In the afternoon on our first full day in Havana we continued to walk the streets. I think we must have walked miles by the time we got back to the hotel around 5.30 or so. We did take a break for lunch and ate at a very nice restaurant with a view overlooking the city. I had been told that the food in Cuba was fairly bland but I actually enjoyed it very much. We ended up eating at some really good restaurants thanks to our guide and members of the group who had been to Cuba many times. I was careful not to eat any food that was not cooked or fruit that was not peeled just to be on the safe side. I also only drank bottled water. We had two major group excursions in the afternoon. The first was going to the Plaza Vieja and the second was to visit a local school.
A lady looking coming out of her home.
A photograph of Plaza Vieja (The old Square) located in Old Havana. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights and fiestas- all witnessed by Havan'as wealthiest citizens who looked on from their balconies. The plaza was originally called Plaza Nueva ( The New Square) and emerged as an open space in 1959. In the eighteenth century the square was turned into a popular market and was called Plaza del Mercado (Market Square). Once Old Havana was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in the early 1980s, architects and restorers began a restoration project.
Meet the official tour dog of Havana.
This photograph of Havana rooftops was taken from the top floor of the Gomez Vila Building located in the Plaza Vieja (as was the photo overlooking the square). Our group had just seen how the "Camera Obscura" worked. This camera captures images through the intelligent use of light and sensitivity. This camera was a gift from Spain and is the only one of its kind on Latin America and the Caribbean and is one of 74 worldwide today. I had never heard of it before and found it fascinating to see how it worked. Its operation is based on the principles of light reflection through the use of two lenses and a mirror located on a periscope. The image that is captured by the periscope is projected on a concave platform 1.8m in diameter located in a dark room. In its rotation, this lens is able to capture beautiful and unusual city scenes such as the rooftops, domes, towers, balconies, plazas, people walking up and down busy streets, kids playing, the sea, the sky etc.
We came across some very colourfully dressed women. I took a picture of them before they saw me and then they wanted a peso. So I gave one of the woman a coin and she was happy for me to take a photo but the other woman got out of the way. I hadn't thought to give them each a peso.
Our guide had arranged for us to visit a local elementary school in Old Havana. The kids were very cute and for the most part loved having their pictures taken. Or perhaps they just enjoyed the break from lessons.
The younger kids napping in one of the classrooms. Education in Cuba has been a highly ranked system for many years. The University of Havana was founded in 1727 and there are a number of other well-established colleges and universities. Following the 1959 revolution, the Castro government nationalized all education institutions and created a system entirely operated by the state. Irrespective of income education at every level is free as are the school meals and uniforms. As of 2010 secondary schools are striving towards only 15 students per class. Many schools open at 6.30 am and close 12 hours later providing free morning and after-school care for working parents. Mobile teachers are deployed to homes if children are unable to come to school. School attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 15/16. At the end of basic secondary education, students can choose between pre-university education and technical and professional education. In order to enter university students must pass an entry examination to show they possess the basic knowledge required. Cuba places a very high value on education and since the revolution a literacy campaign was created to focus on the huge literacy problem.
We walked around a couple of the classrooms. The kids really enjoyed having their photos taken loved looking at the pictures of themselves and friends on the back of the camera screens. They seemed happy and well cared for. Perhaps they don't have all of the technical advantages that the kids in wealthier countries have but perhaps there are also some advantages of having less computers and cell phones.
A class photo taken before we left the last classroom.
I thought I was finished taking pictures of the kids but on the way out of the classroom I saw this little boy giving his sister a hug. They were just so cute together. I was really wishing that I had brought some crayons and toys for the kids as I did when I went to Africa but I just didn't think of it. So each night I collected all of the soaps and shampoos from the hotels that I stayed at and at the end of the stay I gave them to our guide who was going to give them to the school.
So many beautiful colours of blue everywhere in Havana. These photos were taken as we left the school.
There were lots of talented artists working in the area.
It was a lot of fun walking through the streets and taking pictures of people. Something I can't imagine doing in Toronto.