We all met in the hotel lobby. 5:20, and we were all on the shuttle bus to catch our 8:00 am charter flight to La Habana, as Havana is known in Cuba. People were both excited and perhaps a little nervous, but getting our tickets and other travel documents was a breeze, thanks to a new way of getting us through.
Security is standard, and we sit by The gate sipping on coffees, teas, and juices with a muffin or two thrown in. After all, we would not be eating next until lunchtime.
It is barely an hour’s flight across the Straits of Florida, a mere 90 miles, and soon, we were looking down on surf crashing against the northern shores and rich agricultural land of this island nation spread out below us.
Getting through customs on the Cuban side always takes a little time, as it realistically does in any country. The difference is that I, as somewhat of a linguist, am the point person here for our group. Arnie quips that he has it all under control in any country with, “Ciao, baby!”
Eventually we all get through, as the officials efficiently open more gates to speed up the process.
Baggage is claimed, and we meet our HavanaTur guide for the week, Edel, a charming, intelligent, informative man who immediately engages us.
A tour of the city, and a drive along the Malecón, that seven-kilometer sea wall that is the social heart of the city, and we arrive at a private restaurant on the the harbor. It is a hot day, but the breeze swishes through the canopied terrace, and it was a delightful hour or so with our group enjoying their introduction to tasty Cuban food. In the afternoon, we walk alone the Prado, a marble paved, raised promenade, exploring, venturing into side streets, and learning how to approach people to make photographs.
This is a place where many weddings take place. The old cars are shined up, and the wedding party and guests are dressed to the nines.
One car has been hired just for the flower girl and ring bearer. You can tell that the flower girl already has the moves with her coy smile and pose.
Later, we return to the Malecón for more images. Fihsermen are casting their jig lines. One group has some good specimens on the sea wall. This is a hard business, as it represents either a sale or extra food on the table, so the fishermen jig some more, the boats and old fort in the background, as this man is doing.
The street lights come on, and people continue to walk along the Malecón, the occasional 50s car cruising by.
We have dinner at one of the state-owned restaurants, and while the food is so-so, the Cuban music, with some former members of the Buena Vista Social Club is fabulous. One of the original group sings, shaking his maracas, nearly silhouetted against an old poster of classic jazz artists.
It has been a long day, and people are quite happy to collapse into their beds.
I am typing this on the iPad using an app that often confounds me, and with very limited time, so please forgive any errors.
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