Cruising Cuba for the first time, exploring cities and seacoast

First of a series of blogs by David G. Molyneaux from Cuba

Never has a news reporting trip on six continents, to more than 100 countries, elicited as many questions from family and friends as a journey to Cuba with my wife Fran Golden at the close of 2016.

For 11 days, we joined a Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic people-to-people tour to Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Playa Girón, and Nueva Gerona, Juventud. Three nights, we lived at the venerable but dated Hotel Nacional in Havana. Seven nights, our home was a 150-foot motor-sailor ship in the waters of the southwest coast of Cuba where we (peacefully) walked ashore at the Bay of Pigs.

Passing Cuba’s National Library, with a newly installed photo of the late Fidel Castro. (Photo from Daily Expedition report by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic)

Sightseeing in Havana, cars, art and artistsOne thing everybody knows about Havana is the classic cars that were manufactured in the United States before the Cuba Revolution in 1959. These beauties — and sometimes a little less — pop up everywhere you roam in this fascinating city, either parked or busy taxiing travelers who seem to be the happiest when sitting in the convertibles.

Be careful. Don’t get transfixed, perhaps taking a picture of a car like the one you drove in your youth, forgetting that you are standing in the street to get a better angle.

Cars in Havana (Photo from Daily Expedition report by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic)

Problem is, the steering mechanisms on these 1950s automobiles lack precision and the repair parts that might have improved matters.

Steering wheels wobble, with lots of play. While drivers on Havana’s rough city streets are pretty good at maintaining a semi-straight line as they move lickety-split, drivers are not terribly adept at missing people who might wander into their pathway — nor are they inclined to worry about it, or so I was told.

Art and fantasy in Fusterlandia

Mural of Granma, the boat that carried 82 fighters, including Fidel Castro, from Mexico to Cuba in November 1956 for the purpose of overthrowing the regime of Fulgencio Batista.

“We could spend a week looking at art in Havana,” said our local guide Rafael, 34.

We had part of a day, which took us to the National Fine Arts Museum for exhibits by Cubans from the 16th to the 20th century; to the Organico Romerillo, a community project developed by an artist called Kcho (Alexis Leiva Machado); Plaza de Armas to watch street artists; the Mergers art studio where three artists are creating distinctive sculptures under one name; and a colorful community called Fusterlandia, home and neighborhood of artist Jose Fuster.

Street artist at Plaza de Armas

Several bocks of Fusterlandia are decorated with large and extravagant sculptures and mosaics of such figures as mermaids, humans and great fantasies.

It’s a popular stop for travelers, who may meet as many as 10-15 tile masons working their art.

“Doors are open to visitors who are welcome to walk in and look around,” said guide Rafael. “Folks from all over the world stop by,” he said, as we met a church group from Los Angeles.

VIVA CUBA is the message at Fusterlandia

“It’s tough working here these days without enough materials,” said a tile mason. “You never know what will be available. Today maybe only black and brown tiles are at the market. Next week? Maybe gray.”

Selling art is difficult as well, he said. Few Cubans have money for art. Moving money in and out of Cuba is a problem, too.  He said some artists sell their work on a trip to the Dominican Republic, but they can’t bring money home, so they buy a piece of property in the Dominican Republic.

“Not one cent comes back into this country,” he said.

Exhibits have changed at the National Fine Arts Museum, where the guide insisted that all art in the museum “belongs to Cuba,” including pieces “confiscated from or lost by” people who fled Cuba during and after the Revolution. Exhibits added in the 1990s, after the Soviet influence ended and curators had more freedom, include a Cuban artist’s respect for the late George Harrison of the Beatles, once banned from Cuba as decadent Westerners, said the museum guide.

Colors in Fusterlandia

Next: People-to-people in Havana, with food, music, Hemingway, and talking about life

David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at His cruise trends column is published in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, and on Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise.   He is editor of .

Photos by David G. Molyneaux,

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