Taking a Friend on a Tour of Old Havana

Irina Pino

The Chocolate Museum in Old Havana
The House of Chocolate in Old Havana

HAVANA TIMES — Two days ago, a friend of mine who’s a writer arrived in Cuba. Fascinated by the descriptions of the architectural beauty, museums and historical sites of Old Havana I had sent him in my emails, he wanted to start his tour of the city in the old part of town.

We set out in the morning. While walking down Obispo street, we couldn’t go two steps without someone stopping my friend to ask him where he was from or if he spoke Spanish. Beggars asked him for change, others offered him rides on horse-driven carriages at affordable prices.

The owners of vintage American cars approached him and told him they could work out a reasonable price for a ride around the neighborhood. The offers came one after the other, with an almost rude insistence. It was overwhelming.

I wanted to take some pictures of Havana’s beautiful bay area with his camera. When I pulled out the camera, a man asked where I was from. When I answered that I was every bit as Cuban as he was, he said, emphatically: “You could tell a mile away.” I asked him if that was good or bad. The man burst out laughing right in front of me, scornfully.

Old Havana street cleaner.
Old Havana street cleaner.

His rudeness left me both perplexed and irritated. Later in the day, I had a similar encounter with a street sweeper who said, straight out, that I had told my friend not to talk to strangers.

In the evening, we went to the Bodeguita del Medio, where we enjoyed exquisite Cuban cuisine. We had a very pleasant time until we went out, when people began to swarm around my friend offering him sex, cigars, rum and other non-recommendable substances.

Someone even tried to convince him to leave me behind and go off with them with their “tempting offers.” Despite this, we went on our way. Our day ended at the El Morro fortress, where we enjoyed the cannon fire ceremony.

My friend never once complained about these incidents. He even told me all the people who approached him gave him materials for his writing. His contact with them was that of a novelist who visits Havana for the first time.

3 thoughts on “Taking a Friend on a Tour of Old Havana

  • My Cuban friend and myself were in this area so she could purchase some new eye glasses. We were approached by one guy who was a street artist drawing pictures as we passed. I politely said no thanks and then he proceeded to comment on my friends obvious disability… Well I was not to polite after that… I know how to say no thanks and it ends after that…

  • I found the hustlers in Obispo among the most courteous I have ever seen. During a wonderful 7 days walking Old Havana, my wife and I learned something; if we wanted to avoid being hassled, all we had to do was give the appearance of being in deep conversation; none of the hustlers were rude enough to interrupt us.
    We know there is a great deal of poverty in Havana and nobody can blame those who have little for trying to earn a little more. We expected it, and we went out with a little money to share. And as a journalist myself, I agree that it gave me another, valuable perspective on Hanavan life.

  • Interesting, it did not happen once when I visited with a friend two years ago

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