A Travellerspoint blog

Havana, Part 3

Religion, African Influences, Cars, Food, Colón Cemetery and the Journey Home

sunny 88 °F
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Day 8: Religion and Cars

We started the day with a talk about religion in Cuba. The speaker covered the many religions of African origin, including Santería,
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The Abekua religious sect whose celebration we had walked through a few days prior,
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And venerating particular saints.
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There was also talk of other religions that are neither African nor Catholic, such as Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

The talk did not bring up that religious practices had been restricted at times after the Revolution, such as Christmas being banned from 1969 to 1997. It was more about what you see now and the origins of it.

Our next stop was the Casa de Africa museum. It covered the horrors of slavery.
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It also contained more contemporary artifacts, such as baskets, animal carvings,
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And religious items, including Santería and Abekua.
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Going back to my days studying Latin-American literature, they have Fernando Ortiz’s desk.
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After touring the museum, we went to the courtyard for a performance with singing, drumming, and dancers.
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The young lady was wearing yellow in honor of Ochún, the Santería deity that is syncretized with Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint.
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The man and boy were dressed in red in honor of Changó, who is syncretized as Saint Barbara.
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It was a fun performance to watch! The dancing was very joyful.

We then had a lunch break and walked around Old Havana some more.
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We tried to walk to the Capitol and got partway there before the heat and the need to head back to the group made us turn around.
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We also saw some political and poetic statements about Puerto Rico on the back of a bici-taxi.
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(There is a famous poem about how Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird: https://ciudadseva.com/texto/cuba-y-puerto-rico-son-de-un-pajaro-las-dos-alas/)

Our next activity was visiting a classic car garage. It was featured on the show Cuban Chrome, which was filmed with the cooperation of a Cuban classic car club.
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After coming home and watching the show, I spotted a blink-and-you-miss-it glimpse of the garage in episode 6, when Alberto and Dayán buy a brake part from there.

The garage owner talked about how in the early years of the Revolution, these cars were thought of as a curse: nobody wanted to hang on to them because the embargo made it impossible to buy parts from the US. However, as the years went on, people began to see the value in these cars, especially for tourism. The challenge for parts has remained, but they can get parts from classic cars that aren’t on the road or put in a different motor. Our host family actually joked about the classic taxis being authentic on the outside but not the inside. The 2 cars in the garage, however, have original motors.

One is a Dodge Kingsway with a V8.
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The other is a Plymouth Belvedere with a V6.
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Outside the garage, other members of the car club had lined up with their vehicles. We got in a Hello Kitty-themed Chevy Bel Air. They allowed us time for pics, including behind the wheel.
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I got pics of some of the other cars that transported our group, including a Chevrolet Impala
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and a Chrysler Windsor. After coming home, I spotted this one on "Cuban Chrome. It is the car that Alberto and Dayán have painted a deep pink just before a friend's wedding. It's red now! I noticed their signature "Azúcar" personalized plate. Then I paused the show to compare the official license plate on their car to the one in my pics. They matched!
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You can see the sticker for the car club featured on "Cuban Chrome."
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I also snapped pics of these other cars from a distance:
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Now it was time to ride! Our driver had a playlist all set up: it started with “Barbie Girl”—a good fit for his pink car!
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We first drove past Colón Cemetery,
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and the Chinese Cemetery.
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Then we went to el Bosque de La Habana, a park where it’s hard to believe that you’re in a big city. We had a few minutes to walk around.
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I also took more car pics.
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We got back in our cars and continued along La Quinta Avenida, home to many embassies. We were busy identifying flags and trying to take pics from a moving car, but we succeeded at spotting Canada,
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Italy,
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Venezuela, and
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Zimbabwe.
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We then drove down the Malecón
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And turned on Avenida Paseo,
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To finish at Plaza de la Revolución, with the José Martí monument,
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the José Martí National Library,
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and the likenesses of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che.
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Interestingly, the buildings that display those likenesses predate the Revolution.

Day 9: Food and Family Remembered
This morning, our group visited 3 different produce markets: one government market, one military cooperative, and one for private vendors. We were not told which was which because our assignment was to figure that out and look for differences among the three. I was able to deduce which was which from the signs, but there were other clues.

Our first stop was the private market. Notice the reference to “oferta y demanda” (supply and demand) on the sign.
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This place had the widest variety of items, and the produce looked to be of decent quality.
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DD1 and I each bought ourselves a delicious baby banana. Total cost: 20 pesos (about 8 cents US).
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However, it tended to have the highest prices. For reference, tomatoes were going for 100 pesos a pound. This is quite cheap by US standards—less than 50 cents—but not so great in the Cuban context if you’re earning a government salary.
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The second stop was the government market. It had the emptiest shelves.
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I guessed its identity because it had signs for price norms.
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Also, Che stares at you from behind the meat counter.
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Tomatoes here were cheaper, at 80 pesos a pound.
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The third market was the cooperative. I spotted 2 prices for tomatoes by the pound: 70 pesos and 80 pesos.
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In terms of variety of items, it seemed like the middle ground of all the markets.

Today was also International Day of the Woman. I received more well wishes for this occasion in Havana than I had anywhere else in my life! It was also recognized on signs at the private
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And cooperative markets.
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Next, we went to a cooking lesson at Restaurante El Idilio. Because there were about 25 of us in our group, we all took turns at the two stations.

DD1 and I first did the bar station, where we prepared a San Francisco mocktail. It is orange, guava, and pineapple juices with a splash of grenadine.
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The other station was making frituras de malanga. From what I’ve read online, malanga is similar to taro, but not identical. It was crowded—and hot!—at the stove and counter, so we stood back and watched as other group members grated the malanga, added spices, formed the fritters, and fried them up. Here’s one on a plate along with another appetizer, a mini chicken and cheese pastry puff.
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The restaurant supplemented our handiwork with some tasty dishes! I’ll share more on that later.

We got back with some time to spare before our next event, so we headed out towards the Cementerio Colón, which was walking distance from our casa. This cemetery is renowned: I once saw it on a list of the top 5 to visit in the world. It is also where my mom’s family has a gravesite, so I came prepared with its address. Yes, graves there have an address. First, there is an expediente, or record, number. Then there is a quadrant, street number, and cross streets. The expediente numbers are not marked, so without an employee to help, you are relying on the quadrant and streets. That narrows it down, but there were still at least a hundred graves in that vicinity, packed so close together that you have to walk sideways between them. They aren’t always lined up evenly, either, so it isn’t always easy to make a plan that passes by each one. Also, many of them are not well marked: the engravings can be hard to read. Add to that temps in the high 80s with plenty of humidity, and finding the family gravesite was no easy task. DD1, another from our group, and I made our way around the perimeter of the area with no luck.

DD1 and I continued weaving our way thorough the rows beyond the perimeter while our friend walked around nearby. A grave sweeper talked to DD1 and looked around a little himself. I was getting ready to give up and put our flowers on some random grave when a security guard walked by. The grave sweeper told him that we were running around like crazies looking for some grave. I then showed him the full address that I had written down. He must know the system for the expediente numbers by heart because he led us right to it. Turns out I had walked right past it, but one of the individual markers had tipped over and the engraving at the foot of the grave was hard to read. The security guard had chalk to rub on the name plate and make it easier to read: you can see the difference.
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I was so happy and relieved to find the grave after thinking that we wouldn’t. We set my great-great aunt’s marker upright and put the flowers there because it had a holder for them. The other individual marker is for my great-grandmother.
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I took a photo of a larger memorial that is near the grave to help provide a landmark for anyone looking for it in the future. Gracias in advance to the Society of Office Building Employees and Similar!
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My hands were full with the cemetery map and family grave address, so DD1’s assignment was to take pics of cool memorials in the cemetery.
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We ended our food-centered day with a farewell dinner at the Hotel Nacional. As we waited to board our bus, I took some "golden hour" pics of the church that was our meeting point, as well as a view of the Martí monument in the distance.
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I will share food pics in a later entry, but the Hotel Nacional building and grounds were full of photo opps.
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Day 10: ¡Hasta luego, Cuba!
We woke up, finished our packing, and enjoyed breakfast with our hosts. Then it was off to the airport. Our flights went smoothly, though we were delayed in Tampa because of storms. Between the delay and the time change—we sprang ahead that night—we didn’t get in until 5 AM. We slept when we could on the planes and bus, but we still needed sleep when we got home.

In all, I think this was a life-changing trip for both of us. I'm so glad we went!

Thanks for reading! I will follow up with descriptions of where we stayed and ate.

Posted by amikulski 17:59 Archived in Cuba Tagged museums food cemetery cars cuba havana teens

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