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We spent a couple of weeks in Havana, finding out how the strange local economics work, taking Spanish classes from a very interesting retired teacher, an playing tourist.

With so much history, and the turbulence of the politics, Havana is an interesting town.  Checking in to customs and immigration when you arrive by boat is quite different form a typical airport check.  Seven officials and three dogs took 3 hours to clear us in.  They are all very polite, and all come to the boat (in contrast to most countries) but a few wanted "tips". 

The government runs a double currency system, with the objective of makng tourists pay about ten times as much for goods and services as Cubans. In practice, it works partially.  Locals buy some of the tourist store stuff, since these have much more choice than the local stores, but most Cubans cannot afford the "tourist peso" prices.  We bought some food in local currency.  It was so cheap as to be almost free (tomatoes at 11 cents/pound, a small ice cream cone for 6 cents, cheese $1/pound), but variety was very restricted, and quality often mediocre.

We crossed to Havana on 13/14th December, arriving just before daylight, since the Marina Hemingway entrance is not one to attempt in the dark.  Havana harbour is a great port, but foreign pleasure craft are required to use the marina 18 km West.  It is a good marina for about 400 boats, but is almost deserted, since Bush threats have stopped Americans from coming and scared many other cruisers off.  There are about 50 boats here in storage or with long-term residents aboard, but only 3 who plan to leave soon, like us.

The old Spanish fortress of El Morro, now with a lighthouse, guards the Havana harbor entrance.  This was the most important and powerful port in the Western hemisphere from about 1500 till 1750

Transport ranges from modern taxis, costing about 75% of Canadian prices, through beat up Ladas with no interior trim, and often no glass in side windows, at about half that, to buses that cost well under a cent a mile to ride.

Cars range from Raul Castros's new BMWs to those in the photo.  The MG in the foreground was an expensive, high performance British car in the 1950s.  Notice that the original wire wheel have been replaced by others.  Many 1950s American cars are still running, often with newer diesel engines that makes lots of noise but lack power.

Beaten-up Ladas, like the one on the far left abound, as to the yellow Coco-taxis.  These are 3-wheelers, that run and sound like a Ski-doo,  where the driver wears a crash helmet but the passenger just holds on.

Havana must have been magnificent in the 1950s, but since the 1959 revolution, many building formerly owned by Americana companies and large Cuban companies have been owned by the government and are in a disgusting state of repair, but  many privately owned buildings are in quite good shape.  In addition, about half of old Havana (Habana veja) has been restored beautifully, under the direction of a talented individual (Snr. Eusebio Leal), who is a strong Communist. (I said the politics are turbulent.  They also include surprises)

The three photos below are of the Capitol, built in a historical style in the pre-revolutionary 1950s, to house the Cuban parliament.   (Double click to see full size, then use the back button on your browser to return here)

 (Double click to see full size, then use the back button on your browser to return here)