On La Habana

Click for either background music or watch to get a feel

Note: There is a lot in this post. The more you read, the more images you see, and the more links you follow, the more you will learn. Then again, I understand time is a limitation. Enjoy however you can. 

 

We Baby Boomers remember images of a fun-loving Havana from the 1950s movies. We also remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. Given the latter and the almost 60-year trade and travel embargo, I never imagined visiting Havana, Cuba.

 

While approaching the city, I was anxious with anticipation. The thought of a time gone by with a sea of vintage American cars. A place caught in a time warp. A place of disrepair from years of neglect. A place with unhappy people from years of suppression and poverty.

 

Pulling into the cruise terminal, I was struck by the two adjacent terminals appearing as weathered, empty shells of what they once were.

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I expected vintage cars dominating the roads. Yes, they are present – but most serve as taxis and tour vehicles, which are primarily visible when cruise ships are in port. Yes – old cars (clunkers) are present – but I see them at home. Yet in Havana, I also saw newer cars and vans. After all, do you think the European and Asian automakers are going to stay away just because the US automakers did?

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For our brief stay (10 AM – 5 PM), we spent most of our time on a walking tour of La Habana Vieja – Old Havana.

 

Old Havana allows visitors to engage with colonial Spain. Its narrow streets (many are closed to traffic), pleasant plazas, grand architecture, and an array of colors transports visitors into the past. Shops, vendors, music, and places of work allow visitors to engage with today’s Havana.

Old Havana’s colonial architecture is grand and serves as a sign of its prosperous past. The buildings drew me to Havana’s heart. After all, I love “old city” sectors – especially in Europe – and Old Havana has an Old World feel. Although worn buildings serve as a reminder of the past 60 years, renovations and fresh coats of paint delivered a sense of hope for the city and its people.

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We went into one pharmacy that I would not have known what it was if it wasn’t for the guide.

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Travelling in Florence, Italy about five years ago taught me something very important that has stayed with me when I travel – Look Up! Because people’s eyes tend to focus on eye level, especially looking into store windows, many never see the fabulous sights found above. If you ever visit Havana, look up!

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Havana does have a combination of oddities and time warp.

  • US Credit Cards and ATM cards are not accepted!!!

    Look around for the oddity in this image

  • Visitors cannot receive Cuban Currency in advance!

Tourists have a different currency than the locals. I have no idea how that is managed within its society! CUPs (Cuban Pesos) are for the locals. It’s bills have images of people on them. CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), for the tourists, are obtained just outside the port of entry for a modest 15% exchange rate. CUC bills display images of monuments – so when receiving change after a payment, I always checked the bills because the two currencies are not equal.

Travellers may convert CUCs for currencies when leaving for another 15%. Because I don’t believe British Pound Sterling, Euros, and Canadian Dollars have as steep of an exchange fee – if at all! We came home with a 10 CUCs that we planned to give to a friend who is visiting Cuba in November. A win-win would be to sell them to her for $10 – but what the heck! However, President Trump’s latest travel restrictions changed her cruise itinerary, so she’s not going.

Cubans are economically poor. I could see it in some neighborhoods seen from the ship. Wages are low for most jobs. However, Cuban culture is rich and the people show their pride in their dress, music, food, services, and interactions. I saw and encountered a lot of kindness.

I also noticed that Cubans embrace their past, deal with the present, and are hopeful for their future.

Not only was Havana better than I expected, the sights, sounds, and people collectively worked in sync to captured my heart – so yes – I would be willing to return – well, if the travel door reopens.

I wonder what lies ahead for the nation and its people. Time will tell. For now, it seems capitalism is slowly working into society. Its Communist Party still runs the country, and I didn’t not see signs of that changing.

As the ship departed the port, I again look at those two weathered, gutted terminals – but this time I smiled because I was thinking that they are now being renovated in order to increase the number of spots for cruise ships from 2 to 6 – therefore a sense Cuba is ready to embrace the world – maybe even the US. On the other hand, the current administration wants to keep us distant. Would you want to miss sights like this?

 

Enjoy this 3-minute video of Old Havana by National Geographic

 

We recently saw Cuba, a new IMAX film, during a visit our museum center. The trailer is below.

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Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 406

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Summertime is definitely here. After a long streak of rain, we could use a good dose of water from the sky. I don’t care for this hot, muggy weather.

This Weekend Concert Series returns with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Because of the way these artists have mixed and matched, songs must be credited two at least 2 of the 4 musicians. Solo songs are not acceptable. Stage time is Saturday, 1 AM (Eastern US).

Norah O’Donnell debuts Monday as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. I wish her well and look forward to watching. On the other hand, I recall feeling bored watching Katie Couric’s heralded debut.

I enjoyed the IMAX film about Cuba, so I encourage others to see it if/when it comes to a local theater near you. Future locations and dates are not listed. Here’s a link to the film’s website, which includes a list of current theaters. The trailer is below.

Congratulations to the US Women’s Soccer Team for winning the World Cup.

I’m a baseball fan, but All-Star Game bores me – so if I watch it, I only see snippets.

Earlier this week I substituted in my old golf league. It was good to see people I haven’t seen in 4-5 years. As we were sitting around after golfing, a few were complaining about Nike and Colin Kaepernick. I couldn’t resist the chance to use my explanation: “I hate to tell you but Nike isn’t marketing to anyone at this table. Their target market isn’t old white guys who generally vote Republican and wear New Balance shoes they bought from Target, WalMart, or Kohls.” Some nodded, others laughed, and the majority were speechless.

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I’ve mentioned the Biden Dilemma (my term) several times since I initiated the thought. Here’s the original thought.

  1. His age
  2. Voters may be looking for a fresh face (as they did with Jimmy Carter (1976), Bill Clinton (1992), George W Bush (2000), Barack Obama (2008), and Donald Trump (2016)
    Not Left enough
  3. If nominated, the party will force him left, that is forcing him to be who he isn’t (Similar to what happened to Hilliary Clinton (2016), John McCain (2004), and Mitt Romney (2008)
  4. His tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time
  5. Kate Smith Syndrome – Anything in the past can be placed into today’s standards and context
  6. Ties to the Republican Boogie Man: Obama

Although there is a long way to go, if Joe Biden does not get the Democratic nomination, I would not be surprised to see a strong independent candidate enter the presidential race.

On July 4th, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) declared his independence from the Republican Party. This action may cause him to lose his committee seat(s) and will unquestionably threaten his re-election. Consider this as a prime example of member of Congress doing the right thing to the expense of losing their position.

While the Republicans can’t do anything more about health care than criticize Single Payer and Obamacare, the Democrats also continue to miss the mark by not addressing the issue – including improving Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).

To lead you into this week’s satirical headlines, The Onion lists pros and cons for sharable electric scooters.

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Weekly Headlines from The Onion (combos welcome)

Area man always thought he’d squander his life differently
Fork section of cutlery drawer overrun by invasive soup spoons
Craftsman confirms new hammer backwards-compatible with previous generation of nails
Weary, cynical woman knows better than to bring a tomato plant into a world like this
Area 8-year-old formally rescinds hunger complaint following mother’s insulting banana offer
OSHA special ops team raids local office after receiving intel of expired fire extinguisher
God orders all followers to swallow cyanide capsule in preparation for voyage to Alpha Centauri

(My Combo) Cynical 8-year-old orders weary man to swallow nails

Interesting Reads

The mission of Apollo 11
Plants and climate change
About Einstein
For those who like quirky
Chernobyl: fact and fiction
Demographics and the US political parties
(Photos) New UNESCO World Heritage Sites
(Graphic) Housing by countries over time
(Infographic) History of life

To send you into the weekend from hot and muggy Cincinnati, here’s one of my favorite heat songs. In the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

On Our Spring 2019 Cruise Itinerary

 

Especially for my wife, travelling through the Panama Canal is the key reason we took this cruise. Especially since taking the cruise, there is no question – the Panama Canal is an engineering marvel.

A few months before the trip, my wife read Path Between the Seas (David McCullough) – a book that many feel is the most comprehensive and accurate about the canal’s construction. I know she highly recommends this book and would encourage others to read it before cruising the canal.

The second reason for our selection of this cruise was Cuba – that land Americans were forbidden to visit for many years – a land that Europeans, Asians, and Canadians would visit. Cuba – a land serving as another issue dividing Americans based on their political party. Because Havana was my favorite stop, I will definitely have a post featuring Old Havana. (Note: Visiting Cuba requires a ($75) visa.

Besides the Panama Canal and Cuba, I have never visited Mexico or any other country in Central America. (My wife had been to Mexico.) An added bonus was that friends of ours in Cincinnati also have a home in Guatemala, and this was a chance to visit them there (which we did not know at the time we booked the trip).

Because our travel history has focused on North America and Europe, we knew Central America would provide a different experience – which it did! Several quick notes:

  • People are very friendly and appreciative of our visits
  • Poverty is obvious
  • People are very proud of their culture
  • Pursuing tourists for sales can be relentless

For those wanting to cruise the Panama Canal in the future, your itinerary will most likely include ports you hadn’t imagined – which is OK! Besides, cruising the Panama Canal is very interesting. Keep in mind that some cruises advertise the Panama Canal, but don’t actually sail through it. They may actually port on one side, then provide excursions into the canal zone. We discovered that the rainy season is May through November. Amazingly for us, the first half of April only provide a few specs that would be cleared from a windshield with one swipe.

Bottom Line: If you want to cruise the Panama Canal, go!