Susie’s birthday

Monday, 11 May 2015

On the morning of Susie’s birthday we had breakfast out on the balcony with spectacular views of centro district. To mark the occasion, our host Melba cooked a caramel cake with topical fruits erupting out of the centre. It was delicious.

After breakfast we walked up to the Teatro America to show Clare the lobby. The guide who conducted our Art Deco tour happened to be there, and so was the caretaker who had showed us around a week earlier. When we told him that Clare was an architecture student, he showed us around inside the theatre a second time. There was a ballet group practising in the cavernous performance hall (ballet is enormously popular in Cuba, and Cubans excel at the art). He took us up to the pink room where the female stars prepared for their performances. We were excited that Clare had an opportunity to see inside this extraordinary building with its sweeping banisters and graceful lines.

We continued on to the Plaza de Armas. The stalls that are usually there were closed, however, due to an imminent visit to Havana by the President of France.

Eventually it was time to make good our restaurant booking at Doña Eutemia. This paladar is located in a short street just off the Plaza de la Catedral, and to get there you have to run the gauntlet of touts who try to divert you into other restaurants. This paladar lived up to its recommendation in the guide book; the food was simple but excellent. I ordered the ropa vieja, which was heavenly. After the meal, the waiter surprised us with a slice of nutty chocolate tart and shots of Cuban rum to celebrate the occasion.

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Cuban rum and chocolate tart

After lunch we visited a museum that housed a 1:500 scale model of La Havana Vieja made out of recycled cigar boxes, with a soundtrack and lighting that simulates day and night in the city. The model gives you an excellent overview of the layout of the city, and it is surprisingly accurate in its architectural detail. We thought Clare would appreciate it, especially given that, as an architecture student, she has spent a great many hours working on models of buildings. This model took about four years to assemble, with a considerable team of helpers.

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Scale model of Havana

We showed Clare the larger exhibits from the Museum of the Revolution, which are visible from the street. These include several aircraft and vehicles of historical significance, including an armoured flame thrower that was fashioned from a tractor and given to the guerrillas during the war against Batista’s troops.

We walked back to Centro along the Malecón in the heat of the day and, later in the evening when the heat had released the city from its grip, we walked back into the old city. I bought a hat and we checked our email and enjoyed a mojito in the bar on the roof of the Hotel Inglaterra.

When we were ready to leave, we fulfilled a secret desire that I had harboured since we arrived in Havana: we caught a pineapple taxi. These are motor scooters that are attached to a yellow fibreglass cab. They are gloriously tacky. Susie successfully negotiated reasonable fare back to the blue hotel on the Malecón, and we sped along the carriageway between the crumbling buildings and the Tropic of Cancer with the wind and laughter in our hair.

We had a light meal in a trendy new restaurant on our street in Centro. The prices were reasonable and the food and service were excellent.  This was a suitable way to complete Susie’s birthday and our reunion with Clare in Havana.

Alberto had kindly arranged a taxi to collect us at 3 a.m. so that we would arrive at the airport two a half hours before our flight to Baracoa was scheduled to take off. As we turned in for the night, we were completely oblivious to the fiasco that was about to unfold.

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