'French Spiderman' climbs landmark Havana hotel
HAVANA - With hundreds of people watching from the streets below, the so-called French Spiderman, Alain Robert, scaled the landmark Havana Libre hotel on Monday in a free climb that he said wasn't too hard.
He ascended the 27-story hotel in about half an hour, pulling himself up from balcony to balcony and pausing occasionally to exhort applause from the crowds that lined the surrounding streets in Havana's Vedado district.
Robert, 50, used no safety equipment and twice drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd as he feigned that he was falling.
"The ascent was nice, not too difficult," he told reporters afterwards.
Robert has climbed much more formidable structures all over the world, including such landmarks as the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lampur and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
But he chose the Havana Libre because it was Fidel Castro's residence for several months after taking power in Cuba's 1959 revolution.
"It's a symbol for Cuba," said Robert, a small, wiry man with long blonde hair.
The hotel opened in the spring of 1958 as the Havana Hilton, but eventually was taken over by the Castro-led government and the name changed to Havana Libre, or "Free Havana."
When Robert arrived at the top floor, the crowd below applauded generously and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"That was a fantastic thing. I've never seen anyone here climbing the balconies like that," said retiree Xiomara Casal, 62.
Nurse Rosalba Garcia, 58, agreed, but said she watched with fear as Robert ascended.
"It was exciting, but it scared me. I thought at any moment he would fall," she said with a nervous smile. "It was a great show."