The pungent smell of diesel fuel wafting through the air and the clip clop of horse hooves hitting the cobblestone streets, these competing senses generally do not happen simultaneously. At least not in my day to day.
Welcome to Havana.
Visiting Cuba to us felt somehow forbidden, somehow adventurous and somehow just matter of fact. Our kids were not entirely thrilled and we weren’t sure what to really expect. But we felt we needed to see first hand what all this hype was about.
If I close my eyes now I can still hear the sounds of street vendors calling out, more like singing in that incredible deep voice that can penetrate conversations and compel you to pay attention to whatever it is they are selling. Lively music is coming from every direction. Impromptu performances on street corners. An anciana standing on a narrow side street belting out a Cuban song from yesteryear. The barking of dogs. The laughter of children kicking a soccer ball against a wall. As one sound grows faint, it is replaced with another and another. The sounds of life spilling out into the streets.
The visuals of Havana complement the sounds, bringing together the complete picture. The senses take it all in. There is something to see, hear and feel in every direction. The sight of the Cuban flag proudly displayed in a small corner shop as the people wait in line to buy eggs. The “Revolution lives on” billboard with Fidel Castro looking alive and well. The elegance of a colonial building standing in perfect harmony next to rubble. Clothes lines dangling above cobblestone streets. The hollowed out facade of an apartment building with residents still clinging to the sliver that is still livable. Young boys enthusiastically playing dominos in the street. A cat jumping through openings barely large enough for them to squeeze through. A musician with a large bass walking by a sidewalk cafe as tourists look on. Paintings of Che all around. Transportation that includes local buses bursting at the seams, locals grabbing a quick ride in a pedicab, Coco Cabs puttering along hauling tourists and residents in what is pretty much a moped with a big yellow coconut shell and of course the vintage American and Russian cars that come in all colors that Havana is known for. The gente of la Habana working, chatting, dancing, strolling, smiling, shopping. A glimpse into the day to day life that makes Havana so incredibly unique.
Through my first world eyes, everywhere you look It is depressing without being sad. My opinion of Havana defies a short answer. Visiting this vibrant city perplexes me. It is gritty to the core yet elegant, romantic, lively and incredibly dilapidated all at the time. I find the resilience of the people evident in every aspect of life in Havana. The people are resourceful, practical and above all else seemingly happy. Will the influx of tourists somehow alter this contentment over time?
Only time will tell.
Looking forward to visiting the rest of Cuba the next time.