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September 26, 2017

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No music, rum for Cuba tourists

HAVANA -- Tourists looking to drink daiquiris at El Floridita, a favorite haunt of legendary U.S. author Ernest Hemingway in Havana, found the entrance gated shut.

Others hoping to eat dinner while watching a music and dance show at El Guajirito restaurant stared at an empty stage with a closed curtain.

As Cuba observes nine days of mourning following the death of communist icon Fidel Castro on Friday, tourists have been wandering unusually quiet streets in Havana, devoid of street musicians.

Authorities have banned alcohol sales, while shows have been cancelled, leaving foreign visitors with few options for entertainment.

A Spanish couple was sipping lemonade at the Bilbao bar in Old Havana instead of one of the many bottles of rum or beer on display behind the counter.

"As a tourist, you would like to drink a beer, but it's understandable," said Vicente Pavon, 28, a section chief at a home improvement company in Madrid.

"It's a historic moment that you'll remember. In a few years, we'll be able to say that we were here when Castro died," said Pavon, who nevertheless would have liked to drink a daiquiri next to the life-size bronze statue of Hemingway at El Floridita.

Others like Pavon took the booze and music bans in stride, appreciating that they landed on the island at a momentous time in history, as Cubans bid farewell to a man who ruled the island for almost half a century.

"It would be a different experience (if Castro had not died) but it's still a life-changing event," said Amanda Lecuyer, a 29-year-old esthetician from Toronto who went to the usually bustling La Bodeguita del Medio, only to find the bar closed behind a wooden gate.

Before coming to Havana, she and a friend were listening to a Justin Bieber song on her speakers at a pool in the resort town of Varadero, until the staff "asked us to turn it down."

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