Old Havana is sandwiched between the iconic Caribbean waterfront promenade known as the Malecon and the district of Vedado, the hip area containing boutique hotels & trendy restaurants.
Old Havana is the true grit of the city. This is where several families cram into crumbling old mansions that once housed the the rich and privileged in the pre-Revolution days of the fifties.
The area will remind you of parts of Naples or Marseille – washing hanging from every balcony, groups of men, women and youths hanging about chatting, gossiping or practicing their pick-up patter and kids playing with anything they can get their hands on – an old wire coat hanger becomes a jet aeroplane, an old tin can becomes Lionel Messi’s football, an old cassette tape with its inners pulled out becomes a skipping rope.
Every now and then people stop in their tracks as a wizened survivor of the Revolution pushes a cart pushing watermelons or onions or bananas, crying out his wares for anyone who cares to listen.
You will soon notice dozens of pairs of shoes & trainers with their laces tied together suspended from overhead wires. This is a Cuban tradition and there are several theories as to why people do it, the most popular of which seems to be that it is a parting shot and memento from anybody leaving the city for good.
Old Havana is full of noise – the cackling laughter of women sharing an in joke, the small workshops tapping away as they repair a bicycle or washing machine with any parts that they can get their hands on and hawkers pushing carts stacked with fruit & vegetables or footwear or bread.
There are very few shops in the area with the majority of commerce taking place at those mobile stores.
Old Havana is full of colour – the women folk like to dress vibrantly in long figure hugging dresses, topped with vividly coloured scarves, dwellings are painted lavishly in an attempt to boost appearances by literally coloring in the cracks and old classic American cars of bright pinks, yellows, reds & blues are parked up by the roadside – some are even drivable!
Old Havana is full of spirit – most inhabitants hardly have two pesos to run together, yet everybody seems happy in this sharing, caring, make do and mend community.
I really loved my four days spent in Havana and on reflection Old Havana was my favourite part of a very impressive city.