What a shame that American cruise ships continue with their spiteful boycotting of Havana as a cruise port of call, writes Robin Mead. Not only is the Cuban capital a wonderful, friendly city, which seems to be full of music, but the harbour is one of the world’s most beautiful in which to arrive.
OK, its not quite Sydney, Rio or Cape Town, but it comes close. The skyline is magnificent, greenery tumbles down the river banks opposite the city, and – as in Rio de Janeiro or Lisbon – a gigantic statue of Christ gazes benevolently down on arriving cruise ships.
According to some shipboard port lecturers, the Cubans respond to their isolation by showing hostility to anything American – from dollars to Levi’s. But that’s certainly not true of Havana, where visitors get an extremely warm welcome whatever the colour of their money or the make of their trousers. Take an introductory tour of the city in either a horse-drawn carriage or one of the iconic 1950s American gas-guzzling cars on which the make-do-and-mend-it Cubans lavish so much care. Once you know your way around, it is an easy and safe city to explore on foot.
Some of the more historic buildings are looking a little the worse for wear, because Cuba remains a grindingly poor country. But one cannot help noticing that the people are happy: the weather is warm and sunny, everyone has a job – and there is music everywhere.
Sit down for a quiet drink in the pavement café opposite the cathedral, and you will be entertained by anything from a full orchestra to a steel band; walk the quiet streets and a guitarist may join you – not in search of a tip but because he is happy and want you to be happy too.
The street markets are dominated by fruit and vegetable stalls and second-hand book dealers, but look out for one especially unique Cuban souvenir: jewellery which looks to be made of silver but which, on closer examination, turns out to be made of old cutlery. It is surprising how attractive a brooch, bracelet or ring made from the twisted prongs of a dinner fork or the polished handle of a teaspoon can look. In thrifty Cuba, nothing goes to waste.