We’re staying in Vedado – a neighborhood in Havana that is experiencing a good deal of transition. We find the venue on Air B&B – a bedroom with a private bath in an apartment building. I didn’t see the listing, I rarely do, so I have no idea what to expect. I’m expecting cloth draped over the holes in the walls where the windows used to be. I’m expecting showers fed by rain barrels. I’m expecting a fire pit in the middle of the kitchen where the oven would have been. To a relief, the place is nice. Modern, even. Our host Johnny, who I think is from Argentina, is fairly fluent in English and answers enough of my questions to help me sleep at night.
Johnny rents out one of the three bedrooms in his apartment up on the fifth floor of a Cold-War era building. The walls are thick slabs of concrete that have been continuously covered over with a half-century’s worth of likely-leaded paints. He lives here with his wife, two children, and a collection of elderly in-laws yet nothing seems overwhelming or crowded. Then again, that could just be how they wanted things to look in the front area of the apartment – clean and pristine and welcoming to all other guests. I catch Johnny working some time on a laptop – something with spreadsheets and data visualization. But I have a feeling most of the income he brings in to support this family comes from tourists like us – $70 a night, 90% occupancy rate through the year. Considering how most government employees are paid about $50 a month, Johnny must be a very wealthy man.
And if he was, you couldn’t tell. Just a guy.
The ocean is four blocks and 5 lanes of traffic away. The Malecon is a ten food wide sidewalk that stretches for several miles along the seawall. Somewhere beyond, about 90 miles or so, is Florida. Large on the horizon is a cruise ship that will dock right as evening sets in Havana. People have made the journey in much worse.
All along the Malecon this hour, right as the sun sets and people get thinking about dinner plans and the evening that stretches after that, everyone sits along the wall. The evening breeze is gorgeous. On the evening we arrive it is Valentine’s Day. All of the kids of Havana make a far bigger deal out of it than I ever remember it being at home. Single roses are for sale on every street corner. Tables all over town are full of couples or groups. And along the Malecon people are paired off very neatly with just enough space in between couples to have everything seem intimate enough.