© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cuban Microcosm: A Stroll Along Havana's Malecon


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

In Havana, one feature of the city eclipses all others: a miles-long seawall called the Malecon. Hundreds of people gather there at all hours of the day and night. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro took a walk down the Malecon talking with Cubans about life and love.


The sea crashes against the rocks just below Havana's Malecon. Spectacular sprays of water land on parts of the sidewalk.

(Soundbite of waves crashing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If the Historic District is the heart of the Cuban capital, then the Malecon--a seafront promenade that stretches along a large portion of the city--is the artery that feeds the rest of Havana with life. It must be noted that, first and foremost, this is a place for lovers.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talidas Vijas(ph) and Evalisa Costa(ph) are on their first date, but they're already wrapped around each other, sitting on the stone wall in the bright sun.

Mr. TALIDAS VIJAS: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `It's the view, the hotels, the water, the waves,' he says. `It releases you.'

Ms. EVALISA COSTA: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `This is the designated spot for dates,' she says. `And also,' she adds, `people in Cuba don't have that many places to go. This is a big place, and it's free.'

Building on the Malecon began in 1901 by two architects; one American, the other French. Now it hugs the city like a crooked smile along a stretch where hotels like the venerable Nationale stand to the Almendares River to the west. It's a long walk but one that Sandra Rojas(ph) and her friend are enjoying.

Ms. SANDRA ROJAS: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `Every day we walk from one point of the Malecon to the other and back,' she says. `It's a way of doing exercise, but also to disconnect from one's troubles. And here it's different every time,' she says. `It makes you laugh. You see couples having arguments, people drinking, others having silly discussions. It takes a total of two hours, but at the end,' she says, `there's a payoff.'

Ms. ROJAS: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `After we finish, we sit down on the wall where the waves are crashing and we let the water just wash over us. We have so much fun,' she says.

Ms. ROJAS: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Malecon is also known as `the longest seat in Cuba.' People love to loiter. While they may not be so active physically, they certainly display a verbal dexterity. Cuban men are famous for their birropos(ph), or compliments, that they liberally offer to any woman passing by, and the Malecon is prime real estate for flirting. Johanni Miguel(ph) sits with a group of guys and gives a sample of what he says to get women's attention.

Mr. JOHANNI MIGUEL: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `I tell that, "You're hotter than my wife."' He said, `There are some that are more outrageous. I'll give you an example,' he says. `If you cook like you walk, I'll eat everything on the plate.'

Mr. MIGUEL: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. FRANCO RODRIGUEZ(ph): (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Franco Rodriguez casts his line into the turbulent water. He's a painter, but he comes to fish occasionally here to pass the time. He's been lucky so far today and has a few small fish in a plastic hanging from his bicycle handles.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `The thing about fishing here,' he says, `is that you get to meet many people.'

When asked why he'd rather be on a busy thoroughfare than somewhere quieter, he answers.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `We Cubans are very joyful and very talkative. We're a sociable people,' he explains. `We always like to be in groups; we don't like to be apart.'

And in a society where generations of families have to live together in small spaces because of housing shortages, privacy, he says, is something very few people have.

At night, the Malecon really gets packed. But for some it isn't just fun and games; it's a form of protest. Miguel(ph) is a 27-year-old homosexual. He's in front of the Hotel Nationale where after 10 PM, you can find the Cuban gay scene, and it's crowded.

MIGUEL: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `We gather here because we don't have any freedom to live in this country. They don't give us a place for us to go. We don't have a club, a beach, nothing,' he says. `When they feel like it, they round up the homosexuals and write us up for public disturbances or other untrue things. I have three citations already for simply sitting here,' he says.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, indeed, as we are talking, policemen start herding the gay crowd out of the area, detaining a few people. Before the revolution, homosexuality was frowned upon. After, there was a brief period of liberalization, but they remain one of the most discriminated against communities on the island.

It's now the early hours of the morning, but farther along the party is still going strong for others along the Malecon.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A typical way to spend a weekend evening is to grab a bottle of rum and a guitar and sit on this old seawall deep into the night. One group serenades a visitor with a song.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Spanish)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The refrain goes, `Don't bathe in the Malecon because in the water, there's a shark.' The group gets up and dances. Nelson Martin(ph) is among them.

Mr. NELSON MARTIN: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: `We come here because we feel Cuban here,' he says. `We feel happy. We are free of it all.' He pauses and adds emphatically, `I am Cuban,' as if that explains everything about why he loves the Malecon. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Spanish) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.