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Date : 3rd February, 2016
Time : 54’ 06”
Total distance run to date : 680 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1044805422
Before heading off on my Run the World trips, we contact the relevant local British embassies. They’re often very supportive and full of good advice. In Venezuela, for example, they told me not to come unless I sorted out my security arrangements. Good advice as it turned out – Venezuela is now apparently the world’s “most murderous nation”.
The response I received from our people in Havana was unexpected. Did I have government permission for my run? Er, no. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might need it. The embassy was then good enough to translate the Run the World press release and send it to the relevant authorities. But by then it was too late to organise something larger scale and with media interest. So, no running with anyone else. And no PR.
All of which somewhat set the tone for the early part of my visit. Once I got through the airport, the man from Havantur told me that I would be picked up 4 hours before my flight the next day – for a 30 minute transfer. No debate, no discussion. That’s just how it would be.
When I arrived, the hotel had a 4pm check-in (the latest I’ve yet to encounter in my travels). It also had city maps – for $4 (they’re free at every other hotel in the world.) It even had WiFi – for 10 dollars an hour in the business lounge. (Unfortunately it didn’t work with my Samsung Galaxy). I’d name and shame the hotel except that a lot of the people who worked there were doing their best to be friendly and helpful.
But all the petty frustrations melted away as I started my run down the famous Malecon. As did the pain in my IT band which, by now, was bad enough to require ibuprofen and, later on my trip, acupuncture.
For those not familiar with Havana, the Malecon runs along the seafront on the north side of Havana. It then turns south towards the historic centre of Havana which is a very attractive mix of colonial buildings and squares. It’s also pedestrianised which makes it good for running. I got as far as the El Capitolio before turning down Paseo Marti and then running back to the hotel asking myself how much it had changed since Liz and I visited twenty years previously.
Not as much as I’d expected was my conclusion. Parts of Havana still look like a recent war zone. Images of a youthful Castro and revolutionary exhortations still abound. As do cigars and, at least in the tourist areas, classic American cars. On the other hand, there did seem to be more bars and restaurants than I remembered. And fewer open doorways offering views of families living amongst rubble in rundown buildings.
Cuba’s without doubt a fascinating place – perhaps especially for those who remember the Cold War. The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, Cuban soldiers fighting all over the world as part of the various proxy wars between the Soviet union and the West. Cuba, led by the larger than life figure of Fidel Castro, played a role that far outweighed its size. A heroic role in many peoples’ eyes as it stood up to the US. An evil role in other peoples’ eyes as it suppressed its people and promoted communist ideas and regimes across the world.
It’s also, I reflected during what turned into a 5 ½ hour wait at the airport the next day, a frustrating place that can now seem to combine the worst of socialism and capitalism.
But don’t let that put you off going. Just remember to travel with patience and an open mind!