This was my second trip to Cuba, having first visited there in April of last year. Yleana, a Cuban-American born and raised in Key West, went there with her mother when she was very young, just before Fidel Castro took over. She was thrilled to be going on this trip and her mother, who was born in Cuba, was thrilled for both of us. Not just because we were traveling to Cuba, but because we were getting married there.
I thought the idea of getting married in Cuba was a good one. It was unconventional, neither of us knew anyone who had ever done it, and Yleana would be married in her mother’s homeland. The closer we got to the date, the more pumped I became. Yleana, however, seemed nervous and tense. I tried to convince her to relax and eagerly anticipate the great event rather than tentatively approach it, but she was determined to stay nervous.
I have to admit, the trip did not get off to a good start.
We had arrived at the Miami airport at 10:30 for a 1:00 flight (the red tape involved in Cuba travel is unbelievable), and as you can see, the plane was, shall we say, slightly delayed. Not to worry, however. By 5:30, we were lifting off on the southbound flight.
Through customs and on to our hotel, the Hotel San Felipe, located in the Plaza de San Francisco, a square in Old Havana that dates back to the 1600s. Normally, you wouldn’t think you’d have much of a view from a second-story hotel room, but this is the view from our balcony, looking both ways. Very reminiscent of New Orleans.
Our first night, we went to El Meson de la Flota, a great Flamenco music club in the heart of Old Havana. I went to this place on my last trip and it was great, so I wanted Yleana to see it. Flamenco music is Spanish, of course, not Cuban, but like Cuban music, it’s very rhythmic and has a strong dancing component to it. The band, while they don’t look very dynamic, was sensational, and they were all Cuban. The level of musicianship was breathtaking.
On the way back to the hotel, I took this shot of Yleana on a dramatically-lit side street. Pretty noir looking, if you ask me.
The next day, we strolled past the Capitol building, no longer in use, and the world-famous Prado, a beautiful terrazo-lined promenade where artists frequently display their work for sale.
Without going into great detail, I’m just going to show you some of the incredible architecture of Havana. Some of it has been restored, some is crumbling under its own weight, the price of 54 years of Communism.
Of course, everyone knows about the classic American cars that prowl the streets of Havana. These cars were purchased in the 1940s and 1950s, then handed down from parent to child through the generations. Until last year, it was illegal to buy or sell a car in Cuba. Therefore, once you get outside Havana, very few people have cars. I went to a baseball game in the city of Cienfuegos on my last trip. It was their version of the playoffs to get into the championship series. The stands were filled with over 30,000 people. Outside in the parking lot, no cars.Here are just a few of the many thousands of classic cars you’ll see on the streets down there.
Then there was the wedding on Saturday night, December 8. It was held at the home of a fellow Key Wester who has a second home in Havana (don’t ask me how he swings it…I have no idea). His apartment is the only one in the building, located on the fourth floor (!!!). We had a cocktail party there, and then up two more flights on the narrowest spiral staircase I’ve ever seen to the rooftop, where there was a Cuban band and about twenty guests. That’s where the ceremony took place, as we took our vows in Spanish. The temperature hovered around 80, a breeze drifted in off the ocean, and the Havana skyline was so close we could touch it. A most romantic night. The first photo is several guests arriving, followed by Yleana going up the stairs to the apartment.
Everyone had a great time, and I have to say Yleana finally understood why I wanted to be married in Cuba and why it was important to her. The Cuban culture resonates deeply inside her and she realized she was being married in the vibrant land of her ancestors. Just before the wedding, she told me, “I get it now.”