I still have a little more to say about South America but decided it was time to change locales for a few posts…
You may recall I bumped Cuba up the travel list because I was worried it would be flooded with Starbucks before I got to see it the way I had always romanticized it. Of course, all that is in question now, which means making a visit soon is likely not as urgent but I would still encourage it.
While I love the internet, it has been responsible for the commoditization of global culture. I first noticed this in the twilight of the twentieth century when most people still hadn’t figured out how to use the internet. Even then there was global media, cheap travel and far easier ways to share ideas than had ever existed before in human civilization.
As someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere and dreamed of having access to what was actually going on in the rest of the world, it was exciting. I was also able to start travelling a lot and quickly understood that it also meant that so many places looked alike that had once been unique. The trendy bars in Sydney, Paris and San Francisco all looked shockingly similar, devoid of elements that made them reflect their unique local cultures.
What I discovered is that if you got a little more adventurous, you could still find something that surprised you in a delightful way. It might be in Cambodia, Tanzania or Romania. It was likely to always be in an emerging market.
It feels a bit like you are on an acid trip (or how I imagine an acid trip would unfold 😉
There are several shrines to Hemingway. Pretty much anything associated with Hemingway has a plaque at minimum. It’s very surreal as there is almost no advertising or promotion in Cuba – except when it comes to the big three. Coming from a market economy it is both comforting and disconcerting.
But you can just go with the kitsch and not obsess over its moral implications 🙂
One place you really should hit is El Floridita. It’s been around since 1817 and about 100 years later it acquired a new Catalan immigrant owner, Constantino Ribalaigua who invented the frozen daiquiri in the 1930s. Neither he nor the daiquiri may have become so famous had it not been for one of his patrons – Ernest Hemingway.
These days there is a bust of Hemingway along with memorabilia and a lot of tourists! It is the most expensive daiquiri in Cuba (but still cheap by first world standards) and absolutely worth it. It’s a daiquiri factory still set in the 1950s.
If you are a Hemingway fan, you can also try a mojito at La Bodequita or just hang out at Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway was a resident from 1932 to 1939.
If following Fidel is more your thing, you should head for the Hotel Habana Libre. It originally opened in 1958 as the
Havana Hilton with Conrad Hilton himself in attendance. At the time it was Latin America’s tallest and largest hotel and likely the swankiest.
On January 8, 1959 Fidel took residence in suite 2324 as his headquarters. In October 1960 all American hotels in Cuba were nationalized and the hotel was renamed the Hotel Habana Libre.
It’s now owned by the Spanish Melia chain and a great place for a fantastic daiquiri – the best I
had in Cuba and about half the price of El Floridita. There is also a nightclub on the top floor but it wasn’t open when I stumbled upon it on my walk around Havana until you figure it out unofficial excursion. I was hoping to get a drink and take cool photos of Havana. Luckily I shared my goals with one of the hotel employees and she took me in an old-fashioned operator controlled elevator to a high floor that felt like something out of the Jetsons.
You can live in the past – or at least visit it 😉 I highly recommend exploring the past and present intermingling in one of the only places left in the world where that experience is still possible.