Havana’s Obispo Street

Irina Pino

One morning on Obispo St. in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — Obispo is one of the busiest streets in Havana’s old town: throughout the day, the city’s self-employed work vigorously to compete with State establishments.

People’s toing-and-froing makes the street difficult to walk through. Vendors offering products appear from all corners, restaurant greeters intercept passersby and invite them to eat at their establishment, bicycle taxis whizz by or cut across the thoroughfare, people stand by eateries and offer illegal products to foreigners and others engage in shady dealings in the middle of the street with no reservations.

Such commotion is not uncommon: Cubans are struggling for their daily bread, to be able to survive, constantly threatened by the high price of food and just about everything else. The inhabitants of our island are no longer carefree under the sun. They can’t be, because reality is delivering a very high bill.

Craft shops are open from the early morning till nightfall. They don’t have a large variety of products. What we come across, rather, are serialized designs in jewelry and daypacks and handbags bearing national emblems (like the Cuban flag or Che Guevara’s face). Most of the paintings on display are souvenirs that have no artistic merit.

Bicycle taxi on Obispo St.

Second-hand bookstores, restaurants, cafeterias, pizzerias and carts selling sweets, vegetables and fruits are multiplying across the area. There are people selling puppies, birds and hamsters, as well as pirated DVDs and CDs, and there are those who carry huge sacks on their backs, filled with empty cans for recycling.

Never before have there been so many elderly sitting on the sidewalk and offering all kinds of products including sweets, cigarettes, pens, straps for bras, lighters, anything that can be sold for a few pesos.

Then you have the other laborers – the ones who don’t pay taxes – the indigent who are everywhere, bearing amputated legs and arms, blind, those confined to wheelchairs, those who lie down anywhere with their plaster saints and religious stamps, with promises to fulfill, next to a small can, ready to receive anything people are willing to drop out of the goodness of their heart or pity. They’re also struggling and trying to sell the only thing they have: their misery.

As it gets dark, traffic on Obispo street slows down. Some vendors walk away with their cages, the homeless disappear, locales shut down and others remain open for several more hours. Hope never tires of working overtime.

One thought on “Havana’s Obispo Street

  • Irina: I must say how much I enjoy your posts because they are about real day to day life experiences living in Havana. I know just about all the places you write about reasonably well. And I am somewhat knowledgeable about the experiences you relate, or as much as a non-Cuban although frequent visitor can be.

    Your writings are one of the few non-political works. Therefore they thankfully lack those consistent responses from the same people.

    Since life in Cuba seems apolitical for the vast majority of residents, it is good that Havana Times includes some views that cannot be non politicized.

    Can you write something about Siboney or upper-crust Miramar so readers could see the contrast?

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