A Girl Who Fell in Love With a City

Aisha Ali confesses her love affair with Havana. She talks about the city’s nuances and events that unfold the story from the moment she went back in time.
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If you ever have the urge to travel back in time without going through the hassle of searching for a time machine, I’d recommend just booking a flight to Havana and I promise you will not be disappointed. It seems like time forgot Havana. The magnificent colonial architecture adorns each street representing stories of the past. You can still hear the clip clop of horses on the streets alongside the vintage Cadillac and Chevys which would usually be pride and joy for a car collector in other parts of the world but here it is an everyday car. You cannot leave the city without taking tour in one of these cars around town and the infamous Malecón. We made it our last stop and walked alongside the choppy Caribbean sea, drizzling a little bit of itself on us while we enjoyed the pleasant breeze.

Primary mode of communication in Cuba is talking to each other. The most prevalent technological advancement is a telephone and you’d have to queue in line to get to the operator for international dialling. You would hardly find any one swiping away on their expensive smartphones like a zombie. Teenagers make eye contact with others rather than wearing headphones larger than their heads, ignoring interactions. There are hotspots at distant locations for wifi and that’s about it so even if you’re not thinking about a social media detox you’ll be pushed to do it and have a break up with google maps which means you’ll have all the time to do the finer things in life like just walking aimless on the streets, discovering new places by conversing with humans. You have to be cash rich too as plastic money is not something the Cubans go by.

The air feels different in Havana. It’s infused with Son Cubano using the magical cords of Spanish guitar, bongo, maracas and a dash of woody smell of Cuban cigars. Every street of the old town called Havana Vieja has a mini Mardi Gras going on. Music and dance is second nature to every Cuban. Men sporting Guiro, wearing button down linen shirts and women cladded in colourful floral ensembles dance to the beat which will most likely make you break into your own version of the Rumba. Another favourite of mine was to sit for hours in a rooftop restaurant most preferably just a few hours before the sunset sipping on a Pina Colada out of a freshly cut Pineapple, living life. I remember having four in a row, obviously I was not counting calories while I was there. The dining scene as expected is also very different in Havana. Global chains have still not invaded the country like a virus, the culture is to go to a local’s house for a taste of the Cuban cuisine commonly known as a Paladar and we were lucky enough to get reservations for one of the most famous one in the city called La Guarida which is almost always fully booked. You would never expect it to be this grand while you’re walking up to the second floor of a run-down building with a launderette on the first floor. You get shocked as soon as you enter it with the yellow walls, dark artwork and crystal chandeliers. If it’s good enough for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, then I guess it’s good enough for everybody. However I would not go to Havana for its food but everything else.

We did try to go outside of the city to explore more of Cuba even though our heart was set in Havana. I did love the Cuban tan very much when we visited the white sandy beaches of Varadero, a popular beach resort town. We then made our way to Viñales valley in western Cuba abundant in orchids and palm trees. The main feature of all the tiny houses is the cozy Verdana big enough to have two rocking chairs and a table to rest their home grounded coffee while they people watch. We stayed on top of a mountain in La Ermita which has been elevating tourists with the most sublime sunsets ever since time and we happened to be a part of it for just one of this inconceivable moment.

We knew that this could not be it so we made our trip cut short in Viñales by a day and ran towards Havana longing to hear guantanamera for the last time in the streets I fell for. My love for Jazz took us to La Zorra y el Cuervo which was one of the best parting gift for this indefinable love affair with this unworldly city.

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