Cuba Diving


Cuba Diving


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 Photography by Lisette Poole via The Guardian

Have you ever heard of a two-storey ice cream parlour with enough space for over 1,000 customers? Welcome to the weird culinary world of Havana, Cuba.

You wouldn’t travel to Italy without sampling a scoop of gelato. The same rule should apply when visiting Cuba’s capital. Think of Cuba and probably the first things that spring to mind are cruising in a vintage convertible along the Malecon strip or perhaps strolling through the florescent neo-classic Habana Vieja with a freshly-rolled cigar in hand. But, in a rather unlikely pairing, the communist Caribbean island should also be associated with ice-cream.

Following directions from our faithful Lonely Planet Guide – an absolute necessity when visiting Cuba due to scarce internet access—we learned that Coppelia, the iconic ice cream parlour, was just around the corner from our basic, yet cosy, Airbnb. Before venturing to Old Havana, we decided an ice cream in 40-degree heat was an ideal option.

We approached this very bizarre two-storey building surrounded by outdoor seating and enclosed by a fence. We found ourselves in a queue of 50 people that snaked all the way from the entrance, vigilantly watched by a security guard. Half an hour later, and we were still waiting under the hot Caribbean sun. The locals on the other hand were as cool as cucumbers. This was the first of many queues during our Cuban adventure. It was clear that for Cubans, waiting was not a nuisance. Without capitalism, there really was no sense of urgency; long queues were just an everyday occurrence.

Fast forward another hour and we were given the green light to enter and finally escorted to our table. Coppelia was teeming with people, not an empty seat in sight. We each ordered the only two flavours available that day – butter and strawberry – and were presented with a tray carrying 6 platters (two per person), each one containing 6 scoops of ice cream and topped with a handful of biscuits. While not your usual ice-cream sundae, the portions were generous and the price was incredibly low. In fact, the full bill equated to each scoop costing only 5 cents. It finally struck us – in this socialist haven, ice-cream was heavily subsidised. This explained the queue.

But what makes Coppelia so iconic?

It was a project led by the much-beloved Fidel Castro himself. He wanted to introduce his love for ice-cream to the masses as well as outshining the American ice-cream parlours by building something much bigger and better, while making it affordable enough for everyone to enjoy. 1966 marked the birth of this state-run ice-cream cathedral and during the 70s until the fall of the Eastern Bloc, 60 flavours were available at a time. While today there is a very limited flavour selection, it is still frequented by people of all ages, races and ethnicities 50 years on. Coppelia means much more than ice-cream on a hot day. It stands for Cuban community and spirit and is a place to reminisce about the golden Castro days.

Catherine Feliciano-Chon

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