Get to know Little Havana
No I didn’t go to Cuba today (I wish), I ventured to a little section of Miami known as Little Havana and I was part of a small group tour that gets to experience it like a local.
Little Havana is home to many Cuban immigrants (as well as many others from Central and South America). It’s the best known neighbourhood for Cuban exiles in the world, so it’s no wonder a visit there feels like you’ve actually left the states and set foot in Cuba.
Unlike standard tours that just drop you in front of a restaurant in Little Havana, give you 10 minutes, and then move on to the next place. This tour actually gives you an insider view to the lives of the locals, the businesses they run, and their history.
We started out at a local cigar distributor/coffee shop. When we were served our coffee in teeny cups even smaller than an Italian espresso cup, I thought it was just a sample, but I was later informed this is the standard serving (it was even smaller than a shot glass) because it’s a lot stronger. I didn’t find it very strong, but it was very sweet as they put a LOT of sugar in each serving which is probably the reason you can’t have too much. I did later see people on the street drinking from this size cup so I knew it was valid.
Along with our coffee we got to try some delicious pastelitos in four different flavours (good thing I hadn’t eaten breakfast). Our choices were coconut, guava, meat & sugar and cheese – naturally the cheese one was my favourite, but they were all very tasty.
Then we learnt about how cigars are made, where the best ones are from (not Cuba anymore which is a good thing since they’re still illegal), and of course made some purchases (not for me).
Next stop was a costume shop that has been running since the Cubans immigrated here, the same family has been running this shop since it was opened and the particular lady running it now has lived here for 54 years so she said she feels like Miami is more her home than Cuba and she will never go back there. She was one of the 14,000 children that were taken from their families and moved to Miami for refuge (with the intention of families being reunited down the track but this never happened once Castro took power), however she was one of the lucky ones that did get to stay with her four brothers and sisters and they are all still in contact today. The shop itself is one of the most popular around and has lines down the street on some days (especially Halloween).
We then moved on to the Bay of Pigs memorial where we learnt about the history of a well intended plan that went terribly wrong and resulted in many Cubans lives. Today they still hold regular services here in honour of all the soldiers.
As you can imagine the community has a lot of elderly residents, given the history. It’s not uncommon to find locals packed into the Domino Park and they take their tournaments very seriously, we witnessed a few men getting quite fired up. There’s also lots that sit in restaurant entrances playing music and just providing general entertainment for the visitors.
The best part about this tour is getting to meet and converse with a lot of the locals, as well as having the opportunity to support their local businesses. Our next stop was a little fruit market (Los Pinerenos Fruteria) where we got to try the best banana coffee smoothie as voted by the New York times, as well as meet the family pet Mucha the pig.
And no visit to a Central American inspired city would be complete if you didn’t see random statues, old fashioned cars, and vibrant wall murals. After noticing how much I loved all the art my guide suggested I pay a visit to Wynwood and ended up arranging a private tour with me so I didn’t miss out before I leave tomorrow (I’ll do a separate post on this).
We paid a visit to a local art gallery where I of course managed to find something to purchase – a beautiful handmade backpack which is exactly the sort of bag I’ve been searching for. And what sold me, is the little worry doll that comes with it. They have a tradition that you tell any of your worries to the little doll then put her under your pillow at night and she will take them all away, so cute!
No visit to a Cuban town would be complete without some authentic cuisine so we finished off with lunch – traditional Cuban Sandwiches & Pan de Lechon (pork sandwiches) at an authentic restaurant (El Cristo Restaurant) then a little history lesson at the cutest museum/bar (Cubaocho) where we learnt about how one young man managed to save a whole lot of Cuban art which Castro would’ve destroyed from history. The museum also holds all the books that have been around since this little town was born as well as Frank Sinatra’s furniture, and has the cutest concept of using artwork and frames as tables. So cool!
All in all I had a wonderful time in Little Havana and it was so great to experience through the eyes of a local. The guide we had was fabulous and if these sort of urban adventures are your thing I’d totally recommend checking out what they’ve got to offer – their website is http://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/Miami-tours and the particular tour I did was http://www.urbanadventures.com/Miami-tour-little-havana-adventure
The tour guide was even nice enough to drive me over to Wynwood to meet my next guide and make sure I didn’t miss out on the lovely district of murals!