On my first morning in Havana, I set off on foot from my hotel with that mixture of excitement and trepidation that comes from venturing into a completely unknown territory. My hotel was situated in Vedado, supposedly the cultural heart of the city, but I wanted to travel to Havana Vieja (Old Havana) to begin my exploration. So, trying to keep references to the map in my guide book to a minimum (the sure sign of a tourist, never mind the camera hanging from my shoulder), I set off in what I believed to be the right direction.
I hadn’t been walking long when I was joined by a Cuban man intent on conversation. He didn’t speak much English, and I even less Spanish, but by juggling bits of French, German and Italian into the mix he was able to tell me his name was Pedro, and he was a doctor. He showed me his ID card to prove it and asked where I was going. He was immediately dismissive of my objective telling me that the liveliest part of the city has Centro Habana.
So three areas to choose from (though there’s also Miramar and the suburbs) that comprise most of Havana.
Telling the three apart isn’t that straightforward, though I generally had a reasonable sense of location after a couple of days there.
Vieja; the area with historic buildings, old squares, a lot of the better hotels, and tourist oriented shopping.
Centro, the part of town seen by most tourists through a taxi window; run-down, dirty, perhaps even slightly intimidating. The coco-taxi that took me to the cigar factory didn’t want to leave me there alone, though I suspect that was more down to commercial intent than any real threat. This is the real Havana for the Habaneros. Chinatown is here, and a tiny alley dedicated to Afro-Cuban culture that will feature later.
And Vedado, the easiest to navigate because of it’s grid street system, is known for its huge cemetery, a park named after a Beatle (where a security guard holds a pair of sunglasses ready to replace the original stolen spectacles!), and some of the more political open spaces. Most, though not all, of the buildings are better maintained and there’s a leafier feel to the district.
See if you can work out where the rest of the images I show during the Havana run were taken.