Friday, July 31, 2009

Touring Old Havana

yesterday afternoon we had some free time, so i enlisted gerry to provide a tour of habana viaja - old havana. little did i know what i was getting into .... the man is in his 60's, and i knew he was fit (plus he's vegan so i know he's healthy), but after wandering the streets with the ragged sidewalks for a few hours, i could no longer keep up with him. "i do this all the time," he told me. gerry's a retired college professor. i told him my adventures in walking or cycling are more about getting where i need to be rather than any sort of endurance training. and he walks fast .... he said that when he was walking his students through the streets of london, he would wear a brightly coloured hat so they'd be able to find him if he walked ahead of them.

i was absolutely exhausted by the time we got back to our hacienda, but i can say i've seen a fair chunk of downtown and old havana. it's perhaps not surprising that the area where the touristas visit is clean, painted, and under repair. they have garbage bins. the rest of havana is not quite so clinically unsullied, but it sure has character.

there are lots of people in cuba, on the streets visiting with each other, walking from place to place, riding in various forms of taxis or bicycle transportation or motorcycles or buses or cars. we saw a little shop selling herbs for medicine. we saw newspaper vendors, and learned that there was a front page article about us in two different newspapers yesterday. who knows how many others of those there have been - we've been too busy to buy a daily newspaper. we stopped for a beer (gerry tried one of the cuban colas) and gerry told me about the camera obscura in the building across the square. we saw the places where cubans trade their ration stamps for goods.

there weren't a lot of choices on the shelves. the embargo doesn't allow it. the embargo was designed the starve the cubans into submission. to encourage them to give up and just accept and embrace the corporate and militaristic and hedonistic takeover of their world, as is happening in the rest of the world, as was happening prior to their revolution. but these people don't want to be slaves. they acknowledge that there are flaws with their socialist system, but they are united in their struggle to be something other.

at the moment we're at the icap centre, visiting with relatives of the cuban five. the cuban five are imprisoned in united states jails because they dared to reveal anti-cuban terrorism in miami. there are images of the cuban five all over the place - on government buildings, in restaurants, museums, and shops. ariel's busy translating the many questions (actually, mostly comments about acts of solidarity in the usa and canada) from the audience. i asked him yesterday, when we were at the urban garden, if he'd received my emails. i'd written asking how they fared after last year's hurricanes. he said he had responded .... mysteriously, i didn't receive his response. there are a few other people whose emails are blockaded from my mailbox at i've been working with their tech support people to determine where the problem originates, but it's not an easy task. and then there were those cuba files that were somehow hacked on my computer. those anti-cuban mafia guys really hold a grudge!!

we were up early this morning, had a quick breakfast (thankfully i brought instant oatmeal and tea, otherwise i'd be looking at bread ... no hotdogs or cheese for me) and then met up with the venceremos brigade for a rather huge and very impressive rally to express solidarity with cuba and the usa. there are about 150 of brigaderos, maybe more, and they're working on farms and doing reconstruction work. it's their 40th anniversary here, so it's definitely a big year for all - 20 years for the caravan, 40 years for venceremos, and 50 years of revolution. (venceremos means "we shall overcome")