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Suzie and I returned yesterday from our cruise to Cuba. I won't waste time talking about cruising, but Cuba was fascinating in so many ways. The first thing you notice is that it's OLD. We think of 100 year old buildings as old, but Havana just celebrated their 500 year anniversary! The ships dock in Old Havana, where most streets are too narrow to drive, so they are blocked off to vehicles and for walking only. The buildings for the most part look like they have been abandoned for decades, but they are still very in use. With very few outdoor signs, the only way you really know what a certain storefront is is usually the hawkers out front practically ordering you to come in to their store or restaurant. We went to the rooftop of a magnificent old 9 story hotel, riding up in the original elevator, and had the obligatory Mojito, which is outstanding everywhere.
The people are very friendly, and come off as pushy until you get used to it. I bought my box of cigars from a guy on a streetcorner, and was glad I had researched it beforehand to know if they were real. He took us up a flight of stairs and down a hall to what looked like a squatters room, but was actually his apartment, and after affirming as best I could that they were authentic,[ his dad works at the factory and he steals them to sell on the street], I got a box of 24 Cohiba Esplendotos for 95 CUCs, about 85 US$. I don't smoke, but a couple friends that were over last night assured me that they are magnificent. All I know is the smell is very nice, nothing like American trash dump cigars.
We rode around in a 1950 Chevy convertible, original straight six 3 on the tree, and saw the obligatory sites - Revolution Square, the National Cemetery, and the International Hotel. Our tour was pre-arranged by the cruise line, but now that I know how things work, I'd just get off the boat and pick an old cab. If the driver doesn't speak English he usually has a guide with him who does, and they charge about 1/4th what a pre-arranged one does, and go to more places.
Civilians in Cuba are not allowed to own any car newer than 1959, and there are no places to buy parts, so like everything else there, they make do. We talked to a couple who rode in a 56 Cadillac with a Russian 3 cylinder diesel in it! The old classics are everywhere, and you never see rust or dents on any of them. Despite having almost no traffic lights or even signs, except maybe a yield sign at a major intersection, they have almost zero accidents. An American driver wouldn't last 5 minutes there!
We came away with a new appreciation for Cuba, mostly because the people are so proud and happy, not what we grew up learning at all. They are very poor for the most part, but their medical facilities are top-notch, and completely free to citizens, as is education including University and Med School, food, clothing and everything essential. The term we hear a lot is caught in a time zone, and it fits.
79 Barth Classic
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