30 December: Havana o Habana

indi's picture


Early Morning Bus to Havana

We checked out at 715am and had the quickest breakfast at the buffet from 730 to 740am then rushed to the nearby bus station for 800am Viazul. When we got on board the was had only a few seats left in the back near the lavatory. Boy, it was smelly when the lavatory door was open! As soon as some passengers got off at Varadero airport we moved forward a bit to avoid the stinky aroma.



Along the way we saw beautiful oceanfronts and small beaches (playita is what they call it). I was quite surprised that only one passenger got off in Matanzas.



An accident took place not too long before we passed the city border where a rental car was wrecked by a large tank truck. Obviously it was unusual to see such a scene knowing that people drive very slowly in and out of town.


When we enter Havana we took several snapshot of the city from inside the airconditioned bus.



Arrived in Havana

Our bus terminated at Viazul bus terminal in the mid-southern part of Havana at 11am. We were then greeted by Eko, Tia and Puput. Eko is a local staff of the Indonesian Embassy who has been here since 1995, graduated with economics degree from Uni of Havana. Tia just moved here to join Eko after getting married in Jakarta. Puput, younger sister of Eko, arrived here last month and is considering to study here as well.

It was cool being in a nice SUV that bears an Embassy license plate 101008, a former CNN car that was purchased by the Embassy.


We drove directly to Casa Isbel where we had booked a room for 3 nights. The neighborhood is really a run down one but that's just how Havana Centro is all about. What was once a very thriving Spanish town is now kept alive with the extreme minimum budget. Inside, though, they really made this place a home. Senora Isbel Urra, the owner of this place, is a piano teacher and a good friend of the late Compay Segundo (from the Buena Vista Social Club). From what we saw, this place is full of history and junk. But that's all they have. They are proud to collect pieces of their history and culture and that was what being Cuban is all about: You embrace the pueblo.


After finishing up the necessary paperwork for our stay, we drove to the Barrio Chino, an old part of town that was where Chinese coolies used to live. Tia and Puput brought us to Tian Tien, one of the most well-known Chinese restaurant in town. The owner is a Chinese and he corrected my way of saying “ni hau ma”. The food was great although not spicy enough for most Indonesians. However, it was still much better than what you’d find in any standard establishment in town. In Chinatown, we also saw a few people who were Chinese-Cuban mixed, and they are so good looking.



From there, we walked to Parque de la Fraternidad, a large open space where people hang out. In between Parque de la Fraternidad and Chinatown, there is another open space where a lot of people were playing baseball, which is the national game of Cuba.



It's really nice to observe the daily life the people here.


We saw Camillo, a bus that looks like a camel with two humps. The bus is actually a trolley truck which is towed by a tow-truck, so in the case of bus breakdown they can easily replace the tow truck with a working ones.



Then we arrived in the Capitolio, the replica of the DC Capitol. We were amazed at how Cubans are sensitive to their historical buildings. Even though they do not have anything to keep the building shiny and new, the buildings are not destroyed or defaced. This is unlike Old Jakarta, where most the old shophouses are gone due to insensitive development.


We visited the cigar museum Partagas, but sadly, it was closed due to new year holiday season. However, the shop was open. But the cigars sold there was really expensive, for example, 15 USD for a special edition Cohiba. I guess it should still be cheaper than buying it outside Cuba. Perhaps we’ll buy like three or four pieces of it, for gifts. In the shop, the shopkeeper gave Noe lollypop.



Then Noe went back to the Capitolio park to see the kids playing football. But then he got hit by a ball that was kicked by Indi. He cried really loud and in pain so we decided to cancel our plan to walk a bit further towards hotel Inglaterra, instead, we just hang out in Capitolio.

Yodhi got me a ticket to enter the Capitolio, and I was amazed by how beautiful the building is, and it was also quite well maintained and clean. There is a statue of Jupiter which is the biggest indoor statue Latin America. There is also a diamond star which marks the point where all the distance to Havana is measured.



Right outside Capitolio, which is central to tourism activity in Havana, there are a lot of entrepreneural Cuban. There are guys who makes photos in old style camera. There are coco taxi (taxi with a shape of coconut, basically a bajaj) and 1950s taxis waiting for passengers.



As Capitolio is a tourist area, it is quite heavily guarded by policemen.


Unexpected Encounters: It's a Small World Afterall

We then just hang out at the staircase of Capitolio. To our surprise, suddenly there is one Indonesian guy said hi to us. It turned out that this guy, Anton, lives in Canada, and just like other Canadians, he flies south during winter holiday. To add to our surprise, Anton was also from the same university as I was, only four years my senior! What a small world indeed.



We then drove back to Casa Isbel so that Noe could take a nap. Then at 7pm, Eko, Tya, and Puput picked us up for dinner. They bought Cajitas lunchbox and then went to drive up near the Castillo for a night picnic.

Night Adventure around Havana

We tried to enter the Castillo using the local price, but the guy who checked the ticket said that there is a new regulation where diplomats couldn’t use local price for tickets anymore. So we had to give away the tickets to the locals.

We had a picnic of fried chicken and rice Cajitas in a small park overlooking the Havana Bay and we got a glimpse of the city light.


After dinner Eko took us for a stroll at Havana Vieja. When we arrived at the Plaza de la Catedral, there was a rehearsal for a New Year dinner show the next day. The dancers were all really good and professional, despite only performing at a gala dinner. Puput told me that dance and art is a field where Cubans compete to be the best, in order to land an opportunity to tour around the world.



Finally we decided to sit down and enjoy ourselves for a while in the La Bodeguita del Medio, a small eatery where Ernest Hemingway and a number of others famous people used to hang out for the mojito. The Mojito was good, but too expensive for that price (4 CUC for blanco, 5 CUC for anejo). But we managed to do graffiti of ourselves on the wall and took a family photo with the bar’s signboard



We returned to the casa at midnight and Noe was already fast asleep.


Photo in french magazine Stradda - URGENT

Hi Indrani,
I would need this photo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/indrani/358161365/) in 300 dpi, 10 cms wide, to illustrate a file on La Havana in the magazine Stradda to appear in april. Could you send it to me ?

Best regards,
Marie Le Moigne
Tél. 33 1 55 28 10 07

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