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by Victoria Alcalá

Planning ahead doesn’t seem to be very high on the list of virtues for Cubans, even though they do have quite a few. That’s why we go out into the neighborhood at dawn looking for a fuse to replace one that has just blown in our home, for a thermometer if it looks like the kid is a bit feverish or for a couple of tablespoons of flour for the béchamel sauce for our croquettes. Therefore it’s no surprise to anyone that July and August find many Cubans without any sort of vacation plan. In other words, they haven’t reserved a hotel, a house on the beach or a spot in the campismo, depending on the state of their personal finances. And that’s not to mention not having booked a bus ticket to visit the mother-in-law in Cienfuegos and not knowing how to keep the kids entertained.

San Francisco de Asis Square in Old HavanaSan Francisco de Asis Square in Old Havana.

Luckily there is always someone thinking for us and, at least in Havana, each summer brings new options to choose from that will make those two months something different for our offspring who demand a “prize” for having passed into the next grade in school (as if that wasn’t their primary job in life). And so that gives us a handy excuse to not give the house the thorough cleaning it needs, to put away dozens of buttons needing to be sewn on until the day before school starts, to turn a blind eye to the kitchen shelf that needs a new coat of paint or to refuse to run to the office for some unforeseen job that needs to get done.

Old Havana is an unending source of entertainment: let’s add our names to the list of those who would like to erect a monument to Eusebio Leal while he is still alive. The Rutas y Andares [Routes and Walks] is a program, which for the modest price of five pesos for up to three adults and theree children on each ticket (that’s less than one peso per person if all six covered by the ticket participate) provides visits to just about all the museums in the Historical Center of Havana, entertaining and instructive tours guided by experts and an infinite number of workshops for the youngest ones in the family so that they can learn how to dance with Danza Teatro Retazos, create a bonsai, produce hand-made paper, start a stamp collection or draw their own comic strips. Grandparents who must so often be excluded from family outings because of those annoying ailments of old age may take the option of going on “virtual visits”, which allow them to enjoy the city through audiovisual materials accompanied by interactive chats designed for all tastes… and they are free of charge.

Add to that the fact that Old Havana is a show in itself: you can walk along its streets and discover the buildings that have been restored, stroll along the newly amenable Avenida del Puerto with its lovely Alameda de Paula and its Maritime Promenade, rummage through the giant arts and crafts market that is Almacenes de San José, be astounded by the “living statues” or by the hullabaloo of stilt-walkers. Of course, those of us with children can stop to see the El Arca Puppet Theater or the Parque de la Maestranza amusement park.

For those preferring to commune with nature, the deer sculpted by Rita Longo welcome all to the Havana Zoo on 26th Street in Nuevo Vedado, or you can visit the National Zoo with its African Savannah and Lion Habitat, Parque Lenin, the Botanical Gardens, Parque Metropolitano, ExpoCuba… all these palces all offer so many possibilities, at modest entrance prices. You can spend the entire day breathing in the clean air, lounging on the grass while watching the youngsters run around in complete safety, using up (thank God) all that delightful childhood energy.

Cultural options abound: concerts, theater premieres, trova get-togethers, the Circus, the Puppet Theater, exhibitions at museums and galleries. And it’s not just in El Vedado or Old Havana. For example, the artist Kcho’s El Romerillo Workshop is always cooking up something new. The En Guayabera Cultural Center in Alamar, the suburb on the far eastern side of the Havana Bay tunnel, has something for every age and taste, although it schedules activities particularly for young children. The Museum of Fine Arts schedules jazz, song and trova concerts on Sunday mornings, and on Thursdays at noon there is always a kids’ program. The recently spruced up Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor is open for games and learning experiences as well as for its ice cream treats. Just a few steps away from Cuba’s top ice cream palace, at Pabellón Cuba, popular musicians perform every day in the early evenings. Or maybe there’s something right on your block—Just a few days ago, the garden at my home was transformed into a scenario for magicians and clowns brought together by the Municipal Board of Culture.

For those of us who cannot conceive of a summer without sand and sea, there is always the option of daily trips to the beaches to the east of Havana or to the seashore in Miramar: lots of water, lots to eat and just for the minimal effort of wearing your bathing suit under your clothes. So you really don’t need to spend your time planning for summer in advance…you can still enjoy an action-packed summer vacation at the drop of a hat.

Thanks to LaHabana.com for this article.

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