Havana’s Chinatown and the Camera Obscura

Havana –

This post is part of the summary-article 2-Week Itinerary Cuba on a Budget . You can either use the links in the summary to get detailed information about each place in the itinerary, or the floating bar at the botton of the page to navigate through each day.

cuba-havana-streets-backpacker-backpacking-travel2We get up quite late today – somehow we can’t really get used to the time shift. After a rich breakfast, we decide to visit the city center again – slow and relaxed, on foot. It doesn’t seem to be that hot and humid as yesterday. Just as we almost get to the Prado, we get approached by some guy: “You here for the first time? Oh, actually ‘almost just arrived’? Where are you from? Germany? Oh, my brother-in-law lives there…”. Sure, all that may be true and right, or just one of those ploys to trick tourists. Seems this is the second case here: “Fumar, amigos?”. No, we don’t usually, except for some cigar on special occasio… Oh, oh, cigars… Right. I could have seen this coming . Our new friend Raoul tells us that we are in luck, since today is the last Sunday of the month and the “Dia de Cooperativa de Tobacco” or something like that. There is a great shop he knows of “just around the corner”, and just for today you can get discount. Well, somehow this seems like and almost lovingly-obvious ploy that we tell ourselves: “Whatever, let’s have a look at least”. That is, because the shop is actually in the same street as our accomondation and not exactly in “Chinatown”, the part of the town everyone gets warned of entering… We follow Raul into a building and it seems we find ourselves in his grandmother’s living room. Okay, THAT was unexpected. The cigar trade seems to flourish in here by the looks of it, since the old lady has lots of cigar boxes around. Since the prices are not that “special” as we thought them to be (more like they have been added some “special” Gringo tax), we pass. Of course a box of “Romeo y Julieta” or “Montecristo” cigars would still be a lot more expensive in Germany, but this is clearly some tourist trap .

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cuba-havana-prado-backpacker-backpacking-travelWe continue towards the Parque Central. You clearly notice that it’s Sunday today: A lot more kids are on the road, and you have to be a bit more careful – otherwise you might get run over: The Prado seems to be perfect for racing . Passing the Capitol, we go to the Parque de la Fraternidad – behind the Capitolio is one of the oldest cigar factories – maybe we should get some information here? From the park we also see the gateway to Chinatown, right next to the factory. “Looks like all other parts of the city that have not been restored…”. And to the keyword Restauration: The old Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas also seems to be closed for renovation. Again, no luck. Oh well, since we are already here, we have a look in the district you always get warned of: Chinese or Asians in general? Nope. If Asians have ever lived here, they have only contributed to the fact that there are some Asian restaurants here, otherwise the area here is no different to other Havana streets. No idea why you always read in guidebooks that you should avoid this place…

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 Plaza de Armas

cuba-havana-plaza-de-armas-backpacker-backpacking-travelWe stroll along some streets, gaze at the old but still beautiful buildings and decide to walk roughly towards the pedestrian zone. In a cafe near the Plaza de Armas, we sit down and drink our first mojito of the day – following the motto “When in rome do as the romans do” we start to adapt. This place seems more more lively at this time of the day than yesterday. We also look at some book-booths… Most books are, of course, in Spanish, but there are also a lot of them in other languages. There are actually quite a lot of antiques among those… I would hardly be surprised if a first edition of Don Quixote is hidden somewhere under a pile of books . Since we want to watch the Camera Obscura with the 360 ​​° view of Havana before it closing time, we head for the Plaza Vieja.

Plaza Vieja

cuba-havana-Basilica-San Francisco-de-Asis-backpacker-backpacking-travelOn the way we take a quick look at the interior of the Basílica of San Francisco de Asís, which has a large statue* right in front of its entrance, but we have to hurry… We still got time till 17:00… Visiting the Camera Obscura totally worth it. Compared to the panorama from the José Martí Memorial you get a much better view of the city center here and the guide, which explains the surounding buildings in detail seems to have really much fun at his job . Back outside, the weather has changed. We haven’t noticed insite the tower of the Camera Obscura, but it is getting quite cloudy. We’re just thinking about going to grab a bite – a school class is just moving across the square… and then it suddenly starts to rain buckets. On the other side of the square is a restaurant, but no way we’ll run there during that much rain. We’ll have to “wait and drink some tea”…or in our case: Go to the next bar, which is fortunately located just about 10m under the arcades we are staying.

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I decive to order an “After Eight”-Cocktail. “We got us a rebel here, it’s just 17:45!” . Just as expected, it tastes exactly like “After Eight”, but with it seems to have some proper alcoholic content inside – does this thing have an alcohol-free ingredient at all? (I already mentioned that alcohol is cheap in Cuba, right?). From a safe distance we gaze upon the quite flooded square. Some bicycle taxis were still on the square as it started to pour – some were even blown down by the wind. Mhh. Actually… we wanted to eat something. The next best thing is ice-cream. Specifically, coconut-ice-cream in coconuts. One of the ice-cream sellers who sold icecream made with coconut milk in his small booth on the square, also escaped under the arcades. The weather seems to have messed up his business today. He seems quite surprised as we order two large coconuts with ice-cream – which he is about to sell for half the price. Nonsense – his ice-cream is our salvation, we are starving ! “Is this kind of rain normal?” we ask. “Not at this time of the year, if you do not want to wait any longer, do not walk next to the walls, rather walk in the center of the street… falling rocks.” We take the advice to heart. When the rain starts to gradually stop, head to our accomondation – but not without a stop in a bar with live music on our way. “For just one more drink”.

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We do not not stop at one. Just before 23:00 the Casa. We got quite a bit wet since we walked in the middle of the streets, but that’s better than having a piece of masonry drop on your heads.

*The Clochard “El Caballero de Paris”


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Havana’s Chinatown and the Camera Obscura

by Mario time to read: 5 min