My next few days are spent wandering around Havana. On Sunday, I visit Vedado, the geographical centre of the city, where the majority of music joints are, as is the centre of Havana’s life. My destination is Ana’s place. Ana is rated No 1 on Trip Advisor in Havana and although she could not accommodate me in her home since she was full, she gave me some helpful advice and invited me around for coffee to talk about travelling in the countryside.
A quick cab ride, and I find Ana and her husband, Pepe, on the street in front of their home. They are incredibly welcoming. Shortly after I arrive, two girls from Slovenia, who have just spent a month travelling in Cuba, arrive back, loaded with gigantic back packs. We sit and enjoy coffee and a chat as Ana contacts the local family who the girls will stay with. Ana is fortunate: she has access to email, and her famous hospitality ensures her No 1 rating and a constant flow of business, and she happily passes the overflow onto friends in the neighbourhood who she knows will look after their guests.
In order to thank Ana for providing me with advice, I ask if there is anything I can bring her from Miami. Her response: toothpaste.
I hand over 4 large tubes of toothpaste, and Ana explains that it is very difficult to find in Cuba. Often, travellers will leave some behind for her. However, along with many other day to day items – like soap – toothpaste is rationed.
After my visit, I am taken by (illegal) taxi (a friend of Ana’s) to Revolutionary Square. Despite its name and the images of Che Guevara and Jose Marti overlooking proceedings, it was originally built by Batiste, who was overthrown in the revolution and adopted by Castro, who has delivered many a speech here.
The place seems a tad deserted, but undeterred I meander up the ramp to the main part of the square. A guard calls out to me from the top: “Turn back”. When given such instructions, I can tend to keep walking and so he had to call out again and gives me a pleading “Please just do what you are told”-type gesture. I had hoped that perhaps I had done something a little naughty, but it turns out the place was just closed on a Sunday.
After lunch, I try to get an ice cream from Copeliathe famous ice cream place in Vedado. There are three different lines into this place, all with different menus, and one of which is for local pesos only (not the convertible pesos I carry, which are worth 25 times more). As much as I adore ice cream, the lines were enormous and I walked on.
The dome of the Capitolio, supposedly based on the US Capitol building, gleams over the city, and walkers stride past. Locals sit along the sea wall and a cool breeze breaks through the strong afternoon sun.