When we landed in Havana it was the noise that we first noticed. Havana is loud: music, cars, people, bells, singing, shouting… But after a few days the noise became a comfort - even Raggaeton blaring through the night became a sort of companion during our time there. We stopped commenting on it after a couple days and came to expect the music to play well past the point we fall asleep and to start back up around 4am when the farmers arrived to unload their produce at the vegetable stand across the street. It played all throughout the day from different pockets of the city – a boombox here, a car stereo there, a rooftop club up above us.
Exploring the streets of Havana is a full-sensory experience that starts with the noise, travels through taste (of strong hot coffee of course, served through living room window bars), smells good and bad, tired feet and sunburnt skin, and ending with an overload of street scenes burnt into your memory.
President Obama’s visit to Cuba this year was an important signal that there are big changes ahead for the island. It was the first time in almost 90 years that a sitting US president had stepped foot in the country. We were there only short 2 weeks before he arrived and the excitement was palpable. Roads were being re-paved, buildings re-painted, and sidewalks swept. We weren’t sure how locals would feel about all the changes happening, but it didn’t take long to figure out: the taxi driver who picked us up from the airport told us in the first five minutes of our journey how happy he is that Obama was coming.
The changes will not be overnight, and they won’t even be all positive, but the locals are open and welcoming to whatever is in store. They promise that Cuba will always remain Cuba, and Cubans Cuban. After experiencing a national identity as strong and proud as Cuba’s, I don’t doubt it for a second.
While you’re in Havana here are a few spots not to miss:
O'Reilly 304, between Havana and Aguiar, Havana
The famous “La Guarida”
Concordia 418, between Escobar and Gervasio, Havana
Calle Industria 502 at Esquina Calle Barcelona, Havana
Fabrica de Arte Cubano
Calle 26 at Esquina 11, Vedado, Havana
Museum of Ernest Hemingway
Calle Obispo 153, Carretera Central Km 12.5, Havana
Words by Erin Spens
Photos by Adrian Morris