Cuba | Day 6: The Sea Was Angry That Day My Friends
Like all other days on this trip, day six started with being awake very, very, early in the morning. Today’s early morning wakeup was courtesy of not only the rooster, but also the insane wind. What was a minor light rain, turned into a massive storm overnight, and with it brought high winds and winter like temperatures. Okay, winter like temperatures by Cuba standards anyway. It was still in the high 60’s/low 70’s, and shorts weather, as far as I was concerned.
It sounded like Kelly was awake in her room across the hall, so I went and asked if she wanted to go explore the Malecón, and watch the sun come up. I know, “watch the sun come up” words that rarely, if ever leave my mouth as a non-morning person.
If you read day three’s adventure, you will recall that the Malecón becomes amazing entertainment when storms roll in, thanks to large waves crashing up over the sea wall. Just short of a hurricane, today’s weather was about as good as it was going to get for witnessing this!
We started making our way north towards the water, but quickly started questioning our choice to be wandering out in such high winds. The buildings there are very old and weathered from so many years of salt air, and not much in the way of maintenance. Many things were rattling, and whistling, and making some very creepy noises. We both had that “this is how we die” look of fear on our faces, and at one point even turned back for the apartment. We paused for a bit to think this life choice out, and found a less windy route to take instead.
We finally made it to the Malecón, which was soaking wet across all lanes of traffic! In the words of George Costanza, “The sea was angry that day, my friends!” and boy was it ever!
Upon seeing the first few waves crash against and ten to fifteen feet up over the sea wall, it was quickly decided that maybe we should stay on the center concrete divider versus venture all the way over to the edge of the water. On any other day during that trip with the 90 degree heat and hot humidity, I would have gladly run over and stood under the massive crashing waves. Having my entire bag of fairly expensive camera equipment on my shoulder and temperatures in the 60’s it seemed like a bad idea. Salt water and electronics are not a good mix!
Shortly after arriving I glanced left and saw two ladies out for a run along the Malecón…against the sea wall. I’m not sure if they didn’t realize how high the waves were crashing or if they just didn’t care about getting wet. As a runner myself, I know how refreshing it feels to have water thrown on you on a warm day. I wasn’t running that day, but what I was about to do was capture the inevitable, these two ladies getting absolutely drenched by massive ocean waves!
Like clockwork, they got just past us, with the breathtaking view of the city skyline and capitol building off in the distance ahead of them. The warm glow of the beams of sun stretching through the clouds above and BAM, a ten foot wave up and over the sea wall right on their heads!
They sprinted off the sidewalk into the roadway for a few minutes to avoid the bulk of the water, then back on the sidewalk they went, only for the same thing to happen again a little further down.
We hung out in that spot for a while and watched wave after wave come crashing up and over the wall onto the roadway, until we decided we should head back and get showered to remove the sticky coating of salt we had acquired while standing there, and grab some breakfast.
We found Philip at the apartment and insisted he come with us back to the Malecón after breakfast to see the waves! So off we all went to the bakery next to the Habana Libre for donuts, then back to the Malecón for more wave entertainment! By this time of day, the sun was high in the sky and the storm had passed leaving us with a bright blue sky and puffy white clouds. Much to our delight, the wind however was still whipping in off the ocean and if anything, the waves had doubled or tripled in size!
We attempted to get photos of each of us with the giant waves crashing behind us, but there was so much water spraying off the wall everything including the lens would get soaking wet seconds after drying it each time. The photos quality wise are complete garbage, but the memory of this makes me so happy, I don’t even care!
Soaking wet and covered in salt again, we decided it was time to head to the museums.
We had been keeping an eye on the weather for the week and knew the latter half was supposed to be cold and rainy most days. Because of this, we intentionally got all outdoor activities out of the way the first half of the week and saved all indoor activities like the museums for the second half of the week.
This mostly worked in our favor, but as I will explain later, not entirely.
Our first museum stop of the day was the Museo de la Revolución. Located in Old Havana, the museum is housed in what used to be the Presidential Palace, until the Revolution took place. The building itself is quite opulent, with tall columns, a central rotunda style dome ceiling and a massive carrera marble staircase and this is all just the entryway.
Further inside you encounter a ball room, that is a replica of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France, a Golden Hall adorned with a painted ceiling, yellow marble and ornately decorative wood work as well as the former President’s office which looks very similar to the Oval Office in the White House. There is no question that this building was a major show piece for high profile events back in the day.
The content of the museum itself was what I will call interesting, especially as an American walking through. It was one of many times on that trip that we may have pretended to be from Canada instead of the United States.
The very first display we encountered was a large mural with character drawings of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the latter of which was wearing a Nazi helmet and holding an upside down book titled “Report of the Commission for aid to a free Cuba”. The plaques next to each character had a slightly different quote but all along the lines of “Thank you cretin for helping with the Revolution and making Socialism irrevocable”. The work of art was titled “Cretin’s Corner”. So, there’s that.
While some displays were from the earlier days of the Spanish Colonization in the 15th Century, the majority of the displays are to do with the Revolution and breaking free from Fulgencio Batista’s reign. It is absolutely loaded with artifacts from the Revolution, from items such as war torn uniforms, telegrams, passports to insanely mundane things like Che Guevara’s shoelace or Fidel Castro’s chewing gum wrapper. Kidding about those last two, sorta.
The museum was very overwhelming. Most of the displays contained poster sized text articles, entirely in Spanish, with occasional captions in broken English. It was a lot of information that I personally couldn’t understand due to my lack of Spanish, so I got bored very quickly and made my way outside to the property across the street where all of the tanks, airplanes and boats were located.
Having done some research upon returning home, I learned the museum is really more intended for locals and is used frequently for educational school trips. Hence the reason the majority of the displays are in Spanish only.
I obviously understand why the museum may not be interested in catering to visitors who only speak English. Americans cut ties with them after Castro took over, so beyond visitors from the UK, they don’t really have a lot of English speaking visitors to cater to.
It is genuinely a shame though, based on the lengthy list of similar reviews on TripAdvisor, many people went there with high hopes of learning more about the Cuban Revolution and left disappointed having learned nothing.
At $8 per person, this was one of the most expensive museums we paid for, but still a fraction of the cost of a museum here in the states. The tour of the building alone was well worth the $8, even if I left feeling meh about the educational experience.
Our next stop on the Havana Museum tour was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana just up the street. Or so we thought. Remember how I said I am a planner and like to have a general idea of what there is to see and do? Part of that usually includes marking down what days museums are closed. That way we can plan accordingly and not miss out on them. Well, that didn’t happen and we quickly found out not only was this museum closed that day, but most others were closed as well for the remainder of the week. Womp, womp! Philip had toured it earlier in the week and highly recommended it, for anyone who may be reading this and traveling to Havana.
Since our plan of touring museums was officially squashed, we decided a little souvenir shopping and lunch was in order instead. Throughout the week we had kept an eye on various souvenir shops and items, but didn’t want to rush and buy too much early on, then run out of cash for meals and entrance fees to museums.
We walked the couple of blocks over to the Paseo de Martí in an attempt to find a cigar shop that Philip had noticed earlier in the week. The Paseo that day was lined with artists all selling sketches, paintings and litho prints. They were all originals, not printed copies, and were all super cheap!
As much as I still buy mass produced chotchkies on my travels, like my out of control magnet collection, I much prefer to buy souvenirs that are handmade by local artists. I ended up buying three ocean themed litho prints from various artists that only cost between $5 and $10 Pesos each.
We kept strolling and ended up finding the cigar store near the Hotel Sevilla. We purchased a variety of brand name cigars. Nothing expensive enough to break the bank, but good enough to give out as gifts when we got home.
The Hotel Seville was a necessary tourist stop all in itself! Construction started in 1880 but it did not open until March of 1908. It was designed after the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. The entire lobby was decorated with these amazing blue, white and gold Spanish style tiles, including the ceiling which also had large brass light fixtures hanging from it.
It was so pretty that we decided to stop and have lunch at the outside terrace cafe. The terrace had these lovely watermelon pink stucco walls with dark green wood trim, and red terracotta tiles on the floor. The round wood cafe tables were surrounded by palm trees and a variety of potted tropical plants.
We ordered lunch and I chose a croque monsieur and a mojito that thankfully tasted much better than my mojito from a few days prior.
While we waited for our food to arrive, a quartet called Exitos de la Musica Cubana, appeared in the corner and began playing live music. They were really good, so I ended up buying one of their CD’s before we left.
After lunch, we explored the neighborhood around the Capitol Building. This area clearly had a bit more neglect as far as the upkeep of the commercial and residential buildings than other areas of the city. Much of the facades were crumbling, showing multiple layers of various paint and treatments that had been built up over time. Many buildings were completely gutted, with only the concrete walls left standing and some trees or shrubs that had haphazardly grown in areas where they normally would not.
While deciding what to do for the rest of the afternoon, we remembered that we still had not been out to the large fort, Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, that sits at the mouth of the harbor. We got a good glimpse of it back on day one during our lengthy walking tour of the city, but it was not accessible on foot.
We wandered back to the capitol building where finding a taxi would be a bit easier than on the smaller back streets off the main drag. Like any other taxi adventures, we knew enough spanish to ask to be taken to a certain location and enough numbers to negotiate a rate. Fun fact, that is how taxis work in Cuba. It’s not a rate based on time driven, it’s a negotiated rate that is agreed upon before you get in.
Philip offered to let me ride up front this time, which meant I had to do the negotiating and pay the driver upon arrival to our destination. Ya’ll I can’t emphasize this enough. When you travel to another country and they speak a different language than your own. LEARN. THAT. SHIT. BEFORE. YOU. GO.
No, seriously. Please do not be that person that knows zero words in that country’s language, and is a jerkface trying to speak to them only in your own language that they do not understand.
Ya know what that will result in, you getting into an unnecessary argument with a taxi driver, who is just trying to explain that he doesn’t have the multiple smaller bills needed to give you change for the bill you are handing him, and is instead asking for a more expensive bill so he can give you back one single bill and is still charging you the exact same amount you agreed upon in the beginning. Ask me how I know.
I have literally never felt so dumb in my entire life as I did that day. We booked our trip so quickly that I didn’t have time to learn enough basic Spanish before we left. I 100% thought he was trying to overcharge us. Clearly I am a moron and felt like the biggest jerk on the planet. Needless to say I was not allowed to ride up front in any taxis for the remainder of the trip.
Stupid misunderstanding aside, we made it in one piece to the Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, or castle as I am going to refer to it as from now on, because the full name is a mouth full!
We purchased our tickets at $7 each per adult from the ticket booth out front and stopped to check out the view from the outside. The wind showed no signs of dying down that day, so it was actually pretty neat to be standing, safely mind you, out past the sea wall along the Malecón and see the waves crashing up and over from that side. The waves were so high and frequent, the wall was barely visible for the mile or more curved stretch along the north side of Havana.
To enter the Castle from the outside, you walked into a long white tunnel. The right wall was straight and upright, but the left wall facing out to the ocean was curved and had small open windows the full length.
Building began in 1563 at the request of the King of Spain. Like most Castles or Forts it’s main purpose was to protect the city from attack, therefore entering through such a tunnel was no surprise.
Upon exiting the tunnel, the view was honestly one of the most beautiful we had seen since arriving on the island, well if you kind of ignored the giant cruise ship docked in the background.
We were still elevated high up above the water and the view below was bright and colorful with red spanish tile roofs on pastel yellow buildings, that peeked out from below the bright green palm trees. A row of cannons pointed out over the turquoise water that was crashing up over the rocks below.
Having spent much of our week in the city, which of course lacks that caribbean beach feel, it was nice to spend a little time surrounded by palm trees and blue water.
We wandered down a path to the lookout with the cannons then further down to the lawn area and rocky beach. The waves from that angle were insane! There were actual surfable, full barrel waves, coming into the inlet and crashing against the castle walls.
After watching for a while, we made our way back up to explore the castle. It has four main barracks that are built one on each corner of the central Many of the rooms were staged with exhibits and artifacts, some had paintings depicting various battles that occurred in Havana during the Seven Years War, and one had a very ornate chapel in the front.
More interesting to me though than the artifacts was the actual architecture of the various rooms. Since their sole purpose was for protection, the walls were made of the same large man made blocks we saw on the outside of this and other forts within the city. They all had chunks of seashell and coral that was mixed into the concrete when making them, leaving pretty neat patterns and textures.The ceilings were all arched and made entirely of bricks. I can’t even imagine trying to assemble an arched ceiling made of bricks. There were also these peculiar doors in the back of the room, which I later learned were for tossing prisoners out to sea.
Despite the high winds, we wandered up to the highest level of the castle where the lighthouse and some lookout “windows” were, that faced out over the ocean. They had a few signs and even some ropes, warning that the area was wet and slippery from the giant waves crashing up over the sides of the four story wall. We cautiously made our way through to the lighthouse and stayed mostly dry. I stayed at ground level for a bit trying to catch a photo of the waves coming up over the wall while Philip and Kelly explored the lighthouse, then we switched places. The view was pretty, though I only went to the top of the stairs and not up to the outside walkway, as that cost $2 extra and I basically had the same view from out one of the windows.
The castle was quite large and there were many other rooms to explore but we were exhausted and getting hungry from our lengthy day of exploring. We also had plans to see the Cabaret Le Parisien after dinner, so we needed to get back and get cleaned up anyway.
We made numerous attempts to flag down a traditional taxi to return to the neighborhood, but were not having any luck. Just when we thought we were going to have to walk close to two miles back, a woman in a Coco Taxi pulled up asking if we wanted a ride.
If you aren’t familiar with a Coco Taxi, they are bright yellow and round like a coconut, hence the name. It’s basically a motorized rickshaw on three wheels, and yes, riding in one down the main drag of the Malecón is as scary as you would expect. There are no seatbelts, no windshield and no doors and of course are much slower than the other cars zipping past it. They are so accident prone in fact, many countries strongly advise their citizens against riding in them when visiting Cuba.
We really didn’t want to walk that far back though so, when in Rome, or in this case, Cuba!
Off we went, zipping along the Malecón with the strong winds and large waves still crashing up onto the roadway.
Once we got close enough to walk, we politely asked her to let us out early, as travel on our own two feet felt much safer.
Everyone got ready for dinner and our evening out, and walked up to a restaurant called Monseigneurs that was up the street from the Hotel Nacional, where the Cabaret took place.
The atmosphere in the dining room was lovely. It had an old piano bar vibe, including a gentleman playing live piano all through dinner. Unfortunately that is about where the excitement ended. While dinner was okay, we quickly found out that the mens room was lacking any running water in the sink to wash your hands. Never a good sign at an establishment that makes your food. We shall chalk this up as red flag number 8,001 on the list of possible places I contracted the NoroVirus on this trip.
We finished up our meals and drinks and headed over to the Cabaret for the show. Havana has a number of Cabarets however the Cabaret Le Parisien that we saw and the Tropicana are the most popular.
The Cabaret Le Parisien is smaller in scale and shall we say more modest than the Tropicana, but was walkable from our apartment compared to the lengthy taxi ride required to attend the latter of the two options. It is also significantly more affordable at $40 per person which includes a drink, compared to the $75-$95 per person at the Tropicana, which includes a bottle of rum, a cheap glass of champagne and a cigar. The Tropicana is basically the Cuban version of the Moulin Rouge in Paris right down to the almost full nude dancers.
Both clubs have their downfalls though, as it was recommended to avoid the high priced dinner show at the Parisian and keep an eye out for sneaky extra fees tacked on to your bill at the end of the night at the Tropicana.
We were not 100% sure what to expect but the show was enjoyable. It was in a large theatre room with stadium seating and ushers that escorted you to your seat and brought your complimentary drink to you. The only show time is 10:00pm, which after a full day of adventures we were worried we would not stay awake for.
Thankfully that was not an issue, as both the music and performance were enjoyable! It was much more Cuban themed than the shows in Paris are, which was nice, as I would have been quite disappointed if it were just an exact replica of Moulin Rouge.
Having the extra time I was glad we went however, if you are limited on time, it’s not what I would call a must see attraction.
Our evening ended fairly late so we headed back to the apartment to get some rest for our final full day in Cuba.