Days 5 & 6: Havana, Cuba (Christian Bashi – Bonderman Fellow)

My first post is dedicated to Detroit’s own Local 4 News, who I ran into on the streets of Havana last night after they recognized my U of M and U of D Jesuit clothes. They are doing a special on classic Detroit cars in Cuba, as well as covering the opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana on Friday morning, which I was invited to attend with them. I sat down for an interview with Devin Scillian in Centro Havana with a backdrop of the sunset over El Capitolio. He gave me a Wi-Fi card that is good for thirty minutes, which I am using now. These are pretty expensive and hard to find, as Internet just arrived in Cuba two months ago, and only barely. I’m very grateful for running into them.Christian Bashi Cuba 2

Now, onto my eventful start in Cuba. To set the stage, this country is absolutely beautiful. Looking down from my plane window, I could see an endless sea of green palms and farmland. It is incredibly hot all the time (90+), and it tends to rain heavily for an hour or two in the early evening. Upon walking out the airport, I immediately began to see classic American cars, which are often times used as taxis. I hailed one, and set off for Miramar, which is a wealthier residential neighborhood. I thought I’d ease into the trip by staying my first few nights in a nicer place, but the old lady I was staying with told me that there was some miscommunication, and that I only had one night.

For the past four months, I have been training my body for inline skating in heat, which I came equipped for as my form of alternative transportation. After settling in (kinda), I set off around 1PM to explore on blades. Miramar is a solid 7 miles from Habana Vieja, where all the action is, and I couldn’t have made Christian Bashi Cuba 4it without skating or taking a taxi. I peeked at a map that I had printed before I left so that I had a general idea of where I was going, and decided to check out the famous Malecon: a wide sidewalk that runs along the entire coast of Habana. I spent a few hours exploring this area of the city, which I thought was downtown, but wasn’t. The street across from the Malecon was packed with people eating and walking around the countless food vendors along the road. After getting a bite to eat of chicken and brown rice, which is pretty typical, I decided to head back. I crashed early, knowing that I could not sustain this much physical exertion without more water, food, and rest on a daily basis.

The next morning, I packed a water bottle and full water-blatter in my backpack, and set off again, but not before referring to the cached GoogleMap of Havana that I set up while in Michigan. I realized that I had missed most of everything the day before, but was only about a mile away from my furthest point. I took a different route, which allowed me to not only spend a couple of hours at the famous cemetery Necropolis Cristobal Colon, but also get to Habana Vieja more directly. On the way, I saw a sign for a room for rent, and stepped inside to ask about the price, which turned out to be much more in my budget. I took their number and continued, only to be hit by the heavy rain. I waited it out with the locals, seeking shelter underneath covered sidewalks. Eventually, the rain stopped, and I walked around the city center for a couple hours, grabbing an espresso and ice cream to keep me going. Eventually, the rain evaporated form the streets, and I made my way back.

After returning to Miramar around 7, I packed my bags and showered. By 9, I had taken a taxi, and was at my new place, which is much closer to downtown (10 minutes walk). My host family is pretty good at English, which is uncommon here in Cuba, and very convenient for me.

Totally beat, I didn’t do much moving the next day. I slept in late, grabbed a bite to eat, and did some reading in the park. Life without Internet has actually been pretty relaxing, though I wish I could at least let my family and friends know that I’m okay more regularly.

For more information on how you can receive $20,000 to travel the world for 8 months as a Bonderman Fellow, visit the CGIS website.

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