In the morning, we showered and got ready to go to breakfast, and then onward to meet our friends and see more of Havana. We went upstairs to Casa Maura (the Castellòn family apparently owned a few Casa Particulares in the building) and took breakfast out on the balcony. Our friends were already waiting for us outside (they were early), but we were going to be a little late anyways so we shouted down and told them so.
Breakfast consisted of a gorgeous plate of fruit – bananas, passionfruit, mango, and pineapple – crepes with chocolate sauce, eggs, and fresh bread. I had my eggs scrambled with ham, peppers, and cheese (it turned out to be a Denver scramble ironically), and Dave had his as an omelet. Oh, and Cuban coffee. Which was basically just black coffee, but after adding sugar and milk to it, it became much richer. The service by Kenia and her family was outstanding, and this basically gave us enough fuel to get through the entire day.
Once we were done, we met up again with Yael and Rolando on the street, got a taxi, and drove to the family’s house, so that we could buy some cigars. It was a small and modest apartment on the first floor of a mixed-use building, and the living room was decorated with only religious items on bare pink walls. Soccer was playing on the TV.
Dave set to work examining the merchandise and negotiating prices. The family was selling Cohibas, Monte Cristos, and Romeo y Juliets. We wanted to buy a box of something, and then a few extra to smoke during the trip, however they wouldn’t sell us incomplete sets. We settled on a box of 25 Cohibas for $80.
After the cigars, our friends took us to the Sunday afternoon rumba music in the art district, at a place called Callejón de Hamel.
It was touristy, but still good.
There were a dozen or so musicians and singers gathered to start their Sunday noon ritual of song and dance. The venue was outdoors, amongst colorful street art and old artifacts, and included several stands for drinks.
Some mojitos came our way promptly, which were much needed to cut the heat of the day. After standing outside for 15 minutes, I was already drenched with sweat.
We listened to the music, which was a combination of rumba and salsa, for about an hour, and ended up buying a few of their CDs (unfortunately later we discovered that they were DVDs and couldn’t be played in our rental car).
After that, we decided to say goodbye to our hosts and walk the Malecòn, a waterfront promenade that stretched across the city.
We stopped at an art shop along the way, and chatted it up with a few fishermen who were dangling string off the side of the Malecòn.
At the end of the Malecòn we decided that we had enough time to go see the Hotel Nacional, so we flagged down one of those fancy American, old, convertible cars and for the outrageous price of $15 made back, basically to where we started, to the Hotel Nacional. We found that taxis were ridiculously expensive, even when using the meter.
The car was a red 1950s Chevy, perfectly restored and detailed, with an American flag extending from the mirror to the dashboard. The driver looked the part, dressed in swanky island style clothes and Panama-styled hat.
It was the perfect entrance to Hotel Nacional, the fanciest hotel in the city (we think around $300 a night).
The ground of the hotel were gorgeous, and elevated on a small hill to overlook the sea. We didn’t see Miami from the North shore hotel grounds, but it was fun to think about.
The hotel grounds also had some bunkers dug for the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as some plants with writing etched in them (we’d never seen plant graffiti before).
Besides the bunkers there was a historical display in Spanish and English, as well as an observation area. The history was obviously told from the Cuban side of the coin, and it was interesting to hear the Cuban perspective, which certainly had its own slant to it. For example, I had learned that Cuba was the “aggressor” since it was trying to arm itself with nuclear power via Russia – but the display portrayed an “innocent” victim bullied in to not being able to fulfill its destiny.
We took a beer on the patio of one of the restaurants on the Hotel Nacional’s campus, and listened to a Cuban guitar quartet, while I took pictures of peacocks strutting around the grounds. It hearkened back to my time at ISB, where there were peacocks all around us too. It felt out of body.
This one posed for me:
We also checked out cigar prices in the Hotel Nacional cigar shop, and we were proud of ourselves for doing quite well on our Cohiba buy.
It was time to go get our rental car, so we grabbed an auto-rickshaw with a meter and headed back to the Paseo del Prado. We stumbled into a Sunday afternoon handicraft market on the promenade, so lingered for quite a while checking out art and jewelry. Dave bought several bracelets, one of which I’m now wearing. The paintings were mostly copies but still interesting.
The car rental place was attached to the Parque Central Hotel/Iberostar towards the backside, and took us a while to find. Our reservation was at 330PM, and we got there around 315PM to start the paperwork, as Kenia had mentioned earlier that they take their sweet time. The man in the rental car office, Raul, was more professional than friendly, but he liked us more once we started getting in to the baseball game that was on the small TV in the room. It was the same game we were invited to go to by our friends – Guantanamo vs. the Havana team, Industriales. We had to fork over another large sum of money including the deposit ($150), gas ($58), and the fee to allow a second driver ($10 or so), and pretty soon we were almost out of money…already!
The car was a white Kia and we got a “free” upgrade from economy to standard. It looked good other than a chip in the windshield, which we unfortunately discovered later. We wondered if we would ever see our security deposit again.
After getting the car, we decided to leave it on the street and go check internet and get coffee. We found a café in the hotel which sold us both an internet card (tarjeta de internet) and some café con leche y espresso. Internet cost $5.50 for an hour.
It was good we checked internet, because one of the reservations I had tried making in Trinidad (in La Boca) panned out. So we at least had a place to stay in the evening. Dave sent some emails to his family and checked Fantasy Football scores. We stayed there probably longer than we should have, since we had a 5 hour (or more) drive ahead of us.
By 430 PM we had finally taken the car back to our Casa Castellòn, got our luggage, said goodbye to the family, packed up and shipped off. Earlier, Kenia had given me detailed directions to get to Trinidad, and a map, which proved extra valuable, especially considering the car rental place had none. We would be seeing them again Wednesday night, as we again arranged a stay for our last night in Havana, Cuba.