I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect upon arrival in Havana. I knew the city was older than any in the United States and that it was the pleasure capital of the Caribbean for the first half of the Twentieth Century but that didn’t translate into a concrete vision of the modern city of almost three million people. As it turns out, Havana is similar to a large city in the United States: people get around via private automobiles, taxis, and public transportation; there are a number of large commercial buildings and shops with modern conveniences; and concerts and movies to attend for entertainment. On the other hand, a large percentage of the cars would be considered deathtraps in the US; stores may or may not be open or stocked on any given day; and a movie costs about the same as bus fare to and from the theater.
Having sprained my ankle a scant week before our departure, I was still using a cane to get around when we landed at Jose Martí International Airport; therefore, my first experience on Cuban soil was to have a friendly couple assist me down the stairs off of the airplane and into a seat on the crowded shuttle to the customs terminal. This initial impression of the friendly and helpful character of the Cuban population has held true for most of the denizens of Havana I’ve encountered; when asked for directions many Havana residents will offer to show the way if the destination is close by or give extremely detailed directions on which bus lines and stops to use.