Today definitely wasn’t as good as yesterday (it would have been hard to beat), but it was still a great day in Cuba! I started my day by walking down O’Reilly Street to the Central Park area, which is next to the Theater of Havana as well as El Capitolio. El Capitolio looks exactly like the U.S. Capitol building, which is definitely surprising at first glance. After walking around this area for a bit I then walked down Paseo de Marti. Paseo de Marti leads up to (or in my case, away from) the Capitol building, and is unique because it is filled with green space and walking paths in the middle.
I walked to the National Museum of Fine Arts, which was unfortunately closed. It was closed yesterday as well, which was a scheduled closure, so I was pretty disappointed that it was randomly closed today. I headed next door to the Museum of the Revolution. The lack of air conditioning is not ideal when it is scorching hot outside, but t is a really interesting place to visit for a few reasons. It is enlightening to read about the Cuban Revolution entirely from the perspective of the Cuban government. The museum also talks about other parts of Cuba’s past which I enjoyed. The museum is in a grand building, but inside it is falling apart. It does not live up to the standards in terms of upkeep of a national museum as you might expect, which likely has to do with the government. However, the outside pavilion is much newer and features many of the vehicles that were used during the Revolution, gunshots and all.
After finishing the museum I stopped to buy a water and sit in some air conditioning for a bit. The heat is killer once again. I then spent some time just walking through Old Havana, eventually walking a long ways to the art market that is on the water. It would have been enjoyable had every single person not attempted to sell me something. I couldn’t enjoy just walking through, and left after one quick walk through. I was growing frustrated with this today, as it occurred with constantly with taxi drivers as well. I think the difference today vs. yesterday is that yesterday I was walking around with Tony, but today I was walking around alone. It became very annoying, but I guess it is just part of Havana (my least favorite part).
After the frustration of the art market, I walked back through Old Havana, this time to the Old Town Square and then to visit Convento de San Francisco de Asis. The church was really cool to walk through and I appreciated being able to get out of the heat. I walked around for a little while longer, and eventually found a restaurant to eat a very cheap pizza for dinner. I then went back to my Airbnb in the heart of town and rested during the worst heat of the day. It was a nice break before heading over to Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabańa for the traditional nightly 9 o'clock Cannon Ceremony.
After all day of being hounded after to take a taxi, once I finally needed one to head over to ___ there were none to be found. After walking along the water looking for a few minutes, I finally found one at not too bad of a price! It was a classic car which you, of course, have to ride in at least once when visiting Cuba. The taxi driver made a wrong turn, so I ended up getting a longer ride than I paid for which was fine by me! To get to Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabańa you have to go through a tunnel under the water, so you definitely can’t walk to get there.
I made it about an hour and a half before the Cannon Ceremony would start, giving me plenty of time to walk around Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabańa. I was able to take some really cool pictures of the sunset, and then I enjoyed just walking through such a historic fort. I decided to pay the extra $2 to have a good seat for the Cannon Ceremony (they called it balcony seating if you ever make it there) and it was definitely worth it! I was able to sit up on a ledge out of the mass of people, and also got a pineapple juice included in the price! I had about thirty minutes until the cannon at this point, but all of the pomp and circumstance before the cannon fire started just a few minutes after taking my seat.
It is a traditional ceremony with men dressed in traditional military clothing. They march out and then perform the ceremony, which includes torches and gun maneuvers. With about three minutes to go, I started getting nervous. I knew it would be so loud, as you can hear it from anywhere in Havana, and now I was within feet of the cannon. It was, indeed, very loud, but so cool! I uploaded a video so you can see it for yourself - I definitely jump when it fires, but I feel like it would be hard not to!
I really enjoyed the ceremony - it was one of my favorite parts of my trip, and I highly recommend it if you are ever able to visit Havana. After it was over, there was a giant exodus of people. I waited until I got outside to hire a taxi, as I wanted to make sure it was an official taxi and not just a random person. I found a reasonable price and headed back to my Airbnb. I went to sleep not long after because I have to get ready to head home tomorrow, and want to be able to get up to walk around a little while before I leave.
The Trip Home
After getting another good night’s sleep I woke up early enough to take one last stroll through the city. I bought some cool presents for some of my family and tried to exchange some more money (to pay for my cab to the airport) before having to give up because I ran out of time. I organized a taxi back through my Airbnb, and the driver stopped at a Cadeca outside of town with a much shorter line to let me exchange money, which was a much better plan. He was really nice and I enjoyed talking with him during the forty-five minute ride to the airport.
I flew out of a different terminal than I flew into, and this one was much bigger. I used my extra Cuban Pesos to buy a few more gifts, as well as Cuban Rum (which is cheaper than water in Cuba, fun fact). I headed to my gate with no problems, and boarded my flight directly back to Atlanta. I landed in a different terminal than I took off out of, so I had to transit via bus back to my car. After arguing over the parking bill (it was much larger than it should have been) and being given a customer service number, I headed to eat dinner with my friend Claire who lives in Atlanta! After a great dinner I drove back home, exhausted and sunburnt, but with a newfound appreciation for Cuba. There are obviously issues with the country and its relationship with the U.S. government, but I had an amazing time and highly recommend it!
32 countries down, 165 to go.
Read about my first day in Cuba here.