Rediscovering Havana: Lessons Learned (September 2016)

During my travels over the years, I’ve learned quite a few interesting tidbits at every stop.

For example, in Lima, Peru, “workin’ dat *ss” is a work of art. Rae Town in Kingston is not the safest neighborhood for tourists, but it has one of the best “old time music” street parties around. Plus, you’ll meet cool people like Kemar. And playing the djembe drum, especially sitting next to Cape Town’s master drummer, Xolani, is not as easy as it looks.

I recently headed back to Havana, Cuba through Gate 1 Travel’s week-long face-to-face program, and sure enough, I (alongside several group members) learned a few small yet significant lessons to keep as “souvenirs."

Here are the top five:

1. Statue positions matter.

Statues in Havana are as plentiful as music, mojitos, and “mangos” (eye candy). You can find them at almost every turn. Some of them honor those who have made an impact on the country. Others? Well, you’re not quite sure what they honor, but you snap a picture anyway and go on about your business.

You’ll notice quite a few statues dedicated to war heroes, and, as mentioned by our guide, Graciel, the little details of these masterpieces reveal significant information.

If the statue (typically a man) is facing the sea, it means he was not from Cuba. If it is turned away from the sea and facing inland, he was Cuban.

The “war hero” statues usually depicts the hero on a horse, and the lesson can be found in the position of the horse’s legs. If one of the horse’s front legs is raised, it means the hero died due to injuries sustained during war. If the horse’s two front legs are up,  the hero died on the battlefield. And if all four of the horse’s legs are on the ground, the hero died of natural causes.

2. Don’t make a mess of your mojito.

There is a right and a wrong way to make a bangin’ mojito. According to my taste buds, Roman showed us the right way. This beautiful bartender works at La Foresta Restaurant, and showed us that it takes seven ingredients (nothing more, nothing less) to mix the traditional Cuban concoction.

All you need is sparkling water, sugar, rum, lemon juice, bitters, mint leaves, and ice. Add a muller to the mix to gently crush the mint leaves, and you’ve got yourself a winner.


3. Some strays are treated like “baes.”

Throughout my short stay in Havana, I didn’t see many stray animals. The ones I did see were a bit thin, yet still looked healthy. However, some looked downright “official,” like this particular pooch. 

He caught my eye as I walked around Plaza Viejo (Old Square). As he relaxed inside a doorway, I noticed that he was quite a handsome little fella, but I also noticed something else. He wore a badge. Upon further investigation, I found out that the badge lets people know that no one owns him, but he is taken care of by vendors of the square. In other words, he’s not basic. He’s bougie. A privileged pup that is free, yet fed. No wonder he sits with such confidence.


4. I could SO be a Tropicana showgirl…

As proven onstage at the famed Tropicana Club, all I need are costumes, longer legs, a LITTLE practice, and perhaps several mojitos before each performance.

5. Yes, fruit can be a delicious dessert.

I have a “sweet tooth” that needs to be extracted, but it ain’t happening any time soon.  So, anytime “dessert” is mentioned, my “tooth” automatically gets ready for things like this -  

Not this. 

Although I like all kinds of fruits, I never quite imagined it would hit the spot exactly like flan or tiramisu. But this small bowl of heavenly manna did.  This was “dessert” served at El Divino, a gorgeous restaurant which uses fresh produce from the farm it sits on. All it consisted of was papaya, guava, and cream cheese. 

When I tell you that this combination soothed the depths of my soul, believe me. It was sweet, but not overly sweet. And the different textures created an experience in my mouth that I never wanted to end.

Yes, I may be exaggerating A SMIDGE, but this dessert was really, really good. And it singlehandedly changed the way I “dessert” from now on.

What small lessons have you learned during your travels, and where did you learn it?


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