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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