My friend Valentina soon returned from watching some locals play basketball with a fellow traveler staying at our Casa. I hadn't seen her since last spring and here we were, meeting up in a foreign country we'd never been to. Everything seemed unreal. It just didn't quite register in my brain... I had left my job, traveled for 24 hours, and now standing in someone's house in Havana.
We wasted no time and headed out to explore Havana Vieja. Everything was bustling outside. People hanging out in doorways, cars squeezing between pedestrians, dogs wandering everywhere, music blaring from windows, the city was alive.
One of the striking things about Havana is the architecture. Parts of Old Havana are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. So you'll have these colonial buildings being restored and painted in bright, beautiful colors next to similar buildings in various states of ruin. Some of the streets are a little dirty but you'll find that Cubans keep the interior of their homes pretty clean. Between chillin' in doorways and watching television, you'll find a Cuban sweeping their floors or cleaning off their front walk. Unfortunately this means there's lots of dust blowing through the streets. Without my sunglasses, my eyes were constantly irritated.
After wandering the streets a bit, we moved towards the water and snapped some photos of the Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro. The landmark of Havana Bay was built around 1600 to protect the harbor. From here we walked along the shore to the Malecon. This is another famous sight in Cuba where you'll see waves crashing over the sea wall as classic cars from the fifties cruise by. I loved the Malecon at night. Hundreds of Cubans hang out along the sea wall, couples canoodle, friends have drinks, and musicians play tunes.
From here we headed to Coppelia's ice cream stand. Valentina's guidebook insisted our trip would be incomplete without a trip there. The ice cream tasted like... ice cream. I wasn't entirely impressed by the hype but ice cream on a hot evening is always pleasant. At this point though, we'd been walking at least four miles and I was really regretting the decision to wear flip flops. We decided to have dinner at El Aljibe whose specialty was a chicken in orange sauce. I was pretty hungry at this point realizing that other than the scoop of ice cream, I hadn't eaten since my 7am stopover in Mexico City. We made our way through the Vedado section of Havana walking through dark streets that would have made us fear for our lives anywhere else in the world. We joked that we were walking where most tourists would never explore. Four more miles later, we ended up near Parque Miramar where the restaurant was located. As we walked up, the valet asked us where our car was. We laughed maniacally a bit at our sore feet and the seven or eight miles we'd just voyaged to get to El Aljibe's chicken. The restaurant had a nice tropical open air dining room. The meal was around $12 for a decent chicken plate with generous portions of rice, beans, plantains, (french fries maybe) and a salad of cucumber and tomato. It was supposedly all you can eat but our server never offered more. I ate everything on my plate and finished Val's chicken as well. Another long walk would have been great but we opted for a taxi instead. Back at the Casa, I was relieved to find my feet blister-free, though dirtier than they've ever been in my life. I slept better that night than I had in weeks.