After arriving back in to Havana we trekked across the city in search of the Gran Teatro. The national ballet of the homeland of Carlos Acosta performing Carmen in Havana; it would have been the dream! Alas, tickets were sold out (no surprise) so what else is one to do with a free evening in Havana? Drink copious cocktails at El Floridita of course!
We sheltered from the drizzle on the streets by ducking inside this iconic bar, frequented by Ernest Hemingway (his statue can be seen ‘propping up the bar’ in the corner of the room) and the good bad and ugly of Cuban society throughout the years. We were met by a packed crowd drinking in the old-time atmosphere which has remained unchanged in the best part of a century (evidenced by the photographs displayed on the walls). A live band finished a set to rapturous applause and we eventually found a spot away from the counter to sit and nurse our daiquiris and appreciate the performance of the next musical act, which struck up with barely a pause for us to start conversation with our fellow table-mates, a charming couple from Porto.
After a few more cocktails than we had intended, we dashed back out into the rain in search of adventure and dinner. We found both by accepting the offer of a young man on Obispo of a quality restaurant which proved to be a head spinning hike up several flights of stairs to a mezzanine level above the top floor where we eventually came across a lovely space for a meal for two. It was pure luck that this was possibly the best meal we ate during our visit to Cuba, thanks to the presence of proper ginger (the ginger chicken was really good) and a passable red wine – plus yet another fantastically talented live band who dedicated a song to me, crowbarring my name into their lyrics much to my embarrassment/his amusement. ‘Fraid we got so caught up by the atmosphere though, that we forgot to take down the name of the place – poor show for travel bloggers!
The following morning we were back to reality. It was the day we packed our bags to leave Cuba behind, much as the rest of the world has left it behind in its progress in technology, culture and welfare. We had some great times on the island, but it’s lasting impression was quite a sad one on reflection – much of Havana was akin to a war zone in our eyes, with crumbling structures at almost every turn and many resentful eyes from those who knew nothing of the outside world other than the appearance that relatively well-off tourists presented them with. Lots of the locals we met across the island were very friendly and happy to share such as they had, but it was sad to us to know that it is the system that holds them back from a better life, even today when many admitted to us they’d like to see some progress towards modernisation and involvement in the global conversation. The regime in Cuba is still very much enamoured with Fidel and Che and looks to the past so much more than the future. We found Cuba to be a fascinating place that we are glad to have visited. We wouldn’t rush back just yet, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t recommend you try it. It is an experience all of its’ own and a place that you will leave changed.