Havana is home to 2.2 million people, and while it is possible to explore the city by bike, there are obvious hazards in urban riding. Today there are many more cars, trucks, and buses zooming around Havana than there were in the depths of the Special Period. Nevertheless, we spent more time in the city than on our year-2000 tour, and for the most part we enjoyed it.  
  On the assumption that many cycle tourists will arrive in Cuba via Havana, Bicycling Cuba, will give details on the safest, easiest ways to get out of the city by bike. One of these escape routes uses the cyclobus, an old city bus that has been gutted to carry passengers with their bicycles and small motorcycles through the harbor tunnel
Still, while you are in Havana, there is much worth seeing and doing — whether you choose to explore by bike, on foot, or by using the variety of transportation now available.  
  Even if you are in the city for only a short while, it is worthwhile to visit one of Havana's many agromercados — farmers' markets — now well stocked with fruit and vegetables that sell for pesos.
Our favorite route to the south and west leads past the Plaza de La Revolución, the centerpiece of which is the imposing monument and museum honoring José Martí.  
  Facing the Plaza de la Revolucion, the office building of the Ministry of the Interior bears this famous portrait of Che Guevara.
Another escape route begins on the Malecon, Havana's famous oceanfront boulevard. The Malecon passes several important monuments.  
  One of our favorite sites along the Malecon is Plaza Martí. This simple, concrete plaza is perhaps a couple of hundred meters long. At one end stands a statue of José Martí, Cuba's national hero, carrying a child in his arms. This plaza goes unmentioned in all the tourist literature we have seen, but we will explain why it seems important to us.
Plaza Martí is directly in front of the U.S. Interests Section. Beside the plaza, facing the Interests Section, is the famous billboard depicting a defiant Cuban saying to Uncle Sam, "Mr. Imperialist, we are not one bit afraid of you."  

Also directly in front of the US Interests Section, a stage has been erected. Steel towers and arches looming above the plaza support lights and loudspeakers. Here, protests are frequently held. In fact, Cubans jokingly call this place the Protestadio, the Stadium for Protests. (It was an exceedingly busy place during the Elian Gonzales affair in 2000.) If there is any place in the world that is the focus of symbolic, hostile confrontation between Cuba and the US, this is it.


In the photo above, you can just see arrays of brass plaques on the concrete bases of two of the steel towers — one on the lower right, the other on the lower left. The plaques on the right bear the names of heroes to Cubans: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Che Guevara, and dozens of leaders and martyrs of Cuba's struggles for independence.


  On the base of the tower on the left, similar plaques honor North Americans! In this photo are the plaques for Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Waldo Frank, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Helen Keller. Others who are honored include Jane Addams, Nat Turner, Abraham Lincoln, Martín Luther King, Thomas Edison, Linus Pauling, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederick Douglas, Clara Barton, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Malcolm X, and many more.

Barbara and I find it strangely moving to see that Cubans, whom US law treats as enemies, admire so many of the same historic figures that Americans themselves do. Nothing demonstrates better the values that Cuba and the U.S. share, the intimate, historical ties between these two estranged nations.

Far from being treated as enemies, Americans are warmly welcomed by the Cuban people. This photo was a memento belonging to a family with whom we stayed in Havana. The woman closest to Fidel was our host. She had risen to the rank of Colonel in the Cuban Army. Her husband had been in an underground cell at the start of the revolution, and he is recently retired from a position at the university. Both are strong supporters of Fidel and the revolution, and we imagine they are what some Americans would describe as members of Cuba's "communist elite."

  Yet here are Raul and Magaly today, grandparents just like us, with the same aspirations for their children and grandchildren. Despite the deep differences in the U.S. and Cuban political and economic systems and their commitment to the revolution, they do not understand why we must be enemies — nor do we. (Raul maintains a web site, www.geocities.com/vedadohabana, to promote their casa particular and to welcome and inform foreign visitors. The "Travel Tips" link on his page leads to a great deal of useful information.)