May Day Marches and men on masts
Trip Start Apr 21, 2011
17Trip End May 06, 2011
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May Day Marches and men on masts
Early. Very early. Still dark when we left the hotel and agreed a 10 CUC price for two bike-taxis to get us as near as possible to Plaza de la Revolution. Being pedalled through the back streets of Havana in the dark of an hour before dawn seemed odd. There were lots of people about - some of them coming back from the ‘discotheque’, some of them starting or ending their working days and as we got closer and closer to the square, many heading in the same direction, with banners and placards - because this was May Day - and in Havana Easter passes with little or no effect but May Day is BIG.
When the crowds started to get too dense our ‘drivers’ stopped and we had an unpleasant moment when they demanded twice as much money as they had asked when they solicited our business - it was 10 CUCs per bike, they explained
We soon forgot the annoyance when we joined the crowds - there were thousands of people all heading in the same direction and at every junction thousands more converging from every side street. It felt as though the entire population of the city was there although we read later that the turn out had been relatively small, with some May Day marches exceeding two million individuals.
The atmosphere within the march was convivial - many nations, especially those of Latin America - were well represented and large groups of Cuban workers in various uniforms marched together under their banners. As we got close to Plaza de la Revolution we were glad of the bottles of water we’d brought and astonished by the number of people present. JD and CC have been to Barcelona’s Piromusical many times and an audience of ¼ million for that is not unusual, but this was in a different class.
Once through Plaza de la Revolution, the crowd started to disperse and Alex remembered that we were staying at the Deauville on a bed and breakfast basis, so there was really only one thing to do
Full of energy as ever, Alex went up to his room for a rest and maybe a session in and around the hotel’s roof-top pool. As we were running short of readies again JD and CC went for a (still quite) early morning wander around Havana Vieja and finally found a functional ATM. After a coffee or two on Plaza de las Armas we found a cab and asked him to take us to the National Cemetery. Cemeteries are often full of surprises and the first surprise here was the charge of 5 CUCs each to get in - but we’d made the slight effort to get there so we parted with the money and got a map and a guide leaflet to help us find our way around.
In international terms, the most famous monument is the simple one to Jose Raul Capablanca, one of the greatest chess players the world has known and his simple grave was the first one we looked for. Then we drifted back and forth, looking at various important structures or interments with a story. There are commemorative sculptures to Cuban heroes of times gone by, pryamids, androgynous angels (very strange) and more. Driving around Cuba you see various references to General Maximo Gomez and the great man lies here, beneath an austere monolith
Graveyards are thirsty work, so we tried the café opposite the entrance for a cheeseburger (yellow bread, which we decided included the cheese element) and some fizzy pop, then went back to the hotel to see if Alex wanted to join us for the afternoon. He didn‘t, having discovered the wonders of Julie‘s Kindle.
From the balcony we spotted a large-three masted boat out to sea and apparently heading inland. It looked slightly unusual so we set the scope up and could see that the decks were lined with uniformed sailors and more impressively there were many more sailors standing on all the spars and atop the masts. It looked to be heading for the narrow entrance to Havana harbour but then veered westward and along the coast. Time to head out again, so we grabbed a cab to take us to Havana Vieja and as we made our way along the Malecon, there was the boat again, still festooned with sailors and clearly heading for the harbour
Down the road there were Cuban Marines and a military band along with several military and civic dignitary types, with a small crowd forming so that’s where we stopped. The vessel, The Cuauhtemoc, was being brought slowly alongside by tugs to the tune of La Bamba and as she got closer the she alternated tunes with the ceremonial band, to the delight of the ever growing crowd and the annoyance of a few motorists unlucky enough to get caught up in the excitement. After a bit of a struggle to get the gang-plank down, salutes were exchanged and the Cuban VIPs all filed onto the boat and the marine band and honour guard marched off.
By now we’d forgotten why we’d come this way so we followed a street that looked like it would end up in the centre and reached the pretty Plaza de San Francisco and then just followed our instincts for a while. Down one street we heard a familiar and appealing sound
It was at this point that we remembered why we sometimes don’t like people very much. There were two young women on the same corner, clearly tourists, though we don’t know where from. They attempted to steal the scene, insisting that they each be photographed in turn with the troupe, and getting the people on stilts to take pictures of them and generally getting in everybody’s way when the rest of us were trying to get photos. It was difficult to get an image without having them in it - but when the performers produced a velvet bag that they waved at people for a few coins, the women were suddenly not interested and disappeared quickly. They really didn’t look hard up, so perhaps they objected to giving handouts and thought the troubadours should really get a proper job.
Thirsty again we sat down for some drinks outside a café on Plaza de la Catedral and waited for far too long, so we left without even ordering and after a long and increasingly dry walk found ourselves outside the Cafeteria del Prado 12, which is right at the seawards end of Prado
There’s a rock platform washed by the waves on the seaward side of the Malecon and as the day drew to a close, lots of Cubans were down on the rocks or in the pools nearby swimming, sunbathing in one case sitting with their backs to the rather lively waves and waiting until a big wave came along and drenched them in salt water.
We woke Alex up and got ready for the evening. We headed straight back to Cafeteria del Prado, which had been quite quiet when we left it 90 minutes earlier but was now really busy, with all the outside tables full. Fortunately there was one free table inside, right next to the band who were just setting up, so we settled down there and ordered our mojitos. The food lived up to expectations as did the mojitos, though our enjoyment of them was somewhat curtailed because they ran out of limes halfway through the second round. No matter, though, we found something else to drink and the band were good, so we bought their CD as well.