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Monday, June 8, 2015


Revolution Plaza from the top of Jose Marti Memorial Tower
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015.

DAY 7, Thursday in Havana
This morning we met a bit later than usual because we had a former Cuban diplomat arrive to 
Camilo Garcia Lopez-Trigo
give discuss current U.S./Cuba relations as to the possibility of the Embargo being lifted.  Camilo Garcia Lopez-Trigo is now involved with a writer and artist group (some sort of lobby).

His impressions of where his country is vis a vis the world and what it needs for the future was fascinating.

Rain was predicted and judging from the overcast skies everyone expected some rain.  Nobody expected a deluge.  More on that later.  At least, the day was cooler than the sweltering temperatures we have been experiencing since we arrived in Havana.

Our first bus stop was at Revolution Square.  The square itself is one huge parking lot.  I guess I was expecting Red Square in Moscow.  But what was impressive were the government buildings surrounding the square including two with four story murals of Che and Fidel.  Also, nearby is what I call the “tower of power” or in reality the star-shaped Jose Marti Memorial.  At 358 feet, the monument soars above the Square.

[More on Jose Marti later in Pillar to Post’s coverage of Cuba.]

From the Square, we drove a short distance to Estadio Latinoamericano, the 55,000-seat home of the Havana Indusriales, a member of the Cuban National Series, the most elite baseball league in the country.   The baseball season wraps up in early April because from May until early fall it’s the rainy season in the tropics.
Estadio Latinoamericano, home of the Havana
Industriales baseball team
All through Havana, I’ve been looking for real Cuban baseball caps.  This being Cuba caps are expensive.  At the stadium gift store, I finally found what I was looking for at 20 CUCs each.  It’s a handsome home team cap and I proudly purchased several for grandsons.

The tour’s next stop was at the Santovenia Elderly Center in El Cerro, a Catholic local center for the elderly, where the director Inez gave us a tour and discussed Cuba's healthcare system.

From the abuelos we visited Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”) in San Francisco de Paula, which was Ernest Hemingway's winter home from 1939 to 1960. He loved Cuba and its people, who returned that affection to the American author by simply calling him "Ernesto." We view the novelist's 9,000-volume library, his yacht Pilar and the typewriter on which he wrote some of his greatest works, including his last masterpiece, The Old Man and The Sea.

Interior of Ernest Hemingway's winter home in Havana
As we left the Hemingway estate, we began to feel a few drops of rain coming from some really dark clouds arriving from the northwest.  Rain is on the way.  Later, we felt more light sprinkles during lunch at Havana's Il Divino, an open-air terrace paladar, where we savored some of Cuba's latest cuisine, supplied by the adjacent two-acre farm La Finca Yoandra, charmingly named for the owner's wife.  Because the owner is Cuban and Italian, I opted for the Lasagna (delicious) as I wanted to skip rice and beans for at least one meal.

We hopped on the bus just as the rain began.  We were amazed how Adrian was able to get the weather to cooperate.  Not once did he drop us off when it was raining.

Tropical rainstorm slams Havana with seven inches of rain in five hours.  Huge flooding in many parts of the city.
A few miles down the road back to Havana, however, we got slammed by an old-fashioned tropical downpour.  Glad we were on a big bus as the roadway was turning into a river.  The rain was so heavy we could not see out of the bus windows.  But, not once did we think Adrian, our driver, couldn’t handle the situation.  He kept us on course and by the time we reached the porte cochere of the Hotel Nacional, the rain had stopped.

I figured the rain was done for the day, as had been the pattern during our trip.  There was moisture every day, but before 5 pm it seemed to blow over.

Today, it was not to be.

We arrived at 4 pm and no sooner than we reached our fourth floor hotel room that faced the Caribbean to the North, once again the heavens opened up.  This time, the storm brought two friends: thunder and lightning.  At least a dozen serious sounding flashes of lightning were followed instantly be a bellowing roar of thunder.

Being a life long Southern Californian, I had not been in a thunder and lightning storm like the one I was experiencing in Havana.  My Midwestern raised wife only laughed at me.  But no one was laughing in some parts of Havana because the two-hour storm, which was showing no signs of letting up had already dumped seven inches of rain on the city.   My hometown of San Diego only registers ten inches per year.

My hotel window was front row entertainment but we were the lucky ones as many parts of Havana were in flood stages.

From The Guardian, London: Stranded car sits on a flooded street during an intense rainstorm in Havana on April 29, 2015.  Two people were killed, three buildings collapsed and another 24 structures suffered some kind of damage from the heavy rain on Wednesday.  Building collapses are not uncommon in Cuba's capital where many edifices are crumbling and in need of immediate repair.
But because we didn’t tune into limited the TV news coverage in our hotel room and newspapers were hard to find, we did not know how bad the storm was until after we returned to Miami (two days later).  Also, it was not a topic of discussion by the tour guides or fellow travelers.

We did learn that the jazz combo, which was going to play after dinner at La Moraleja Restaurant couldn’t make it in time because of the flooding in Havana.

Again, by not knowing how serious the flooding was, I feel (looking back after several weeks have passed) that our night might have been akin to the last meal aboard the Titanic.  Of course, this is a gross dramatization, for which I apologize, however I mention the poor comparison only to show how cocooned we were on the tour regarding the state of the flooding.
First major storm of the year brought on rush hour fender benders heading into Havana
Photography by Bruce Henderson
Dinner was a bit later than usual this evening.  Partly because we had a later lunch and also because it really didn’t stop raining until nightfall.

The restaurant tonight was at an amazing paladar very near to our hotel in the Vedado neighborhood, one of the most important commercial and recreation (night life and cuisine) in Havana.  Because no one knew if the rain was gone or coming back, we dined inside the large home instead of the large veranda overlooking a nice urban garden.  Called La Moraleja Restaurant, the cuisine was Cuban but with certain international styles.  Huge portions of rice, fish, meat and vegetables kept arriving.

The restaurant has won many world cuisine completions with the most recent being last year in Europe.  But was it the best meal we tasted on our trip?  It certainly ranked up among the best.

When the feast ended complimentary cigars were offered.  Many on tour took advantage of the early return to the hotel and enjoyed a good smoke on the main plaza of the Hotel Nacional while listening to the excellent musicians in the bar area.

It wasn’t lost on all of us that tomorrow would be our final full day on this magical island.

Breakfast:  La Veranda, Hotel Nacional, Havana
Lunch: Il Divina (paladar)
Dinner: La Moraleja Restaurant (paladar).

Il Divino Restaurant

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