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The Malécon: Where Havana
meets the ocean

by Tammy Burns

Havana’s Malécon is a boulevard and seawall that stretches along the city’s waterfront for eight kilometres. Along the way, the Malécon sweeps past both Havana’s old city and modern core before ending at the Alamandares river and the tunnel that leads to the leafy, luxurious streets of Miramar. Time and the ocean have hit the Malécon hard: the salt-filled air has damaged the colonial buildings; many are crumbling, with peeling facades, and some are collapsing to the ground altogether. The walkway is broken in spots, too – another victim of the ocean’s elements.

The Malécon – officially known as Avenida Antonio Maceo – follows the moods of the ocean that surrounds Cuba. On days where the water is rough and temperamental, waves splash up and over the concrete seawall. They break in large bursts, exploding over the edge and onto the road, and sometimes onto the children who dare to tempt the waters, leaping out of the path and risking being sprayed by a force that will push them to the ground.

But when the ocean is calm, the Malécon is a welcome respite from the chaos of Havana’s streets. The road itself is hectic, with six lanes of traffic whipping past in what seems like a free-for-all of road rules. But along the Muro de Malécon, it’s a gathering place at the end of the day.

The Malécon is called “Havana’s sofa, ” and as the sun begins to set over the Atlantic – casting an orange-pink glow over the Malécon’s crumbling buildings – locals and tourists gather along the seawall, bringing with them picnics of meat and cheese sandwiches and bottles of beer or rum. They sit along the wall, looking out over the ocean in groups – friends laughing, children playing, lovers kissing. For kilometre after kilometre, a line of people sits along this concrete barrier, all of them linked together like a human braid for an evening.

It was hot and still during my stay in Havana. Each night, the ocean was quiet in the humidity and the Malécon tempted me, encouraging me to stay longer, the sight of friends and strangers and lovers all as one lulling me into the moment of simply being there, present, in Havana.

On my final day, the winds picked up and the ocean went wild. As my taxi sped along the Malécon, taking me to the airport and my flight home to Toronto, vicious waves soared up and over the seawall, crashing against the road in a violent display of power, water splattering on our windshield. Evening was approaching and the sun was low in the sky. But the people were gone. The party had ended. It was as if the Malécon – and Cuba – was saying goodbye.

THIS IS PART 1 OF A 4-PART SERIES FROM OUR WOMAN IN HAVANA, TAMMY BURNS.

Look for the rest of the series soon on Travel+Escape.