My husband had decided he didn’t want to fly anymore, ending our winters in Mexico. I had just cut the tags off three new bathing suits I intended to live in.
To make matters worse our two friends, who accompanied us on these sojourns, waved goodbye as they carried on the tradition without us. I looked across the living room at my husband watching another episode of car crap.
This was going to be a long winter.
My pacing stopped as an idea exploded out of my head like Marilyn Monroe out of a cake. At 66, I decided to treat myself to see Old Havana—alone. But not in a bathing suit. No sense scaring the locals.
Along with good walking sandals, I packed my pencils, sketchbook and a street map of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I think my husband noticed I left. I’m not sure.
Havana’s tree-lined Paseo del Prado
Photos online can prepare you only so much. With my yellow highlighted map, I stepped onto a tiled sidewalk outside of my hotel directly across from the famous Paseo del Prado.
The architecture: Havana Balcony Detail
I sauntered its tree-lined path dotted with marble benches and bronze lions. The architecture, classic cars and chatting up the locals easily filled my day with smiles and my iPhone with photos.
A vintage red Fairlane in Havana, Cuba
I became a ‘person of interest’, as I shared with local car owners my own photos of classic cars of my friends back home. They felt I deserved a back stage entrance and opened their hoods to show me their engines. Not necessary guys, but cute.
Shaded sidewalk cafes beckoned me to rest and imbibe in local fare. Ropa Vieja, one of the national dishes of Cuba, certainly gave me the energy I needed for what was to come. It is a Cuban shredded beef recipe with vegetables on rice. Good for the crockpot back home.
On my first evening, I boldly pushed the number four inside the elevator to the rooftop bar/restaurant of the iconic Inglaterra Hotel. The doors dinged open. I scanned the surroundings. Clear!
Female salsa musicians at the Inglaterra Hotel in Havana, Cuba
I stepped out, soon to be sipping mojitos in between being guided by a strong Cuban hand to salsa steps. You heard me right. Dancing salsa to a live band.
I giggled all the way home via Havana's Paseo del Prado at midnight passing lovers and tourists. It was safe. Violent crime in Cuba is heard to be rare.
My one “need to experience” place was the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) in Vedado, the more modern Havana.
Beyond walking distance, I had the hotel staff acquire a taxi for me. FAC is a large warehouse converted to a venue for multi-disciplined artist endeavors; music, fine art, video and dance. It had food, drinks and opened from eight in the evening until three in the morning.
Cha cha cha in Havana, Cuba!
There were tango demonstrations, a live classical music trio, displays of sculpture, fine art, photography and installations as well as quaint manmade caves featuring individual wearable art and weaving.
Rock and roll came later in the evening. By night’s end, I was sharing this venue and a taxi home with another female solo traveller.
A sadly crumbling building in old Havana.
As the days went by, I ticked off my list of sites to see and sketched buildings.
The unexpected was also delightful; singing stilt walkers, Victor Hugo’s home and children in pink tutus spilling onto the sidewalk from the School of Ballet for Children.
A locally famous artist, Leo De Lazaro, opened his studio for viewing.
Going to the washroom there gave me ideas for my own toilet roll holder.
Internet is available only at certain spots in Havana. I gnawed on a double chocolate brownie in the lobby of the decadent Plaza Hotel after paying five pesos for a username and password. It was good for sixty minutes over a thirty-day period.
Because of internet issues, my attempts at emailing AirBnB’s from home to reserve a room proved unsuccessful and frustrating. I booked with a professional tour operator.
My trip was safe and exciting. Flying solo does not mean you are always alone. I smiled everyday with someone new.
Janice Opie is an artist, writer and belongs to the NOTL Writers Circle in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Her fiction Bloody Waters is being published online this year. She lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
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