.M. to Policia and drug sniffing dogs. I stayed at the Havana Riviera, which is state run, just like everything else. They are 100% Communist. Walking out from my hotel I passed what I believe to be the old location of the U.S. Embassy, where there were billboards filled with propaganda, and this:
50 Cuban Flags?
That evening I went to the Casa de la Musica. The music was good, with 3 singers, bongos, brass, piano, but it was very touristy, with a cruise ship feel at times. Word to the wise, every women you see is for sale here. After my 5th time getting propositioned I decided to call it an evening. I rolled back to my hotel at about 2:30 A.M.
12/9/08: Up and out by 11A.M. today, walking the city. I met a local named Mike, and I agreed to let him show me around the city, with the understanding that there would be some compensation involved. The Cuban economy is in shambles, and I don't mind helping out the locals when things are done the right way.
The old cars Cuba is famous for
After about 2 hours of walking the city, Mike tells me his brother works for the cigar factory, and has been sneaking them out from time to time, and can get me some good Robustos. Now, these are almost definitely counterfiet, but so what? I negotiated down to less then $2 per unit, and it's still Cuban tobacco. After making the purchase I insisted that I drop the goods off at my hotel before we did anything else. After that we headed to a baseball game, which was about 20 minutes away. It was fascinating, as there are no vendors - no beer, burgers, hotdogs, t-shirts, or anything. Just one stand selling slabs of cooked pork. Gaurds were posted at every section, and the stadium was quite plain and unadorned. No advertisments, no team logos, nothing. I'll say this though, the Cubans know their baseball. One batter got a rousing ovation for an 11 pitch at bat where he grounded out to advance the runner from 2nd to 3rd.
After the game we went to Mike's apartment, in one of the dilapidated buildings of Havana. None of the buildings there have seen any renovation since the year of the revolution, 1959. And for those of you that think it's trendy to wear the Che Guevara t's, here is some food for thought: (http://www.slate.com/id/2107100/). Soon these buildings, all 100% occupied, will begin to collapse upon their residents. The average wage for a doctor in Cuba? $45. Per Month. Cubans are not allowed to hold second jobs, talk to tourists, or travel outside of Cuba. Police make more than Doctors. The once vaunted health and education of Cuba has been decimated by Castro's policy of trading doctors (http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-7-18/30388.html) and teachers for oil credits from Venezuela. The healthcare system can't absord the loss of thousands of doctors and maintain the level of care. Those chosen often have families that are forced to remain behind so that the risk of flight is reduced. And of course the pay remains the same. $45 per month.
The view from Mike's roof
Mike and I enjoyed some locally grown tobacco and oddly enough we got very hungry afterwords, so we went to dinner at one of the local, illigal bed and breakfasts owned by locals and not state run. For those visiting, the best plan is to stay one night at a big hotel so that you can reference that to customs, and then move to one of these smaller, cheaper, and much better places. After that Mike and I said our goodbye's.
That night I went to the Jazz club across the street from my hotel. After some whiskey, a chat with a local, and some more Cuban tobacco, it was time for bed.
12/10/07: Old Havana. This is the only part of Havana that is maintained. The government offices are here, and of course, the tourists. It's about 10 by 5 city blocks. I was told by a friend that I met on my travles that I had to go to a cafe, get myself a good cigar and a cognac and spend a few hours relaxing in the main sqaure, and that is exactly what I did. The Torres XX and Maduro #5 were very nice.
12/11/07: There is an ashtray in the armrest of my plane seat. This plane a little older than I am comfortable with. On my way to Cancun, and then SF where I'll spend the night in my own bed!