#Havana #Cuba #Fathom™ #People2People #PlazadelaRevolucion #JoseMarti #CheGuevero #CamiloCienfuegos.
As the owner of Getaway Dreams Come True Travel, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Fathom™ people-to-people cruise experience to Cuba. We sailed May 29, 2016, from Miami on their third sailing for Cuba aboard their ship Mv Adonia. Due to a power failure on board and subsequent return to Miami in the late hours prior to sailing again around 3 a.m. Monday morning May 30, our itinerary was adjusted; May 30th became a sea day and our arrival in Havana was delayed until May 31 at 7 a.m. We maintained our original itinerary for this day which was a bus tour around Havana and day 2, June 1, accommodated our walking tour of old Havana. All passengers were subject to a customs screening with the visa issued by Fathom™ on board, upon disembarkation. We were also allowed to exchange currency for their CUCs which was necessary for any local purchases as well as tips to guides.
Iron Sculpture of Camilo Cienfuegos American 1950s convertible cars
Our bus tour began with a stop at Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolucion) after a short ride while the guide explained Cuban life; i.e. the high literacy rate of 99.8% (education through University level is completely free); multi-generational sharing of housing due to the cost in town for even a small apartment; privatization of some industries such as Paladares — family-owned in-home restaurants, and other self-employment opportunities. The square is very large and still used for special gatherings on holidays and was surrounded by various tributes; a monument to their national hero, Jose Marti; and two colossal iron sculptures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos on buildings. To the side of the square is a street where numerous old 1950s American cars (especially convertibles) were lined up for us to view and photograph (with permission of the owners). Buildings and other locations viewed from the bus included Parque Central, where passionate baseball fans assemble; the Gran Teatro de La Habana, home of the Cuban Ballet, just recently re-opened after a 2-year renovation; the El Capitolio, currently under renovation; and the famed Reina Street where Are Nouveau buildings, colonial houses and Art Deco homes line the corridor. The main street was recently repaved prior to Pope Francis’ visit in 2015.
Cristobal Colon Cemetery Local architecture
The second stop of our motorcoach tour was at the Cristobal Colon Cemetery in Havana where all residents are buried dating back to the seventeenth century and is the largest burial grounds in the Americas. Many of the monuments are made of the famed Cararra marble from Italy. Our tour continued on to show us a transformative community project in the formerly decrepit area of Callejon de Hamel where locals performed traditional and folkloric dances for us, as well as showing us their art exhibits, both indoors and on the building exteriors. Other tours visited a comprehensive collection of traditional art in the area of the home of Jose Fuster, who improved it by creating a mosaic maze inspired by the styles of Picasso and Gaudi; and some buses visited the art exhibit at Muraleando, the Arte Corte project where a former state barber has transformed his neighborhood into a cultural center dedicated to improving the lives of the local residents.
Lunch for our group took place on the 33rd floor of a relatively modern 39 stories high Focsa Building, where after a long elevator ride with capacity of about 10 took us up to Le Torre restaurant, where we enjoyed a panoramic view of Havana, as well as wonderful food of lobster, steak and/or fish with all the trimmings, including wine, and dessert. Other tours stopped at local paladares and enjoyed local authentic Cuban cuisine.
The afternoon continued with a stop at the art museum, the air-conditioned Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, where you can feel the pride of the Cuban people emanating from the artwork adorning the walls. Spanning five centuries, the art housed is a testimony to the integral and vital role arts play in Cuban culture, and is home to a comprehensive collection of some of Cuba’s best examples of fine art.
Our final stop was at the local artisan/craft market where we were given about an hour to shop for almost anything and everything. There were numerous booths formed in many rows where the locals had their wares on display. I purchased two canvas paintings, along with wood crafted jewelry and other items. Other options for purchase included folkloric clothing, literature, hand-crafted musical instruments, miscellaneous souvenir items, t-shirts, etc.
Although the heat was tiring, this was a fantastic introduction to the Cuban lifestyle. There were three evening optional tours available through the ship for purchase: the Tropicana Club (outdoors) for $199 and the Cabaret Parisien for $129, and a motorcoach tour to a fort where cannons were shot off. I did not attend any of them, but those that did said the shows were good. Tickets for the shows can be purchased independently at a lower cost and some people hired taxis ( 1950s American cars) for their transportation.
All photos by Mimi Auchter
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