Run this town
Run this town
There are few better ways to see what makes Havana tick than jogging its seafront promenade. Writer of Lonely Planet Cuba guidebook Brendan Sainsbury pulls on his trainers and takes us running
Brendan Sainsbury

AS HEAVY DROPS OF SALT-water hit my face, the distinctive aroma of tobacco leaf drifts from the houses opposite and mixes with that of diesel fumes. A lone trumpeter sits on the seawall, unperturbed by the crashing waves, diligently practising arpeggios. I couldn’t be running anywhere in the world but Havana.

Buoyed by an unusual burst of early morning energy, I hasten steadily in the direction of the iconic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, my eyes fixed on the road ahead. In front of me, the Malecón, Havana’s evocative 4.3-mile-long sea drive, curls round the city’s northern shoreline in a protective embrace. Long a favoured meeting place for courting couples, wandering musicians, amateur fishers, daring divers, day-dreaming Floridagazers and assorted tourists in Che Guevara T-shirts, this is the city’s most expressive and typically Cuban thoroughfare. Habaneros (Havana locals) like to call it the world’s longest sofa, a potent slice of open-air theatre, where half the city shows up at sunset to meet, greet, date and debate.

For me, it will always be Cuba’s most entertaining running route, the first place I visit when returning to Havana after a lengthy break. Here, amid the crashing waves and mildewed buildings, I feel I can reconnect with the city and quickly work out what has changed since I was last in town. In less than an hour, I’ve got a primer on the city’s mood and a visceral reintroduction to its sights, smells and sounds.

There have been many changes over the years. Back in the 1990s, Cuba’s cash-strapped “Special Period”, I used to run along the Malecón in the pitch dark during the crippling apagones (power outages). It was rare to see a car here in those days, let alone a tourist bus. These days, the traffic is a little thicker, but the sights are no less unique.

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April 2020