In the Hoods of Havana

Here I am in Central Havana sipping on Havana Club Rum on a humid Havana night. As I looked over the balcony, I was so intrigued about the Cuban lifestyle. We booked a casa particular on Air B&B and coincidentally booked it very close to the aunt of my Cuban friend (Andi). Casa particulares are rented out houses and apartments where you can experience local Cuban life. It is very convenient because Cuban hotels do not accept American debit cards nor credit cards so you can’t book them online. Andi confirmed that we were in the hood near all the locals and authentic Cuban life. There were Cubans hanging out while others hustled on the streets selling fruits and WIFI cards. I didn’t see any tourists and I was actually grateful for that. As I smelled the mix of tobacco and petroleum, I felt like exploring the Havana streets in the middle of the late night (I must be crazy!).

The view from our Casa Particular in Central Havana. Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.

My wife and children were tired so it was just explored the streets with Andi. He explained that he is my Cuban brother and that I am family. I was very thirsty so he started looking for stores that would be still be open. I learned quickly how water can be scarce in Havana. We went to different stores looking for water and finally found water bottles at the fourth store we went to. For about 10 CUC, we bought a big bottle of water, Cuban rum, and a 2 liter of soda. I could have bargained more but I was just excited to be in the center of all the action. Andi and I returned to the casa particular. We actually had a private tiki bar on the rooftop.  We all partied and had deep conversations (I don’t remember falling asleep).

Tiki Bar at our Casa Particular. Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.
Tiki bar at our casa particular. Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.

The next morning I woke up early before everyone else (I still had a bit of a hangover). I was astonished by the view of the city from the casa particular. We stayed at Raquel’s private apartment (You couldn’t tell from the outside of the apartment how nice it is). The rooftop had views of Havana that was a portrait into the lifestyle of Cubans. The crumbling infrastructure represented the extreme poverty that many Cubans live in day-by-day. However, the Cuban spirit was a great contrast to their living conditions. Andi was very charming, energetic and very hospitable. He always kept a smile and a positive demeanor. I was very grateful to have met such a humble person to show me around Cuba. The first thing I learned in Cuba was that the Cuban will is powerful and hopeful.

The view from our casa particular. Photo courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.
The streets of Central Havna. Photo Courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.

I was ready to explore some more so Andi and I were off again in the streets of Central Havana. I was very impressed by his hustler mentality. He explained that each Cubans makes about $10-50 a month. He was all about survival and understood that he has to make his own opportunities. He does Cuban tours and help negotiate business with taxi drivers and restaurants.

Central Havana. Photo courtesy of Tony Polanco.

Andi explained that the black market is what helps many Cubans survive. In a communist country, capitalism still persists especially in the hood.  He is very aggressive but at the same time he is considerate and very knowledgeable. He is the breadwinner to his family which includes his aunts, grandma, cousins and uncle. He has an unyielding and hopeful will  that really inspires me. With such a powerful spirit , I was grateful to be in the hoods of Havana with my Cuban brother.

My Cuban brother Andi. Photo courtesy of Madelin Vasquez Polanco.

Thank you for reading. Much love and safe travels!

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49 thoughts on “In the Hoods of Havana

  1. Very cool to read!! I was a just recently in Havana actually (felt recent, but now that I write this, it was September, so 7 months ago..) and I had a veryyyy different experience. I was only in Havana for one night on either end of our trip to the Isla de la Juventud. I would love to go back under different circumstances, because things like what you wrote sound so amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Havana reminds me so much of the city where I was born, raised and currently live at. Beautiful pictures and really enjoyed the read. – Cezane


  3. We just adored Cuba and the Cubans in 2004. Great pics!!! We were planning to go back, but friends say that there are too many cruise ships at the ports. Even talking by Internet is often difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This looks and sounds like a great way to spend an evening enjoying true Havana. Thanks for bringing me along for the ride (and the rum pouring!) through your vivid writing and photography.


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