So we were free until noon. Basically, we could get up at a decent hour and explore in a small group
(not 14 people because getting 14 college students to wake up so they're ready at 8:30 for a non-
mandatory activity isn't likely) or we could sleep in. Personally, I was in favor of the first option. I
found 3 other people of a similar opinion, so we were out of the hotel by 9 (8:30 was for breakfast)
with the plan of being back by eleven.
(There were other people who left later, and also stayed out later. I and one other person in my group
had roommates who got in a little before 4 that morning, so we wanted to make sure our roommates
So we left and followed one street for a while, looking in at various things as they caught our attention.
There was a lot that wasn't open yet, but we did stop in a few shops. Our tour guide yesterday had
called a shoe store a “shoe museum” because Cubans went in, looked at the prices, and came back out
again , so we were curious to see what those prices were. We went into two shoe stores, which only
served to remind me how expensive shoes in the United States can be. Unlike, say, cars, there's not a
huge increase in price, so the shoes are roughly equivalent to prices in the States.
We walked through the Plaza del Armes, which we had passed yesterday on the walking tour. We must
have been going around in circles because the Plaza del Armes had been one of the first places we'd
been to, and I'd had no idea it was a straight walk to the hotel. The booksellers, like other shop owners,
were still setting up, so we continued on.
We'd been aiming for the water that had been by the restaurant we'd eaten on the first day, withotu
much thought of what we'd do when we got there. So when we arrived, we took a few pictures and
went “what now?” So we kept walking for a little bit.
We were approached by two people who asked if we wanted a tour in a classic car. The second person
(we were standing in the same place for a long time) was the manager of the first, so his English was
phenomenal. He also made the tour sound a lot more interesting. In part because one of the people I
was with asked about a fort in the distance, and the guide (Joel) knew exactly how to respond. “You
have two ways to get there. You can swim, or you can take a taxi. But on my tour, I'll take you there. I'll
take you to Che's house.” (He points at it.) “I'll take you to the Jesus statue.” It was 30 CUC per hour,
as a group. We didn't have time then, but we would be back in Havana near the end of the trip. Joel
gave us his business card. (“It's capitalist, but it.'s useful.”)
Then we went back to the Plaza del Armes, and I felt the lure of books. It was like being back in Paris,
only I understood the language less. I was mainly just looking because I was curious about what kind
of books they had. And then my group asked if I wanted to stop and look closer and... well, I did. When
I picked up a book of poetry by Jose Marti (again, just to look at it,) someone came over to talk to me
about it. And to be polite, I asked how much. “Five.” I didn't really need the book, and even if I could
read Spanish better than I could speak it, I didn't know it. “Four.”Well... OK.
It was slightly more premeditated than that. Jose Marti is the main Cuban author. He was a well-
known poet, and was exiled to the United States, where he lived for 15 years.. He did not like it there.
He wrote several essays and a column for an Argentine newspaper where he advocated for
revolutionary activity in his home country. He took it one step farther, and died on the battlefield
fighting for Cuba.
Besides being a good poet in his own right, Marti was particularly honored after the Cuban Revolution.
For example, the airport is named for him. And while you can't just walk into any tourist shop to buy a
picture of him the way you could for Che Guevara, most of the artists I've seen have pictures of Marti.
So I had thought it through before. And I would like to learn functional Spanish at some point.
After that we headed back to the hotel, though at a leisurely pace. We had a bit more time, so we went
to look at the capitol. It looks a lot like the US capitol, only more under construction. Then we headed
back, made sure our roommates were awake, and waited around to leave.
I liked Havana. Certainly, it was very touristy, but it was also a city. I know a lot of people on this trip
are looking forward to places where not everyone is approaching with the end goal of getting money,
(everything from hoping we'll buy something to hoping we'll just give it to them directly.) Still, I'm a
little sad to be leaving, and I'm glad we'll be back at the end of the trip to see more than just the airport.