Tourist day in Havana

Gaia map of my Havana Walking
Gaia map of my Havana Walking

Saturday I decided to make myself a walking tour of Havana, Lamar went off to explore the film festival since he is in TV production and with Gaia maps running I went of to try and never walk the same street twice 🙂

At the world famous, because of Hemingway, Ambos Mundos hotel I found a Taulk tour group having a tour with what sounded like a very interesting person. An architect who works at the Havana old town conservation project (Maybe habaguanex), who then took us into the Maqueta de la Havana, essentially a fully detailed model of the old town.

He then went into some details of the many problems they face. Apparently the project is unique in Cuba and probably the world in that most of their funds come from the tourist tax paid by the hotels and restaurants they own. In other Cuban cities the money goes to central government and then paid out if hey are lucky.

The biggest difficulty they face is that no one ‘owns’ the buildings! The government owns the physical land but after the revolution the state took over the apartments etc (If you didn’t flee you were allowed to keep one city apartment and one country building the rest of your property was taken and essentially given to other folks in exchange for a small amount of money – If you fled you lost the lot!) What this means is that in a block of apartments where upto 20 families are living no one owns the physical outer shell of the building, hence the very poor state of repair.

The project offer to renovate the building for free but they insist that only say 12 families can remain – the others are offered free apartments but not in the old town. So interesting squabbles occur 🙁

The most interesting statement he made which strongly agreed with the opinion I have been forming is that their government has been using the trade embargo as an excuse for the embargo of their mind! No original thinking has been taking place! Like winning the battle and losing the war 🙁

For instance I’ve noticed Nestle have a huge presence here with their freezers in virtually every cafe/store on the island also soft drinks/beer are all marketed in the latest all aluminium cans, which require huge upfront investment. Yet the banks don’t offer normal folks credit for building houses or starting small businesses but a foreigner can offer a slug of money for a special visa and be allowed to buy a building for business. Not good …

Havana Rail station
Havana Rail station

Anyway I got thrown off their ‘private’ tour so I continued my meanderings. The scale of renovation is vast eg The Central Station, Capitol building, National Theatre etc etc

GAES Titan bike race Havana
GAES Titan bike race Havana

Later I saw the end of the first stage of the Titan Tropic GAES Mountain Bike championships all on gleaming highly expensive bikes – but no backup kit! Just an ambulance and a few cars 🙂 They are off to Vinales now.

In the evening to go for a meal I had to run the gauntlet of prostitutes and managed to pick up a stomach bug again 🙁 Over 12 miles walked..

Vinales surprise & downtown Havana

I spent Thursday meandering around Vinales, just about every house offers accommodation so if you are told the town is full take it with a bucket of salt! The town is popular with walkers going up the hills and around the tobacco farms.

Jimmy, Rick & Rich from Crested Butte CO
Jimmy, Rick & Rich from Crested Butte CO

In the evening I was wandering around wondering where to eat when I spied three very expensive looking carbon bikes tucked away in a corner 🙂 I went to inspect and discovered their owners were from the USA (of cause with bikes like that) and even more amazingly one is the neighbour of my friend Tony Martin, who a few weeks ago Sally and I went walking in Snowdonia with 🙂 They all reside in Crested Butte, Colorado so are here looking for hills 🙂 I guess it now means that a trip boarding in Colorado at 3,000 metres is on the cards… One of them is a veggie so we returned to my favourite veggie restaurant 🙂

Friday was very wet and I was pleased to be taking the bus to Havana with the bike, 12CUC inc. You only have to remove the front wheel, lower the saddle and take any bags from it so easy really. The bus ended up with around 8 bikes and full of folks.

Right lads push! starting a car in Havana
Right lads push! starting a car in Havana

In Havana bus station whilst re-assembing the bike I got chatting to a group of German girls who had also done 2000km in 30 days, except they had used a Canadian company and a local guide, Enrique. Since they had finished their riding Enrique said follow him and I could stay with his sister in downtown Havana for a couple of nights 🙂 So once again I struck lucky although the area was very seedy full of working girls in the evenings and rubbish strewn streets every where. 🙁

Lobster at The FenixLamar from LA in the USA ended up staying in the house too, so in the evening we all went around to The Fenix restaurant for lobster it was OK but hideously expensive at 103CUC for the three of us 🙁 🙁