Habana

Trip Start Jan 24, 2009
1
7
Trip End Feb 23, 2009


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Monday, January 26, 2009

Jan 26 , 7 PM
I can hardly hear myself think. There is party going on across the street and there is a band playing .... Wow ... these people know how to party . My senses are being overwhelmed by the Cohiba I am smoking, the belching of black exhaust from the antiques that drive by, the music, the miniskirts that only the Cubans can wear with their legs up to their armpits, and stupid me trying to express what is going on! I peddled my butt into Old Habana this afternoon and I cannot express the beauty and richness of this city. Pictures can never convey the feeling of riding down the cobblestones that my posterior will never forgive me for. It is so unfortunate that there is not enough money to restore these fabulous buildings. There is the charm of Europe in the narrow streets with the pastel blues, pinks, and other colours that would be considered obscene back home but here they fit right in with the mood.  
Jan 28,
Well I got in last night at about 3AM after a good time on the town. Tyrone and I met these people and brought us back to their place in Marrianno (spelling?). I have no idea where that is but when there is a friend nearby it really does not matter. The homes are really basic and in need of renovation with the only decoration being a few precious pictures of family on the walls . The cement is falling apart and the dogs mull about in search of attention and looking a little thin, but I like thin so I fit right in LOL. I dance like a non-Latino and only wish that I can learn to move my hips like that .... But it was fun trying and I think everyone had a good laugh but Tyrone was sweating a lot more than I was and wasn't any better than me so I had good company. Next time I come back .... And I will come back .... I will try to not make those hips lie (Shakira LOL). It may be too late to get these joints to do the impossible but it is fun anyway. The lady at the casa wants to buy my bike but when I told her the value she seemed a little discouraged. Depending on the rest of my itinerary and how it turns out, I will propose to give it to them if they let me stay for another week in an exchange. That is if I spend another week here which is not hard to contemplate. This bike really gets a lot of looks from the locals because of it's fold-up design. I think I already mentioned that it is a conversation starter. Wearing my "beisball" cap with a moose and Canadian Flag I get people yelling "CANADA" as I cruise by. I hope they don't think that all bikes look like that in Canada but I seem to be starting a fashion statement that is the envy of the locals. I think the bike is pretty ugly but suits the purpose. Well, last night's revelry is starting to wear off and I am planning another visit to La Vieja with Tyrone and no bike. Did I already mention that I love Habana .... Diesel fumes and all?
I don't know how many times I will repeat that the internet connections here are slow but you don't know slow until you've been here. It's a good thing I am retired but I now know what death by internet means.
If anyone criticises Montreal drivers it is because they have never been here. It seems that they get their jollies by seeing how close they get to pedestrians or speed up if they see one. Lights are hard for the pedestrian to see because they are made for traffic so it is a bit of a free-for-all. I stepped ,or almost stepped off the curb, when I glanced down to see a manhole without a cover. I call my little manoeuvre " the Canadian sidestep" and I think I have finally learned how to move my hips although it was not to salsa music but to the ever present honking and the slow shifting of gears on diesel modified American antiques.
I biked into Miramar which is the affluent neighbour of Habana with stately mansions and where . the government big-wigs live next to the embassies. It is a relief on the nerves to wander around there with a more abundant number of BMW's and the shops are more well stocked. I went back for another burger at the place I went to the last time but they didn't have any burgers this time. The only thing you can really count on is ham and cheese sandwiches which are sort of growing on me. There is more variety for the tourists in the "Vieja" but I didn't fell like pedaling another 10 km after the 30 I did to Miramar ..... .so ham and cheese and Buccanero (brand of beer) .... maybe tonight.

Tomorrow I have to bike to the bus station to buy my ticket for Valle de Vinales. The lady at the casa is kind enough to keep my Kanuk here so I don't have to drag it around. I forgot to leave it in the car when I got to the airport. I am anxious to see Vinales and the formations called mogotes, or translated "haystacks" that predominate the countryside. It will be much quieter there and I am looking forward to the peace and lack of diesel fumes. I am also looking forward to biking up to the cuevas del indio where the first kilometre or so is by foot and the last 4 km is by boat underground. It may be a little slippery but there should not be any uncovered manholes to worry about. Yes, I brought a flashlight LOL.

I spent a couple of hours playing chess, some speed chess and some regular games with the locals who were curious to try out the guy wearing a "beisball" cap with a Canadian flag. They are pretty good and I was a little rusty but managed to put on a respectable showing. It is really funny that when people know you do not speak the lingo that they suddenly speak very slowly .... As though it would make any difference. .... Speedy Spanish or slow Spanish is all the same Spanish to me but I appreciate the effort. Not knowing a language is an exercise in humility .
For a country that is poor, the people certainly dress well and there are very few bums visible. You can believe me when I say that I have strolled down some pretty rundown neighbourhoods but for some reason I have never felt threatened as I have in some other countries like Mexico. The sidewalks are broken but they are scrubbed clean as they can be with the discoloured and missing tiles. Ooooooph, the missing cobblestones are enough to make a posterior long for a couch.



Jan 30,
This is the last full day in Habana before I head west to Vinales and I spent most of it trying to send an email. Since I was relocated to the casa I am at now, I had to walk over a couple of blocks to get the free internet that Ania promised me. Today, I made three shots at it. Each time I went she was busy with another tourist so I would wait while she ironed out the problems they were having. The first young couple were students from Sweden who had visa problems and had to find the immigration office. Their youth had not taught them the patience required in dealing with anything Cuban. I felt really sorry for them because I knew that when they do find it that they would be in for the reality of "the queue" and very laid-back approach everyone around here has. I am thankful that I am not on a schedule so I am just enjoying the weather, trying to pick up a little Spanish and whatever else comes my way .... not to mention the weather.
Then I met an attractive young German woman who was staying with Ania and we had a pretty interesting conversation with Ania while I waited to see if the internet would come alive during my second try at it for the day. Knowing that the people who deal with tourists are making more money in a day then doctors are in a month, I thought that their lives must be considerably better but "better" is relative. The cost for internet to Ania, which she shares a connection with someone else (8Am to 3PM) is 75CUC per month and the connection is dialup. Dialup in Cuba is even slower than it is back home. She pays 10pesos (about 40 cents Cad) for electricity, plus 150CUC per month to have a legal casa so there is no windfall here. The German girl had the same question as I did ....how does a switch in the shower suddenly turn cold water into hot water? Obviously Ania's worked better than the one back at my place but the water passes through some kind of warming device that does the trick so no hot water tanks are used. I had the additional benefit of getting a little electrical "buzz" whenever I used it and considering that the voltage is 240 here, it was a bit of an adventure to a take shower but I hope that the twitches I get now will not be permanent LOL. I never thought I would find adventure in the shower but it just goes to show that anything is possible.
I will not try to explain how I got lost again trying to find the bus station, but I had to go there to reserve my ticket for tomorrow. Being "directionally challenged" the thrill is trying to become "unlost" ...and I have been thrilled to death this past week LOL. I am just glad that my posterior has not complained about my deficiency too much ... besides it is a good way to get to know a place even if you do not know where you are. If that is not a paradox, I don't know what is.
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Where I stayed
Isidro Abel Pena Figuerodo

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