How fortunate we were to attend the 31st annual Jazz festival in Havana Cuba which is usually held in December or January. For seven nights in as many as seven different venues, there will be music. Not all of it will be Jazz as was evident when we saw Billie Gibson of ZZ Top sing at the 2015 Jazz festival.
The main theater is the Teatro Mella and it can hold 1500 people. Probably more as many were standing. The inside was nice with just a couple of rows were the seats were broken. The first 5-10 rows of the Teatro Mella were supposed to be for people that paid more to sit up front and come in at the last minute. Well they had two women monitoring that area and no tape to block it off. Everyone started sitting in that area and would not move when the women asked them to move. So, here come the high dollar folks, (which I am sure, were family of the some of the groups) at the very last minute and all their seats were taken. They did not want to go sit up top so they all sat on the stage and finally most moved upstairs. This happened 2 nights in a row. My advice is do not buy the better tickets and just get there at least an hour early to find your seats. Do not sit in the front 10 rows and you should be good.
Also, bring your own toilet paper but tip the poor woman that works there. There are no toilet seats, no toilet paper, no soap and no flushing. She comes behind you with her son and pours a bucket of water down your toilet. Can you imagine doing this all day? Especially as one out of every five tourist gets diarrhea. This whole toilet thing is all throughout Cuba. All restaurants, all clubs all theatres and even at the airport. Most nice hotels do have flushing toilets and will give you very limited toilet paper. Each day we would pack up our toilet paper from our room and take it with us. Then the house cleaner would replace it. It would only be replaced if it was gone.
You do not know who will be playing at the jazz concert either until about one month before. Then it can change again. As long as you are, open to all kinds of music and dancing. As long as you do not have to the exact same things as you have at home, you will have fun.
We saw the Preservation Hall Band from New Orleans. They brought 125 people with them and those people all helped to buy the Tetra Melia a marquis sign. I loved it. Musicians are not paid nor do they get any rooms free. Yet this group gave back. Not only that but they played at other venues the rest of the week. My favorite part was when they asked six older Cuban couples to come dance to their music on stage. They had met them earlier that week and oh, these 80 year olds could cut a rug. They were wearing their best clothes, and having the time of their lives. I can see why the Preservation Hall Band has been around for 50 years. They give back and they give happiness in their music.
Yes, this was a wonderful way to see Cuba. We had seven venues to go to with our all-inclusive Jazz pass. If you show your pass at the F.A.C then you get to cut in front of the very long line. Make sure to go to this venue. A very young crowd but a cool combination of art, music and people watching. All drinks are $2, water, mojitos, margarita, colas, beers all two dollars.
We also rented a red 57 Chevy for 6 hours in Havana and he took us to Jose Fusters house. This was the highlight or our trip for three of us. A mad man who loves to mosaic tile everything. Not only his house and his neighbor’s houses but also the whole neighborhood and even the bus stop.
Make sure and go to the cultural center across from his house as they have some artwork in there that will grab you.
Other good artwork is also at the San Jose arts and crafts mall. Tons of fabulous art. Just make sure to get the $3 letter of authentication that it is required to take art out of the country. They want to make sure you are not taking a rare treasure out of Cuba. All rolled artwork will be looked at when you depart from Cuba.
He also took us to Hemingway home, which is decorated the same way as it was in 1961. Hemmingway’s boat is also there. A fabulous home with a view.
This guide with his fully restored 57 Chevy with the Toyota engine smiled and delighted us for 6 hours and it cost us about $120 total. He agreed to pick us up the next day at 6 am to take us to the airport. He had to get another driver too as we had too much luggage. They both were there at 6 am.
In addition, that night before we went out to dinner and wanted a taxi ride home. We told our hostess who made the call and then said there were no more taxis that night. We had her call Guillermo, he asked her for the restaurant address and told her to tell us to walk two blocks this way, and two blocks that way and we would be a t a hotel that would have taxis. He was on the other side of town and was busy, and could not pick us up. Yes, there were 10 taxis waiting just four blocks away.
His name is Guillermo his email email@example.com. His phone is 7 831 64 48 or cell is 5 368 2575. I highly recommend this professional driver for his knowledge, his 57 red Chevy car, his smile and always willing to help us with any information. He felt like a true friend in Havana.
Cuba is for a seasoned traveler. Things go wrong, hotels change, music changes, toilets do not work, and hotels run out of food. You must bring your own soap, toilet paper and all medicines. You will not be able to buy any of that in Cuba. Air conditioning can be non-existent in some places and even in December their winter season, it still was in the high 80’s.
Make sure to bring a fan or buy a lovely wooden one while you are there. Also, buy a hat when you are there. Baseball caps were too hot. Their hats breathe for some reason better than our hats. I paid about $8 for my hat from an old man on the street. It kept me cool the entire time I was there.
I asked for a Coca Cola and I was told they do not have Coca Colas in Cuba. There is only Tucola or Cola. There are no McDonalds. You cannot use any American credit card. You need to carry cash. You can exchange American money but they tax us another 10%.
I was expecting the old cars but I did not know that 75% of all the cars are the old cars. Sometimes you only have one window crank in the car that you have to pass around to open the windows. Sometimes they break down right in the middle of traffic and you have to jump out quickly. Immediately four men on the curb jump over and help push our old belvedere car out of the road. I was not expecting the heavy smell of diesel gasoline that feels like it chokes the oxygen out of the air.
I was not expecting the grandeur of all the buildings and homes in Cuba. How beautiful the decaying facades of 60 years of neglect and mildew would look to me. How captivating it was to me with the lingering ghosts of another time. Cuba must have been so European and beautiful 60 years ago, because it is still beautiful. What an exotic place to visit, one I will never forget.