Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Havana: Day 2

Welcome to day 2 of our Havana trip!

We had a delicious breakfast of tropical fruit (guava, omg), eggs, and toast at our casa particular, then tried to get a tour of the Museo del Ron Havana Club at 9:30. Turns out they don't do English tours at that time, so we had to move around some things. I said to Gretel, "No es fácil," which is something of an unofficial Cuban national motto meaning, "It's not easy."

Instead, we moved up our visit to Vista Hermosa, a cute little farm to the east of Havana. They grow many kinds of fruits and vegetables, make cheese, and raise animals for meat - primarily a commitment of beef to the government through a co-op of local farms, but also pigs, chickens, and more. This farm makes a point to work with Havana restaurants to create a farm to table relationship.

Time to feed the goats...

Our guide Gretel explained that the beef industry in Cuba is somewhat controversial. Although Cuban beef is not high quality, there is a shortage and some difficulty importing, so the beef goes mainly to pregnant women and children. Years ago, during difficult times in the 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union caused aid to slow to a trickle, people were caught illegally killing cows to feed their families, so fines and sentences were increased to the point where it is more years in prison to kill a cow than a person. 

These cows don't seem worried.

During our trip, in fact, I think we only saw beef on a restaurant menu once. 

After tasting some of the farm's wonderful watermelon, papaya, pineapple, and guava, we toured the fields and took a horseback ride to the cattle pastures and back.

You can see why the farm is called Vista Hermosa (Beautiful View)!

We drove back to Havana for lunch on the terrace at Mediterráneo, a farm-to-table restaurant that works with Vista Hermosa. The restaurant is owned / run by an Italian chef. We sampled the chorizo sausage, prosciutto, ricotta, and several other cheeses, as well as tasty spinach ravioli and some wonderful meat and veggie skewers. The ricotta was the best I have ever had. If I was pressed, I might say it was the best meal we had in Havana. Very tasty.

After lunch, we headed to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba to buy some postcards and check out the view.

I had been told that Cuban mail can take a few weeks or even months to reach the U.S., if ever, but I still wanted to send something to my grandma, mom, and in-laws. Dave also bought a small Cuban cigar to try at home.

The Hotel Nacional backs up to the Malecón and the ocean, so the views are pretty awesome. Directly to the west, you can see the U.S. Embassy (the small gray building at left), which is obviously controversial for a lot of reasons, both old and new.

Then it was time for our rescheduled English tour of the rum museum. The museum took us through the sugar plantation industry in Cuba, the evolution of slavery, the independence of the country, and Cubans' love of rum.

Of course, we got a sample at the end.

Havana Club is one of the state-owned rum companies, which apparently is now part of a shared ownership with a French company. They export to every country in the world except for - you guessed it - the United States. Boo. Still, the ubiquitousness of rum throughout Havana has convinced me that rum is a pretty tasty beverage. Usually I'm more of a beer or wine person, but rum is pretty cheap and goes well with a lot of mixers.

We took another rest at our casa, then enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in the neighborhood where we stayed (Vedado). Walking through the neighborhoods is so fascinating; a lot of buildings have been restored to their old pre-revolution (or pre-hurricane) grandeur, but a lot of them are works in progress. You could be looking at a beautiful peach colonial palace with shaded palms, then next door is a bombed-out looking building with a shirtless guy holding a chicken and smoking a cigarette on the terrace. The mix of old and new, of constant fixing and spiffing, is typical of the city today.

We enjoyed a daiquiri and a neat rum at Café Madrigal, which boasts some wonderful views of the city on a sunny day.

We enjoyed dinner at Vida, a paladar in the southern area of the city - Nuevo Vedado - that has more modern homes and many excellent views of the river. The standout from this meal were some fish croquettes. We had rice and beans - always rice and beans! - and I had a chicken dish for dinner.

It was another excellent day in Havana, and we were sad that the next day would be our last, although we certainly felt like we were fitting enough activities into our time to use it well for our cultural and educational experience. I cannot say enough good things about our guide, Gretel, our driver, Santiago, and the company, OnCuba Travel.

More on day 3!

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