CUBAN CON­TRASTS

Shabby Caribbean meets retro Soviet in one per­fect pack­age

SAIL - - Contents - By Zuzana Proc­hazka

Char­ter­ing in Cuba of­fers a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ences, but be pre­pared to have to fend for your­self—and watch out for shoals!

IIt was a bit of an un­ex­pected flash­back. Af­ter all, it had been decades since I lived in the old Cze­choslo­vakia (now the Czech Repub­lic) and yet the feel­ing that bub­bled up was the same. I stuck my cam­era out the bus win­dow to cap­ture yet an­other of a dozen bill­boards dot­ting the pock­marked high­way that bi­sects Cuba. This one shouted “Por Siempre Fidel”— loosely mean­ing “Fidel For­ever.” In keep­ing with the Soviet style aes­thetic, it had a star, although most oth­ers fea­tured the leader’s pro­file or some mus­cu­lar woman wield­ing a wrench.

had waited a long time to visit Cuba, and char­ter­ing there just added to the al­lure. Fly­ing in, I no­ticed un­kempt fields and hap­haz­ard gov­ern­ment-spon­sored farms. (I didn’t re­al­ize it yet, but they were the har­bin­gers of the pro­vi­sion­ing woes to come.) A weird Big Brother vibe mixed with the laid-back friendly ease of the Caribbean, it was eerily sim­i­lar yet com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the days of my child­hood.

Our first evening in Ha­vana set the tone—one that’s uniquely Cuban, teem­ing with ac­tiv­ity, mu­sic and cu­rios­ity, es­pe­cially about Ameri- cans. Our first stop was Floridita, a tourist bar where a bronze statue of Hem­ing­way al­ways has a fresh daiquiri placed on the bar, just wait­ing for the au­thor to take a sip. Hem­ing­way’s “fa­vorite bar” is a great mar­ket­ing tool through­out Cuba. Each has a fuzzy black-and-white photo of the man him­self, some­times ac­com­pa­nied by Cas­tro, other times on his boat Pi­lar, ready to cast the hook.

As we strolled along the evening streets, two things be­came clear. First, there is no bad place to point the cam­era. The build­ings and the peo­ple in Ha­vana are as au­then­tic as it gets, and ev­ery­where there are street mu­si­cians and veg­etable ven­dors. Sec­ond, there’s a feel­ing of se­cu­rity here. Maybe it’s due to the strict gov­ern­ment con­trol and the ever-present poli­cia. Maybe it’s be­cause Cubans seem to love Amer­i­cans. Ev­ery­where we went, peo­ple smiled, tried out their English and let us take their pic­ture. Even the very se­ri­ous-look­ing and well-armed Guarda Fron­tera of­fi­cers re­laxed once I learned the magic word when point­ing to the cam­era— guapo— hand­some.

We spent two days in Ha­vana, which is about three too few. The

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