After a much needed lazy lie-in after last night I had breakfast at the casa, while Ty, feeling a little worse for wear (but claiming it was to save us money), went across the street to the pizza guy for a solid hangover cure greasy pizza, before we took a rather long but lazy walk to Revolution Square with 2 other guys from the hostel, Andrew and Chris. 

At the centre of Revolution Square, where the masses came in their thousands to hear Fidel's famous 8 hour May Day's speeches is a large monument to Jose Marti, the founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. Inside the  monument we wandered around the museum, practising our Spanish translation skills before catching the lift to the top for a 360 degree view of Havana. The grand boulevards stretching away in the distance make an impressive sight. Looking down behind the monument we could see the Palacio de la Revolucion where Fidel and other high ranking officials have their offices. No-ones allowed to take photos of this building though. Ironically one of the most photographed buildings in all of Cuba is the Ministerio del Interior (Cuba's most secretive organisation, which has only one phone number listed in the phone book which, rumour has it, no-one will ever answer). The outside wall of the building has a giant mural of Che Guevara made of black metal.

From the top of the tower we had spied a couple of local teams playing baseball so we wandered over to watch for a while, and to escape the heat of the afternoon sun in the shade that the bleachers provided. 
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The top secret govt building
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Jose Marti monument
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View from the top
One of the ways in which Americans can legally visit Cuba is for them to come on a 'cultural exchange' visa. What this seemed to mean in reality (from our observations) is that they come on package resort holidays to the beaches in Varadero, and go on 'cultural excursions' to this or that monument of historical significance, get off the bus, take a photo and then get back on the bus again. They interact very little with the country and its people. Enjoying the freedom to choose our own path that comes with backpacking, we wandered aimlessly through the less touristy streets away from the monument and the tour buses, chatting with the locals we passed along the way. Getting a bit hungry we stopped at a street vender to ask how much the sweet finger bananas were. He ended up giving us a bunch of the bananas for us to enjoy free of charge - an extraordinary gesture of friendship in a country where every cent counts. 

Eventually we made our way around to the local Artisan market. Cubans are extremely artistic people and although a lot of the artwork there is geared toward the tourist market; with paintings of old cars parked outside La Bodeguita del Medio (the restaurant which lays (disputed) claims to inventing the mojito), there are some very talented self taught artists creating other beautiful works which would not look out of place in the foyer of a head office in Europe.

Saying goodbye to Andrew and Chris, Ty and I headed around to San Francisco Square, stopping off at the chocolate museum for some delicious handmade treats, and a late afternoon sugar hit. There is a big rejuvenation project happening in this part of the Old Town and piles of cobblestones lay on the sidewalk waiting to be neatly re-laid. While gentrifying a city the size of Havana would be a monolithic task in any country, in this part of town there is evidence of money being spent on renovations, and walking along the softly lit cobblestone streets gives a feeling of romance, similar to that which Italian cities evoke. 
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Education for boys
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The evening glow
With the light fading we started to head back to the hostel, when something caught my eye. Right off the corner of the square was an afterschool facility for boys; an indoor shooting range with boys doing target practice on crushed tin cans. It seemed so out of place amongst the built up urban environment and perfectly painted buildings, and yet, like it was right where it was meant to be. Another group of youth were playing a fast paced game of soccer in front of the church next door, with locals sitting around chatting and people watching. It was a fascinating hive of activity. 

We were planning an earlier start for the next day so restrained ourselves from buying another bottle of rum and after another delicious dinner on the balcony, headed to bed. 

Next stop: Vinales
 





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