|Santiago de Cuba shoreline|
The cruise itinerary included two phenomenal days in Havana, filled with comprehensive tours of Old Havana and beyond. With the port literally across the street from Plaza de San Francisco, a walking tour of four of the five Old Havana Plazas was a perfect introduction to the grand, elder city.
|Cubans earn tourist funds |
with a creative entrepreneurial spirit.
The Cuban government is committed to authentic restoration of the once elegant Old Havana buildings that fell into complete disrepair over the past 50+ years. When practical a building is restored with similar materials & style as its original design. Examples of the impressive Old Havana building restoration were prominent within the tour.
|A vibrant urban garden replaces the ruins |
of a dilapidated building.
Per the July 2015 Tourism, Historic Preservation and Urban Renewal: The Case Study of Old Havana published on the Urban Sustainability Laboratory Blog:
Habaguanex, a Cuban corporation that works with the historical and cultural product in Havana, was created to take over all publicly owned businesses in the region, partnered with The Office of the City Historian to redevelop Old Havana. Habaguanex invested in hotels and restaurants in Old Havana and redirected the profits generated from the investments towards historic preservation in the municipality. Sites like the central plazas (Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza San Francisco), and places with the potential for tourism like Earnest Hemingway’s old residence have been restored, in addition to the ongoing restoration of aging buildings in order to maintain Havana’s architectural heritage.
Habaguanex investments led to an increase in tourist related business and employment for local residents. ... Political reforms in 2010 allowed for specific openings to the private economy, and residents who own businesses in Old Havana often work in the tourism trade and make substantially more than those who are employed by the state.
|Built in the early 1600's as a mansion, |
the Hotel Santa Isabel Old Havana opened
in 1997 following a major building restoration.
|A typical street corner in a non-tourist |
section of Old Havana shows a city
in disrepair, yet rich in life and spirit.
Additionally, the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH) assesses hotels, stores, museums, and restaurants a 1 percent tax, 60 percent of which goes to the OHCH restoration program and 40 percent to social work. According to the February 2017 Cuba Sets The Example For Historic Preservation article by Anne Surchin:
The revenue tax for OHCH not only funds the restoration work but also the salaries of a staff of 200 including a team of architects, sociologists, historians, environmentalists, geographers, civil engineers, and supporting specialists such as cartographers, computer technicians, archivists, and transit and traffic engineers. The office is 90 percent female. OHCH also runs four restoration schools providing training in 12 different trades for students between the age of 18 and 25. Graduates of this program receive certificates as restorers in a specialty trade. There are 13,000 restorers working for OHCH today.
|A dilapidated building is under renovation |
within the Old Havana restoration program.
With a basic understanding of Old Havana's layout from the walking tour, Holly spent her "free" afternoon exploring beyond the tourist zone. It was stupendous to stumble upon prior mansions and grand buildings in unbelievable disrepair.
|Throughout Old Havana marble staircases |
within elder buildings are reminders
of pre-Castro grandeur
Another common sight within the Old Havana neighborhoods was thriving plant life whose roots were grounded within buildings, whether ruins or restored. The vibrant plants echoed the resilient Cuban spirit. Despite obvious hardship, the neighborhood was filled with an optimism woven within daily life.
|A classic, working car awaits |
its faithful owner at a popular
Once out of the tourist zones, there are plenty of older cars in good working order yet rust, instead of shiny wax, define their character.
|One of Havana's street dogs takes an early |
afternoon nap in the Plaza de Armas.
The final port-of-call was the delightful city of Cienfuegos. Nestled on the Caribbean Coast, the rich artist culture permeates the city and enriches the experience. It was interesting to note Cienfuegos appeared free of the dilapidated neighborhoods prevalent in Havana. The city seemed grounded and centered with a more moderate lifestyle during the pre-Castro times.
|A stunning morning view welcomed |
the cruise ship to Cienfuegos.
As an island originally colonized by the Spaniards after Christopher Columbus's discovery in October 1492, Cuba is a country who arises from dominant foreign rule. In Santiago de Cuba, El Morro - formerly Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca - is a fortress built in 1638 at the Santiago Bay entrance to protect the city from pirates; the fort remains a prominent reminder of necessity to protect from foreign invasion.
Though the current economic state was driven from within, Cuban tenacity of spirit will sustain the fundamental restoration necessary to restore its rich heritage. A work-in-progress, Cuba is indeed rich in spirit, history and restoration.