We boarded a tour bus at the outset of our second day in Havana. Group 5. Independents. Our half-day itinerary included two primary points of interest: the José Fuster project and a choice between two museums. It was a cloudy and gray morning; a bit “wintry” for Havana, our guide noted. Not to us!
We first made our way to Fusterlandia, driving near to the coast. The guide remarked upon many properties along the way, former social clubs for the rich and famous that were nationalized after the Revolution, open to the public ever since, forevermore. Some, if I understood her correctly, serve as recreational camps for children.
Without exception these facilities looked like tired throwbacks to the 1950s. Also without exception, she extolled the state for the transformation of these properties: power to the people! We passed a circus in the vicinity; it looked deserted and as if it, too, had seen better days. The one exception on our journey was a Russian-owned hotel, gleaming and bustling with business.
There were workers on the shoreline, battling the wind, picking up trash. Maybe it was the season but it was noticeably less clean and tidy in the countryside than in any of the cities we visited.
The José Fuster project is a phenomenal example of visual art for the common good as the entire neighborhood of Jaimanitas, several miles outside of Havana, has been transformed. Fuster’s story is as fascinating as his art is captivating. I was immediately reminded of Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, equally beautiful and inspiring.
Fuster’s neighbors are an active part of the experience. Many open their homes, selling handcrafts in small shops. Neighborhood residents were milling about as the tour group descended. Just another day in the life, apparently.
Unfortunately, an elderly member of our group was bitten on the arm by a small stray dog yipping and nipping about. It broke the skin in two ugly gashes. Another group member provided some iodine. The affected lady seemed much less concerned than I would have been, confident in tetanus shot protection.
From Fusterlandia we drove back to Old Havana. It was nice to have an the option between museums of the Revolution or the fine arts. The Hubs had no preference but I was full to the brim of the national heroes.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes holds an expansive collection for an impressive foray into hundreds of years of Cuban expression. It was a welcome reprieve from group 5, most of whom chose the alternative. Our brains were quite saturated at this point, between daily tours on shore and seminars on ship, so we strolled quite casually from the top to the bottom.
It was mid-afternoon when we finished; just enough time to visit the small cafe in the museum for a Bucanero and quick snack. Here we experienced first-hand the cheap but dismal quality of food in a state-run establishment. We shared a bland small plate and left much of it on the plate. The brew, however, hit the spot!
Group 5 friends returned to the bus with rave reviews about the Revolution museum, located just across the street: win-win.
~ René Morley
Complete Cuba Series: Countdown to Cuba | Crash Course Cuba | Santiago de Cuba | One day in Havana | Another Day in Havana | Costumes, Cathedrals & Old Cars | Cienfuegos | Sailing with Celestyal | Lessons in Cuba