Architecture on the Malecon
The first thing that struck us on the drive to the hotel was just how little street-lighting there was for a city the size of Havana. This was our first noticeable difference that we were in somewhere very different from home and the effect of Cuba’s enforced isolation, a result of the USA and a paranoid foreign policy. The architecture is a sharp contrast of plush colonial styles mixed in with lack of recent investment that gives an impression of faded grandeur, something distinctly unique and yet not unattractive.
We have our first experience of the malecon, the spectacular broad highway that hugs the northern shore of the city. Hordes of youngsters play in the gullies and channels below the seawall, another image that is frequently seen in the west whenever Cuba is featured on travel shows. Overhead there are American Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls and the odd Magnificent Frigate bird…
The Malecon seems to be an important meeting place and promenade for the residents of Havana. In the late evening it is particularly lively with groups of people strolling along, or multitudes of couples involved in romantic liaisons. We get the firm impression that most Cubans are not lonely, as everyone appears to be in the company of others either as a partner or with large gangs of friends.
Pardegas Cigar Factory
One street to the rear of the Capitolia is the Pardegas Cigar Factory (pictured), the home of Cuba’s premier export commodity. For $10, we had an English-speaking guide leading us around the workings of the factory as it went about its daily business. The process of making quality Cuban cigars is all done with as little automation as possible and the skill of the craftsmanship is something to behold. We are not surprised to learn that workers here have to undertake a lengthy apprenticeship before being allowed to work on the shop floor. This tour involved standing at the shoulders of workers as they produced cigars for export and we felt that it was like being on the outside of a Goldfish bowl looking in though it has to be said at times it looked like we were the ones that were being examined…