Explore: Six Cities | Havana
Community Issue | Exploring Six Cities
By Christian Castro
Published Feb 2015
Cuba will soon open its ports to American visitors. Havana, the city lost in time, is about to move forward fast. The winds of change blow throughout Cuba’s dilapidated streets. Whether for better or worse, the excitement is palpable. Documentaries and independent films have given most Americans a glimpse of Cuban life and culture, detailing a community in shambles juxtaposed against a beautiful, radiant culture. A few adventurous Americans have ventured onto Cuba’s shores despite the embargo, entering instead by way of Mexico or Canada to experience Cuba’s cultural epicenter, Havana. Tourism in Havana, and throughout Cuba, is met with excitement from the locals, especially as it supports and improves local and personal economies. Tourists have options to stay at hotels or a “casa familiar,” a close cousin to a bed and breakfast. Cubans can apply for permission from the government to rent their extra rooms to tourists. Casa familiares are safe, clean, and mirror the personalities of their hosts. Aleido, a retired entertainer in Havana runs one of the few explicitly LGBT welcoming casa familiar, and for a first time, male visitor who prefers to rub beards instead of boobs while exploring Havana, Aleido is the perfect host. The accommodations are simple, just like most places you will find in the city, although each unique room delivers unsurpassed character. One room at Casa Aleido is decked with lipstick-red walls and curtains to match. “Glamor” photos cover the walls, along with cowboy hats and granny-esque knick-knacks. Each room carries an identity all its own. A stark difference in cultural pattern is visible in Havana—especially pertaining to sexuality. Cubans aren’t preoccupied with hiding their sexual lives, in fact, they often use it to their advantage to make a living, no matter what their sexual orientation. Whether this is out of necessity or a free spirited attitude should be defined by the eye of the beholder. Havana is colorful and bold, with beautiful people living their daily lives under a dormant communist regime. Retail chains are absent and food sources are ample, although limited to necessary ingredients—hold your cravings for a caprese salad until you’re back home. Limited resources don’t affect the friendly eyes and welcoming attitudes of most Cubans. Tourists are met by gracious people eager to help with your any need, providing you have the right currency. Havana is at a milestone crossroad. While most of the infrastructure in the city was left to crumble, there are new city ordinances to repair, replace, and repaint. The process will be slow, so get there early to take in your snapshot of the country that time forgot and then, suddenly, remembered again. All across Havana you’ll find awe-inspiring architecture in ruins, roads lined with pristine classic cars that serve the masses, and bikes with carriages. Despite all the necessary means that Americans take for granted, the spirit of Havana is joyful because they live gleefully within the means of their communities. A place where the power of music and art lives on, Havana and its culture flourishes in decay as it propels its way forward. As changes come, the city will breathe new life into its people. Hope of reuniting with family members abroad has given Cubans a renewed perspective on life. We’ll have to watch what Cuba transforms itself into as it steps back into favor as one of the United State’s closest neighbors. It’s easy to imagine that the country’s idyllic beauty will provide the world a respite from modernity and a destination to travel back in time with an undying love for life, and it’s simplest pleasures. See the 6-page photo essay on Havana in the Print Edition. Photos by Christian Castro