I spent the week between Christmas and New Years in Cuba. It was my first trip, and while the food is often as bad as people describe it to be, based on my short visit, I think it is a wonderful country and well worth a visit or two, or ten, which is the number of visits by my colleague architect Foad Raffi.
There is so much to report, that I don't really know where to start. But suffice it to say, it is now easy to get to, with direct flights from Vancouver; it's fascinating to be in a country with no Americans, since they are not allowed to visit; and where the Canadian dollar is worth more than the US dollar!While I spent most of my time on the beach or playing golf in the large resort area of Varadero, (where there are more than 60 resort properties of various styles developed through joint-ventures with Spanish and other international companies) I did get to spend some time in the nearby city of Matanzas where I found this man cleaning his New Year's Eve pig dinner in the street.The highlight of the trip, without a doubt was Havana, with its mixture of housing types, old decaying mansions and other buildings, and newly renovated areas. I learned that with the decline of the sugar industry, and financial aid from Russia, the government is relying on tourism as a key economic generator. An important aspect of its tourism strategy is the restoration of La Habana Vieja, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the eighties. While there is much, much work to be done, I was impressed with some of the work to date. (There is a large architectural model of the area on display which documents the progress being made.)One of the famous landmarks is the Hotel Nationale which is very much in operation and where you can get a double room starting at $200 or ten times the average monthly wage for a Cuban worker.
Everywhere you go you are reminded of the revolution which took place just over 50 years ago, although it was interesting to see revolutionary posters in the windows of fashionable shoe shops.
There is an expansive waterfront walkway lined with buildings of various styles and colours, many of which were repeatedly destroyed by the frequent hurricanes that have hit the city.In addition to the buildings, I was fascinated by the cars....many from the 1950's and before, still running with rebuilt engines. There are not just a few; there are thousands, everywhere throughout the country. Many are operated as taxis.I am writing some articles for the Vancouver Sun on the various housing initiatives that have occurred over the past 50 years but suffice it to say, there is virtually no homelessness, and 85% of the population own their own homes, mortgage free.
Housing styles vary from small concrete block and stucco houses to large Russian designed blocks, and everything in between.I am posting a few pictures to give those who have never visited a flavour of this fascinating country. (The rum is great; the seafood....well the rum is great! More to come later.I highly recommend a visit, not just to Varadero or Havana, but also to Trinidad and Santiago which I am told are even more beautiful and charming. And yes, the country is very safe for tourists, it's not overly expensive, and did I mention that the rum is plentiful, and very inexpensive, although the 15 year old Havana Club will set you back about $36 dollars. If you want to try some, come on over to my house!