Cuba, once a colony of Spain, draws its heritage from many sources, aspects of several cultures influencing the everyday life of the Cuban people, as well as the city of Havana itself. Havana, like many cities in Spain and its various colonies, uses a relatively similar city plan, with a fort located on the outskirts of the city, as well as tall and narrow streets forming grids, full of small plazas and larger squares. The houses and small shops and restaurants lining these streets are beautiful shades of blue, white and gold, the colonial wealth of the city still apparent today.
This city plan has many benefits for Cubans. The height and proximity of the buildings causes many of the streets to be shady during the day, and create natural wind tunnels which help keep the city cool. The plazas also offer many benefits, providing a space for public art, as well as gathering, with many of these squares having their own churches or small community centers, like the home for the elderly and the maternal homes which we visited today. Further outside the main hub of Old Havana, the grid doesn’t end, but the streets themselves become wider and on steeper and steeper inclines as the city spreads away from the ocean.
There are, however, some major problems with this city layout. While our group was exploring Old Havana, the historic downtown center, today, looking at art and buying chocolate, it started to rain. Hard. While we didn’t have too many problems, finding a taxi was difficult in the quickly flooding streets, as water poured from the rooftops and gained speed as it rushed down the hill towards the ocean. By the time we managed to find a ride, we were all sopping wet, the buildings on either side of us offering little respite from the rain.
So far, I’ve really been enjoying Cuba, and experiences like this just make the trip even more memorable to me and hopefully the rest of the group too. Seeing how the city changed so quickly, with the regular hustle and bustle all but disappearing in the rain was cool, and an experience I wasn’t expecting to have, but it let us all see the city in a new light.
I visited Spain with my family last year, and a lot of Havana reminds me of the cities and towns we explored there, which is really cool for me. The food in Cuba is also nice. Simple enough to be comfortable, but also different enough from home to be interesting, a combination that while not extraordinarily exciting, makes meals more than just ways to feed ourselves, and helps the group as a whole learn a bit more about Cuban life and culture. Cuba is a country lost in time, familiar enough to help everyone feel comfortable, but also special in it’s own unique, Cuban way.