One of the last great engineering projects undertaken in Cuba in the 1950s was the tunnel under the City of Havana harbor. It was built in a short time span between 1957 and 1958 and connected downtown Havana with the area adjacent to the Morro Castle, thus allowing motorists to make what was once an hour-long trip in just a few minutes.
One of the problems that, for many years had plagued the city’s residents – and the many tourists who visited Havana – was the fact that most of the Cuban prized sandy beaches lay to the east of the bay, while the bulk of the city was located on the western side. As a result, a beach outing required a long trip around the bay through the congested local roads of nearby Guanabacoa, or a slow public launch ride across the harbor to Regla or Casablanca and a bus journey from those towns. With the opening of the tunnel, a car or bus ride across took less than 15 minutes.
On the city’s side, vehicles entered the tunnel under the august gaze of Cuban patriot Máximo Gómez, whose bronze equestrian statue rose high nearby. Once across, the traffic flowed into the newly-built Vía Monumental, which skirted the coast, providing access to a string of beautiful beaches, including Boca Ciega, Tarará, Santa María del Mar and Guanabo. Many Havana residents owned or rented summer places on these beaches, and a number of guilds, unions and trade and professional associations had clubhouses and facilities for their members on the waterfront.
One can imagine Papa Hemingway in those days not having to take his boat across the harbor in order to go from his beach house near Boca Ciega to his favorite watering hole, La Bodeguita del Medio, in Old Havana. A 15 minute car ride would suffice.
© copyright 2011 – Blas E. Padrino
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