Driving Along the Malecon
22 April 2017 | Havana, Vieja, Cuba
The pace is tiring folks out, so the boat "slept in" until 0800 on day three. We hustled to meet the cab, a '56 Chevy station wagon. All were anxious for coffee, so we stopped at a nearby panaderia, chose the pastries we would order when we reached the head of the queue, and then learned that the coffeemaker was broken and would be repaired mañana. (We had a similar response when we ordered a piña colada at a bar in the Nacional Hotel that had lots of mojito glasses all set up. "I'm afraid the blender is broken, just now, sir." One must wonder.) Off we went to a panaderia in a business complex in Havana.
Our Spanish and the waitress's English worked to get the orders placed. I headed to the baño, paid the disinterested attendant, and found the usual...no seat, no paper! Fortunately, neither was an issue.
Breakfast was served, and I was proud to be able to ask en espánol for sal y pimienta...alas, salt was available, but no pepper, a theme to be played out in all government restaurants.
A whirlwind tour through Havana Vieja introduced us to the lay of the land. Lots of named squares, statuary of revolutionary heroes, Fords, Chevys, Studebakers, and assorted other American cars from the'40's and '50's, Russian cars and trucks including Ladas and the tiniest little four-seater I've ever seen, the Polski Fiat 126p made in Poland. The cars were accompanied by droves of insistent taxi drivers anxious to take you somewhere.
Havana Vieja has been largely beautified. It is tourist friendly and filled with chances to drink rum and buy souvenirs. Paladars and government restaurants are plentiful. Men on the street whisper that they have good prices on Cohibas; "no fumar" sends them on their ways.
On the ride back from Havana, Mikail, our taxi driver pulled over to the side of the Malecon, and said "you drive." I was surprised and delighted, so I got into the driver's seat of a '56 Chevy with a Rumanian diesel and a Toyota steering wheel loosely attached to the steering systems of the old Chevy. Away we went without incident, as I was reminded of my days behind the wheel of my parents' '57 Bel Air. Everyone took pictures of "Hemingway" driving the old Chevy.
We headed out late for dinner at La Foresta, a very well-appointed paladar, 3 or 4 kilometers from the marina. Paladars are privately-owned restaurants. These private restaurants have been involved in governmental whiplash for some time. They provide the best opportunity for interesting food. These restaurants have well-seasoned, well-presented food while the more common government-owned facilities have more ordinary fare with little seasoning. Pepper for seasoning is uncommon as it is very expensive here. Two peppercorns cost about $1CUC (~$1.10US) here.
Four of us found the paella an attractive option that yielded plenty of shrimp, langusta, clams and fish in the well-seasoned bed of rice. We enjoyed the meal in an open courtyard as a saxophonist played beautifully...a good ending to another busy day.