Hasta La Vista Havana – Part Four

Having visited the three main districts of Havana, it was time to cross the water to Casablanca. Not the iconic Moroccan city but the settlement on the small island across Havana bay, home to the city’s former fortifications and Cuba’s Estatua de Cristo.

We walked through the old town, past the cruise ships (they are coming guys, so get there soon if you can) and over to the Casablanca ferry. We paid €1 and went through the security check.

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I read that the ferry had in fact been hijacked on two occasions for Cubans desperate to get to the US to try and make the journey to Florida Keys. The fact that the dash failed was a blow to the locals, but a mighty relief for all the tourists on board!

Catch a clip of the ferry leaving port here.

Whilst we were in Cuba, the US wet foot, dry foot law was repealed. Up until then, if a Cuban had made dry American land they would have been allowed to stay and settle, if however they were caught at sea during the journey, they would be returned to their homeland.

The cancelling of this law was one of the agreements reached between the governments when Barack Obama had become the first sitting US president to visit Cuba for over fifty years in 2016. 

From our January 12th arrival onwards, dry foot as well as a wet foot would be returned to Cuba.

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Out Of The Ferry Window

Back to our journey, the ferry traversed this strait of Caribbean in less than ten minutes. Our first port of call was a local cafe to buy some much needed water in the midday sun. 

Hilariously we had a choice of four types of beer but no water was on sale. A local shop/bar full of drunk people came to the rescue. Clearly a local shop for local people!

Our next task was to find Casablanca train station where the famous Hershey train begins its journey into the sugar and cocoa plantations. The train was built by the Hershey Chocolate Company to transport goods from the factories to the water for export, as well as bringing Havana residents to work.

Having taken a similar train from Trinidad de Cuba to the former sugar plantations of the Valle de los Ingenios we decided we wouldn’t make the journey, but wanted to see the station all the same.

Directions seemed to be non-existent, locals seemed ignorant as to its whereabouts and as the situation had ‘hot, sticky, frustrating & irritated’ written all over it, we decided to plough on.

For the record, the train times currently are as follows:

Casablanca – Hershey Hershey – Casablanca
Casablanca Matanzas Hershey Hershey Matanzas Casablanca
04:45 04:39 06:24 04.39 06.50 08:01
12:21 12:09 14:00 12.09 14.00 15:31
16:35 16:25 18:16 16.25 18.16 20:07

After a few minutes stiff uphill walk, Christ’s statue honed into view. In total it took about twenty minutes to get to his feet. Not as big as Rio’s giant, it was impressive all the same as its white stone glistened in the bright sunshine.

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We decided to avail ourselves of a horse & trap to take us to the main fort (Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana) that had been built from 1763-74 to repel any invaders following the British taking Havana in 1762.

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It was damned hot, so a few minutes shade and rest were most welcome. We passed a display of military arsenal and our driver insisted we stop for pictures. I wasn’t really bothered, but read the signal that the guy wanted a cigarette break so obliged and feigned interest by taking a couple of snaps.

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We were soon dropped at the entrance to the fort, a place we were to remain for four hours. The huge complex covers 10 hectares and measures 700 metres end to end, so plenty of exploration to do.

The fort never actually saw combat as would be invaders realised its impregnability. It was used later on as a military prison/torture establishment/place of execution and Che’s HQ following the Revolution, where he oversaw reprisal executions against Batista’s officers.

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There are a couple of small museums on site, one explaining the history of the fort and the other recounting Guevara’s time stationed there.

We would not be staying for the 9pm nightly canonaza ceremony where the age-old tradition of firing a cannon over the harbour is maintained, with actors dressed in period costume joining in the fun. 

All a bit too touristy for us and we chose to linger over a cold beer and take in the beautiful sunset over the main city.

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We did not have time to take in the older, smaller fort built from 1589. 

It is said to be fabulous with 3 metre thick walls and deep protective moat. One for next time maybe!

We got back to the old town by taking a taxi through the tunnel. 

Tonight was to be our last in Cuba, with the Vixen & Crow Jazz Club our choice of venue. You can read about our time there in an upcoming post about music & dance in Cuba.

Hasta la vista Havana, I’ll be back!

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