- How cute are Cuban kids?Leaving the house. Artwork by @mr_mylWe do a game when we go to the beach of who can leave with the least sand on them. Clearly this was not the winner.Fishing for coconuts.I am asking friends, colleagues and followers to join me in donating to a fund set up for the family of @desboylan who died suddenly late last year (the link is in my profile). Desmond was a legend among photographers. He was not a household name because he didn’t really seem to care about recognition or awards but he was just as good if not better than the photographers you have heard of. It dawned on me the other day that I never actually worked with Desmond, if anything we were competitors. But if you were in the field with him though you felt like you were on the same team. He would share what info he had, a joke or a cigar with you. I would see him take a photo and then later when I saw the photo online somewhere I would think, “How did he do that?” Desmond and the way he saw the world will be very missed.A mural of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Havana calls him “Cuba’s Best Friend.” Cubans are asking me a lot of questions these days about the unfolding crisis in Venezuela. Their socialist ally still provides Cuba with about 50,000 barrels of oil each day and Cubans worry about the effect that developments in Venezuela could have on their already fragile economy.Cuban guajiro. A true pleasure to learn about tobacco and eat lunch yesterday in the Cuban countryside with the people who grow Cuban cigar tobacco. The welcome and level of hospitality you receive you simply can’t find anywhere else.A sea of tobacco. The gentleman who hung all this cigar tobacco to dry is 83 years old. He never stopped working the whole morning. I doubt I could keep up with him for a half hour. People from the countryside in Cuba are a different breed than the rest of us.Five days after the freak tornado that caused heavy damage in several neighborhoods in Havana, the recovery work still has a long way to go.Chatting with the neighbors.Aerial images taken yesterday of the path of destruction left by the tornando in Havana. Experts say this is the first time in recorded history a tornando has hit the city. #fuerzahabanaThe damage in Regla is the worst I have seen. Rows of trees cut in half, houses that lost their roofs and a whole bus destroyed. Then there was this Moskovitch that was hit by a pole. Of course this being Cuba there was already a group of people talking about how to fix it.Heartbreaking destruction in Havana after a rare tornado ripped through several neighborhoods on Sunday night. Houses, cars and lives destroyed.Strong winds still whipping across Havana this morning and the streets are eerily deserted. Last night a tornado hit the neighborhoods of Diez de Octubre, San Miguel de Padrón and Regla killing at least three people and injuring 172 more. A rough start to the week.Covering the first mass this morning at the first Catholic Church to be built in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. Despite the wet weather the service was packed. Some people had to stand outside and watch through the doors and windows. The church was built in Sandino, Cuba, a remote town where people accused of anti-revolutionary activity were sent to live in the 1960’sA Cuban Thing: I recently came across this scrapbook that seemed like an artifact from a very different era. Someone — I don’t whom — spent over a year photographing Fidel Castro’s appearances off their TV and pasting the photos into an enormous book. The entries stop in late 1960. Is the person who made it still alive? How would they feel about the revolution today? Another Cuban mystery that I probably won’t solve.Lost in thought in Havana.Shadows fall across the floor of the entrance to the Hotel Riviera in Havana. The Riviera was owned by notorious mobster Meyer Lansky and was the jewel of his Havana empire. It opened right before the Cuban revolution and was seized almost immediately by Fidel Castro. Now the hotel is scheduled for a badly needed restoration which will hopefully preserve the Riviera’s incredible style and architecture.Trying to find a permanent home for these two kittens that @cubajournal rescued. If you live in Cuba and want one (or two) please let me know. They are too cute!Doorway, Old Havana.
Cuba is not an easy place to visit. Information is often outdated. Many government-owned, supposedly five-star hotels suffer from glacially slow service and inedible food. Used to constant long waits themselves, Cubans sometimes don’t understand visitors’ impatience. But for the traveler eager to experience a unique and changing country, it is a one of kind destination. I recommend renting an apartment or house from Cubans and eating in privately-run restaurants. Not only will your money go to help the island’s growing class of small entrepreneurs, you will experience true Cuban hospitality.
El Paseo del Prado this boulevard is a wonderful place to go for a walk from the Capitolio building to the Malecón seawall. On Saturdays, the Prado is packed with people selling and buying houses, which is now legal to do under recent economic reforms.
El Cementario Colón one of the largest cementaries in the world, El Colón is the place to come to really learn the history of Cuba. There are several centuries of scandal, intrigue and myth buried here. Make sure to visit “la milagrosa,” the woman whose tomb has become a shrine for many Cubans.
Plaza Vieja in Old Havana has been restored recently to its former glory and become a popular area at night with a row of bars and restaurants.
La Rumba del Sábado A great neighborhood block party that takes place every Saturday afternoon (I usually go around 4p). Live music, cold beer and lots of dancing. Calle 4 e/ Calzada y 5ta. Vedado. PALADARS Cuban slang for “privately owned restaurant,” paladars are the place to eat in Cuba. Often you are eating in people’s homes although slowly paladars are becoming quite sophisticated. The food at paladars is more inventive and uses fresher ingredients that what you get at a government restaurant.
Café Laurent one of my favorites, this upscale paladar in a Vedado penthouse offers some of Havana’s best seafood. Its great for dinner but I recommend going before sunset to take in the stunning view of the ocean and city. Ask to sit outside. Tel. 8326890
O’Reilly 304 in Old Havana breaks out from the usual routine of Cuban food, offering excellent ceviche, seared tuna and tacos. Tel. 53 5 2644745 Also not to be missed is
La Guarida. On the top floor of a crumbling former mansion in Centro Habana, la Guarida recently expanded, adding a cigar bar, and is one of the great success stories of Cuba’s private restaurant scene . The classic movie “Fresa y Chocolate” was filmed here. You’ll need reservations. Tel. 2644940
El Corte del Principe in Miramar offers up Cuba’s best Italian food. Fresh pasta served by a professional staff. Tel. 72559091
Doctor Café Simple, fresh food and one my favorite places to eat lunch. Everything they cook on the grill– deer, snapper, octopus— is outstanding. Tel. 2034718.
El Cocinero is one of the new stars of a resurgent Havana nightlife. Cuban artists and musicians are among those who frequent –and can afford– this restaurant, known for its small bites and inventive cocktails. El Cocinero is set atop a former cooking oil factory and you walk up stairs in the old smoke stack to get to the roof-top bar. Check out the Fabrica del Arte next door as well. Tel. 8322355 WHERE TO STAY
Casa Vitrales feels more like a boutique hotel than a casa particular. It is well located in the loma del angel part of Old Havana and offers a fantastic roof-top terrace to take in the city. The casa’s nine rooms have all been recently restored. http://www.cvitrales.com
Habana Vista Enjoy beautiful views and the roof top pool at this well-located Vedado high rise apartment. Tel: 53636181 email@example.com
Villasol has been redone to resemble a Miami Beach boutique hotel. This casa particular is a testimony of the inventiveness of Cubans and their desire to treat visitors well. Tel. 53600456 MarbelyZG@hotmail.com
Café Teatro Jazz Miramar is the best music venue in Havana. Many of Cuba’s top musicians play here and its frequented mainly by Cubans.
The Bertolt Brecht is a very cool club with contemporary music. Like many venues here it starts late.
Sangri-La where Cubans with money to burn come to party. “El Sangri” is loud, dark and always packed.
Espacios is perhaps best known for being the first bar in Havana to have valet parking. The staff have attitude but the back terrace is a great place to enjoy a cool drink at night.
Don Cangrejo Cuban rock played at a seaside mansion.
Alma is a new store co-founded by my wife Alexandra that sells the best Cuban handicrafts, jewelry and artisanal items. Working directly with the artisans, the store aims to refine and take Cuba’s amazing hand-crafted treasures to a wider audience. Calle 18 y 5ta, Miramar.
Mercado de Artesanía Avenida de Puerto Havana’s largest craft markets allows you to buy directly from artisans.
La Plaza de Armas The booksellers in one of Havana’s oldest squares hawk vintage posters, classics of Cuban literature and relics of pre-revolution society.
OUTSIDE HAVANA Not to be missed: The beautiful countryside and tobacco fields near Viñales; the colonial homes in Trinidad and sleepy seaside town of Baracoa.