Now that I started to write about Cuba, I got obsessed with writing about what the real Cuba means to me. Cuba is on the cusp of great change and where you see it the most is in Havana. Havana is a real metropolis that makes you feel like a time traveller and is a city so rich in history it makes you humble.
It has so much to it: the heart of tourism in the polished old town, the people fishing on the Malecon, the Hotel Nacional high above the city that gives you a sense of the rich colonial times and the residential streets with crumbling houses. The new Havana comes in the shape of a shiny new complex, next to the old Havana and its derelict facades. Behind those crumbling facades you still see the impressive architecture and style that all those houses used to have back in the times before the revolution and embargo.
It hurts me now, but admittedly I wasn’t particularly fond of Havana the first day – to put it mildly. The city is dirty, smelly and loud. Period. There’s no sugar-coating it. I took my time getting used to it and seeing the real charm and character behind it.
We stayed close to the Universidad de la Havana, about fifteen minutes walk from the Old Town and away from its refurbished, shiny heart where you can find most tourists. In front of our door locals went on with their day to day: they went shopping on the corner market, chatted with their neighbours on the french balconies or fixed their cars in the streets. Our location allowed us to escape the touristy illusion of Havana and see the raw residential Havana of today. We walked the city for days and took the time to really take it in and peek behind the Curtain of Gasoline smoke and tourist traps.
What comes to mind when I think back to Havana is the word raw, it’s a raw vibrant beauty too unique to really put into words. Life here is happening on the streets so we just walked as many of them as we could, humbled at being a part of this fantastic place for a short amount of time.