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Havana Cruising - The Mojito Coast

by SV Crystal Blues 17 May 07:38 PDT
Line Ém Up - Mass Mojito mixing every few minutes © Neil Langford, SV Crystal Blues

After the quiet dignity and charm of the Cuban south coast and cities, arriving in Havana is a shock to the system - specially the liver. This is a party town, where the bars mix Mojitos in bulk and rum is cheaper than mixers, so each glass carries a delicious kick.

We arrived in Havana at Hemingway Marina on April 27, and wisely resisted hitting the Old Town for a few days - rest and repairs took precedence initially. Of course getting to the city isn't simple - with the marina about 15 miles out of town, a fairly battered 1950s Chevy will cost 25 bucks each way. So after an initial day visit we decided to book a room in the Old Town and stay for a couple of days next time.

And so the fun began - Havana Old Town is a world class destination, with thousands of historic buildings, many now restored, and a lively culture that welcomes tourists. A non-profit foundation has managed the gradual restoration of the Old Town with great sensitivity. Its a huge area to manage, but the planning policies have given it a living breathing heart, ensuring that the local population are not displaced and that schools and community facilities are included in the development mix. So yes there are tourists (thousands of them) but there is also nearly half a million locals in the old city, so the visitor gets a "warts and all" education in pretty quick time.

Of course mixing the haves and have-nots occasionally creates predictable social challenges, however the Cuban people are not without pride and dignity, and they handle even the ugliest tourist behaviour with great patience. The financial differences between the citizens and the visitors are enormous - a school teacher in Cuba might earn US$40.00 per month, a doctor say US$80.00 per month. Many tourists spend that on drinks in a single day. But the real imbalance occurs when restaurant waiters earn, in a single day (and just in tips), the equivalent of a teachers monthly salary. How does that work? Yes, social change is coming, and its driven by tourism, which in turn is driven by the culture, music and history of the place.

Opposite our guesthouse, just minutes from the beautiful Plaza Vieja shown above, was a small store selling tourist nick nacks, cold drinks and local crafts. We spoke with the two sales staff, who on that day was a pleasant husband and wife team with excellent English skills - they were both University Professors, and she had a Doctorate in Mathematics, yet in one day selling stuff to tourists they earned more than their monthly government stipend. Something has to give.

Despite the rampant inequalities between the base level Cuban worker and the growing middle class, people are happy. They all have a decent education, they all have access to above average health care. Basic food stuffs and consumables are price controlled by the government so that every one can eat - just not in the new restaurants.

Havana is not to be missed - staggeringly beautiful buildings and plazas, amazing culture, food and drink that was frankly much better than expected and a musical culture that is without par. And it is the Mojito capital of the world.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of svcrystalblues.blogspot.com

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