Havana: The Caribbean’s Mightiest Port, 500 Years Ago

A first stop for any sightseer in Havana is the fort. Peering across its rusty old cannon to see how a tiny and easily protected strait of water led to a calm and secure harbor, and hearing stories of how the Caribbean-European trading vessels would gather here before crossing the Atlantic in a safety-in-numbers convoy, I could understand how Havana was the mightiest port in the Caribbean 500 years ago.


2 Replies to “Havana: The Caribbean’s Mightiest Port, 500 Years Ago”

  1. My first trip to Cuba was in December 2014, including Dec. 17 when Presidents Obama and Raul Castro made their big announcement of detente. I walked the streets of Cienfuegos that day and talked with Cubans about it. Most shrugged and seemed indifferent. Some were filled with trepidation, fearing the return of American imperialists and crass developers and the Mafia. There were many billboards with Uncle Sam with scary, long fingernails and “Imperialism” slogans. I went back for a stay a year later, from Dec. 4-20 in 2015. I didn’t see any of those “imperialism” billboards this year. But what I saw both times were happy, cultured, well-educated, HEALTHY people, starting in Santiago de Cuba, through Guantanamo city, Trindad, Santa Clara, Camaguey (my favorite place), Cienfuegos, in a biosphere community, on the huge King Ranch, and in gorgeous, safe Havana. We were free to go anywhere and talk with anyone. What very few police I saw were friendly and helpful. I’m a senior citizen, but I walked the streets of every city and hamlet we visited alone and never felt threatened or unsafe, even late at night. The food is incredibly good. Cuba was forced by the US blockade to go organic because they had no money for routine use of pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, anti-biotics for animals or plants. They got accustomed to that, and they’ve pretty much kept it that way. Food does taste better there, I must say. The government supports awesome ballet and chorale companies in many provinces. I noted that at one school we visited, the kids lined up at a long water basin after lunch and brushed their teeth. I saw very few fat people! They walk everywhere, and the food is soooo nourishing, with few sweets. One big change from 2014 to 2015 – WiFi! It finally arrived around September 2015. Every plaza in every town with Hotspots is filled with kids and grownups and their cell phones and laptops on the Internet. But as I walked around the towns, I still saw (and chatted with) people in the front yards and sitting on their stoops socializing. And there seemed to be gatherings in town plazas nearly every evening, with live music and entertainment. I asked if these were festivals, but I was told these gatherings were pretty common, as people like to gather and visit and dance. There were often little goat-pulled carts for the little kids, sometimes hand-pushed kiddie cars. And lots of music and dancing. I believe this is the most beautiful and friendly and wonderful country I’ve ever seen. And SAFE. One embarrassing thing: I talked with some Europeans who told me their travel agencies are urging them to visit Cuba now “before the Americans come and ruin everything.” (Indeed, putting a Starbucks in Cuba would be like taking Boone’s Farm wine to Paris. There is no coffee in the universe as tasty as genuine Cuban coffee served in a tiny cup.) The Ugly American lives. One tip for “Americans”: Don’t refer to yourself as “American.” All Latin Americans consider themselves American. We from the U.S. are called Americano. Or just say you’re from the United States.

  2. Barbara’s observations are spot on! We were in Havana, Pinar Del Rio, and Veradero in late October and had exactly the same experiences. Friendly people, great food, and it was incredibly safe: our guide left his wallet (with a large amount of cash) in a taxi and got it back a few hours later with nothing missing. Truly a memorable trip!

Comments are closed.