Eating out

I´ve been eating less since I arrived. There´s not a lot of opportunity for snacking. I was just looking for a restaurant for lunch today. I sat down at one that was more Cuban than some I´ve tried but after looking at the menu I just couldn´t bring myself to commit to a meal.

The English translation of something was Tape of Pork. Chicken was cooked with pineapples, or cooked period. I asked for an explanation of another dish and the waitress said it was chicken stuffed with shrimp but they were out of shrimp.

I ended up at a vegeterian restaurant that also serves ‘y mas’ which means, ‘and more’ or, in other words, meat. I guess they found there weren´t enough vegetarians around. So I ordered a pork and rice dish. The pork was really tough, and there seems to be no such thing as a steak knife. But I was also given this delicious little green salad with mango in it. A lovely surprise!

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My trip to Vinales

Vinales is a small town in a valley near a national park so it attracts a lot of tourists for hiking and the scenery.

My host in Havana arranged a taxi for me from Havana to Vinales cheaper than the bus although I wasn´t clear why. I found out.

The driver, who picked me up in a 1952 Ford, lives near Vinales and uses his car to ferry people around the province. He was on his way back from Havana, had to pick up two people along the way he had dropped there the day before, and I was an unexpected paying passenger. Otherwise he would have been going back empty.

At one point his cell phone rang and as we sped at 100 km an hour along the highway he told me ¨The phone never stops. It´s that time of year when there is lots of work.¨ He meant tourist season, of course.

BTW, He was on time to the minute and I think we travelled so fast because he didn´t want to be late for the others he had to pick up. People are really taking advantage of the opportunities.

I´ve read of other foreigners talking about the red tape and you see how much paperwork there is for things. I waited over a half hour this morning to buy a card that would allow me to use the Internet. But it was because the same person was providing a wide range of services. When it came to my turn, he asked for some ID and I had to tell him it was back at my casa. He said, Never mind, and sold me the card within a few minutes. An hour for $4.50 BTW which works out to about $5 Cdn.

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The news from America? It´s great!

I´ve tried asking people such as my hosts or taxi drivers what their expectations are now that the U.S. is changing it´s attitude. The difficulty is that most of these people speak very poor English and my spanish is mixed with English and Portuguese. I´m never sure what I´m saying.

Once I can make myself understood, people are very positive about it. The entrepreneurial spirit is very pronounced everywhere.

Besides the restaurants and private homes with rooms for rent, people are selling things on the street and setting up small businesses. I´m in the small town of Vinales, very tourist oriented, and there are people selling manicures, fixing cell phones, fixing gas canisters and lighters.

They all seem very competent and efficient, which isn´t true of a lot of places where there has been a sudden opening of business opportunities.

In India, I found people´s skills very mixed. Someone might offer very good services such as fixing bicycles or very bad such as a carpenter I hired. The man hardly had the skills to make a toothpick.

It´s completely different here. People´s good education is very apparent.

Tattoo parlour in Old Havana

Tattoo parlour in Old Havana

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Notes from Havana

I took the last bus from Parque Central in Havana a couple of days ago. Four local women got on at the same time and got off along the Malecon. A few minutes later a vehicle passed by and someone shouted a messge to the bus driver. He pulled over, went up top where the women had been, and brought down a shopping bag. Piecing together what happened, I think the other driver said one of the women had tried to stop the bus from pulling away because she had left something behind.

At any rate, the driver turned around as soon as he was able, headed about a mile back the way we had come until he saw the women on the sidewalk. He stopped, got the shopping bag and gave it to the woman.

She was very greatful but I don´t think they knew each other.

The bus driver retraced his route by a mile at least to return this woman's shopping bag. She was very grateful for it.

The bus driver retraced his route by a mile at least to return this woman’s shopping bag. She was very grateful for it.

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I´m in Havana!

This is my second day in Havana and I´m still in the adjustment stage. I´ve had a lot of experience adjusting to very different cultures and a lot of them have been much more extreme than Cuba.

My plane was late arriving and by the time I got my luggage and arrived at the casa it was well after midnight, but everything went smoothly other than that.

My room is very clean and the bed comfortable but a bit soft. Water pressure is low but Brian, my host, is helpful and he brought me the nuvo water softener to have a bit more of pressure. Breakfast is plentiful – much more than I can eat – in a sunny dining room looking on to the street.

I´m in Hotel Parque Central at the moment using their computers and I only have 39 minutes of my hour left. There are no Internet facilities in private homes, only hotels. It takes a bit of adjustment since everything is in Spanish.

I spent yesterday wandering along the sea wall of the Malecon until a big wave washed over and nearly knocked me into traffic. It was unexpected because some stretches appear really calm. Fearing to ruin my new sandals, I crossed over the road and continued.

People are friendly and helpful for the most part, although you can get very conflicting information about where the bus stops and how much things cost. Everyone says ´take a taxi. Just $5´ but I wanted to take the hop’on hop’off bus. )Excuse the punctuation. It´s all different on Cuban keyboards.

The first day, after getting very conflicting information, I was walking across a plaza and fell flat. I wasn´t hurt and a couple of people came over to make sure I was ok, but at that point, I took a taxi.

I did get on the bus, however, and found that it will take you all over the city, but rarely stops unless you ask it to. A woman takes the tickets and gives Eng and Span on a very bad sound system so it all sounds like a Peanuts cartoon thus mwah mwah Avenida de las Presidentes mwah mwah a la izquierda mwah mway Plaza de la Revolucion.

When I went outside the first morning, this was the view as I started to walk. That’s the Malecon in the distance, basically where it ends. It starts 8 km further north in Habana Vieja.

Just outside my casa looking towards the Malecon. The days are lovely.

Just outside my casa looking towards the Malecon. The days are lovely.

I walked for 20 minutes or so loving the sight until my encounter with the wave.

I intend to take a classic car ride today and see a cabaret tomorrow night at the Hotel Nacional, the one made famous by American mobsters (and I think, the Godfather.)

Here are some more pictures so far.

Plaza de la Revolucion with picture of Che. It´s touted as a major attraction but in reality it is a huge parking lot surrounded by buildings like this one. Another has a similar pic of Cienfuegos, a revolutionary leader, and a statue of Jose Marti, revolutionary leader.

Plaza de la Revolucion with picture of Che. It´s touted as a major attraction but in reality it is a huge parking lot surrounded by buildings like this one. Another has a similar pic of Cienfuegos, a revolutionary leader, and a statue of Jose Marti, revolutionary leader.

Lots of taxis some of which are classic cars, some these mini cars which are double the rate, and bicycle taxis which are much cheaper and only really available in Old Havana.

Lots of taxis some of which are classic cars, some these mini cars which are double the rate, and bicycle taxis which are much cheaper and only really available in Old Havana.

Street performers on stilts in Old Havana. This little girl in the pic is giving them money.

Street performers on stilts in Old Havana. This little girl in the pic is giving them money.

The big pot under this lady´s hand in Old Havana is full of boiling corn. The cobs are all cored and the vendor is sticking a piece of wood in it as a handle. There´s also a big bowl of melting butter sitting in the top of the pot and a line up of people waiting to taste.

The big pot under this lady´s hand in Old Havana is full of boiling corn. The cobs are all cored and the vendor is sticking a piece of wood in it as a handle. There´s also a big bowl of melting butter sitting in the top of the pot and a line up of people waiting to taste.

Typical classic car in Parque Central waiting for a customer. The city is half and half classic cars and newer vehicles, but most of the old cars look their age.

Typical classic car in Parque Central waiting for a customer. The city is half and half classic cars and newer vehicles, but most of the old cars look their age.

Car interior just in case anyone is interested. The well cared for ones are beautiful. This one has white leather interior completely encased in plastic.

Car interior just in case anyone is interested. The well cared for ones are beautiful. This one has white leather interior completely encased in plastic.

Until next time…

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