La Habana is a strange and incredible place.
I’m pretty sure that the United States doesn’t have any 420-plus year old castles. And it certainly doesn’t have any that used to guard the bay of one it’s most important ports, or were used as 20th Century prisons. I’m even more sure that if the United States did have such a caste fortress, the government would not allow a massive university party to take place on its grounds. But Cuba, and the city of Habana, are home to such a place, and played host to such a party.
After hearing about it from some of our Cuban friends, we bought tickets and on Friday night boarded a city bus that would take us to a centuries-old fortress full of 20-somethings. The bus was an experience in itself. I thought it was packed when were first boarded, but that was nothing compared to after we had picked up most of those going towards el Morro. There was nobody hanging out the windows, so it wasn’t the most packed Cuban bus I’ve seen, but everyone’s body was pressed up against at least two other people’s, and the heavy odor of sweat, diesel fuel, and rum filled every remaining pocket of open air.
By the time we arrive on the grounds of el Morro, I was already tired and sweaty, and the huge line that we found as we walked towards the castle disenchanted me even more. But once the opened the gates, and I saw the entrance to the fortress, my spirits rocketed. We walked on a brick bridge, over a dried out moat and entered the castle’s gates. That’s when the shock settled in. I had assumed we would be behind the fortress, in a field or something of the sort.
We we’re inside the same castle that so many officers, prisons, and tourists have inhabited over the years, but our mission was much different that their’s. As I looked at the hundreds of people watching the concert from the massive walls on the perimeter, I still couldn’t believe it. I was told there were over 2,000 people there to see Desiguales and Cua Libre perform. I’ll spare the exact details of the fiesta, but what unfolded over the next few hours was about what I expected: a lot of madness and a little mayhem. But in the end, after another long, more-crammed bus ride, we made it back safe as always
One a different note…
I’m glad to report that today (Sunday) we went to a beach that had all the positives of Varadero, without the pretensions of that all-inclusive resort. The beach at Santa Maria is about 30 minutes outside of Habana, to the east, and a little bit more like paradise. There the sand was soft and smooth, the water emerald and refreshing, and the beach populated but still Cuban. And by that I mean two things: there were actually many Cubans there, and it actually looked like Cuba. A more beachy, green, and quiet Cuba, but Cuba nonetheless.
Unlike Varadero, I’ll be making a trip back to Santa Maria del Mar very soon.