We arrived at the Melia Cohiba. It would be symbolic of the duality we would constantly find in Cuba. The outside  reflected a world class hotel. Inside, both the massive lobby and spacious bar areas reinforced that idea.

But a closer view exposed a darker underside. You could buy a book on the best writings of Fidel Castro in both English and Spanish in the hotel gift shop, but you couldn’t buy a camera or a camera battery if you needed one. Cameras or camera batteries for sale don’t exist in Cuba, even in hotels striving for world-class status. The elevators were painfully slow and often simply stopped working. Even if they did grind from floor to floor, the edge of the elevator and the edge of the floor never matched up. Internet connections were even slower. And, if you were to use the hotel phones, it could take up to an hour to connect to the outside world.

The view from our 9th floor room was spectacular. Two sides of the room were windows offering a view of the neighboring Riviera Hotel, once owned by American mobster Meyer Lansky and a centerpiece of Cuba’s gambling empire; El  Malecon, the famous 100-year-old stone walkway ringing Havana which comes alive nightly with thousands of strollers; the deep blue waters of the sea; and a large section of resort-area Havana.

Our room itself was spacious and accommodating. A bidet in the bathroom indicated that it had been designed on the European, not the American, model. There was a large sunken oval tub, but no shower. You could shower by using the hand-held shower head and metal-link tubing wrapped around the tub’s faucets. We had a small flat-screen TV with about a dozen stations. Most were in Spanish, but there were the BBC and CNN international news channels, as well as 2 MTV channels. Usually, we would rush right out to explore, but we only had about an hour until our 1st scheduled lecture. I figured out the shower system and took a shower. Judy unpacked. We changed and headed downstairs to hear from our writer-in-residence.

To follow our Cuban trip in chronological order