History and Charm, my heart is in Havana
by Alicia A. Elatassi
Cuba. Land of Jose Marti, la guajira, tobacco, rum, el danzon. Beautiful Cuba; the one that Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan glorify in their songs. I wanted to see what they meant. I wanted to see with my own eyes that mystical island where myths and folklore surrounding its revolution have cast a protection spell against foreigners and hard-core capitalists. This country, with its rejection of American ideals of globalization and capitalism, was always a mystery to everyone growing up in the US. And on June 26th, with the borders opening to Americans, we were finally able to solve this mystery through a flight from Houston, Atlanta, and then Havana.
Tuesday, after arriving to La Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, we headed to our Hotel Melia Habana to rest for two hours. That evening, we had the pleasure to ride on a pink, classic 1959 Cadillac WildCad through La Havana’s malecon, the boulevard facing the Caribbean Sea. Hungry from the trip-loaded trip, my husband and I winded down at the Hotel Nacional with a nice local pre-dinner trip, before heading to La Guarida, Havana’s top paladar, or private restaurant, to enjoy our dinner and close this first day.
Wednesday, we were picked up at our hotel by a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air before heading to a guided walking tour of Old Havana and its major plazas. For lunch, we retired to El Del Frente, a trendy paladar in Old Havana, where we ate moros y cristianos and ropa vieja. Later that day, we headed to a local rum and cigar maker, where the adults in the group experienced a tasting of these local delicacies with an expert.
By the way, if you watch Discovery’s Cuban Chrome, you will recognize Fernando Barral’s name as one of the mechanics who restore vintage American cars. Well, our boys had the fortune to visit him at his place, which functions as his home and auto-shop. My boys were amazed! He showed us how he takes rare vintage cars and restores them with limited resources. After this enlightening visit, we headed to Rio Mar for a delicious dinner.
Thursday, early in the morning, we headed to Fusterlandia, a mosaic home, neighborhood, and community project of Jose Fuster. Separated by about 30 minutes from the center of Havana, Jaimanitas is the small fishing village where Fusterlandia is located. Here I took advantage of the colorful environment to take tons of photos for my personal Instagram.
When we returned from Fusterlandia, we headed to Guarderia Padre Usera, a primary school run by the Hermanas del Amor de Dios, or the Sisters of God’
Love, a sisterhood of Catholic nuns. Quite the cozy environment, the Guarderia takes care of the children of working mothers. Moved by their help and their cause, we decided to donate supplies for the children. If you would also like to donate, don’t hesitate to ask or stop by the boutique for more information.
Our second to last day we enjoyed a quick visit to Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home on the outskirts of Havana.
Filled with memorabilia of this American writer’s life gave us a good look inside his life and times in Cuba. The house was an hacienda style home, very airy and refined. His collection of books was impressive, we were told a story of him inviting Hollywood starlets to his home so that they'd swim in his gigantic pool and he could ogle them from the comfort of his living room. We definitely noticed a lot of "trophy" animals or mounts on the walls from his hunting expeditions in Africa, not my favorite part of the visit..by the way.
Final day a visit to the local Mercado San Jose for handcrafted accessories, souvenirs and various gift items. I absolutely enjoyed this part because this is where I find little gems I bring back to my customers at Thinking Boutique. I was so thrilled to find handmade copper bracelets and colorful rings and unique earrings.
Cuba by far exceeded our expectations. We arrived with the notions of a country that was depressed, dysfunctional, and lost in time. But what we discovered was a colorful land full of energy, optimism, deep sense of culture and the hope for a better future.
At the end of our trip and in a moment of finality and melancholy our tour guide Laura Gonzalez of Four Wives Cuba shared a beautiful Cuban “dicho” or saying that I will always remember Cuba for:
“Salud, Porque la belleza sobra.”