Vedado

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
1
23
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Trip End Mar 01, 2007


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Flag of Cuba  ,
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Never accept "no" in Cuba. At the bus station, we reject several cabs which have no seatbelts, despite assurances that all cabs here will not have them. Once it's clear we're resolved, suddenly everyone is helping to get one rigged up for us. Same on price. With a better idea of the value, I refuse the first offer and the cost drops with ease and no ill will. We earn (no other word for it) a safe, fun ride through Vedado. The cab driver, Raoul, has an awesome tape playing, and we gab in Spanglish the whole way as the cab weaves through the creative traffic of Havana.

Our new casa in a 1940s art deco apartment block has a balcony looking over the Hotel Nacional gardens across the street. Huge room, great fixtures, private bath. The shower, with one of those high-flow '40s shower heads the size of an elephant's trunk -- and real hot and cold taps and a bar of soap-- is worth the night's price alone. I feel clean for the first time this trip; Julie comes out a changed woman. We immediately ask to stay an extra night. Now we have a relaxed afternoon and evening, instead of readying everything for another leg to Viņales.

We discover a different Havana in our stroll to a restaurant for lunch. The sidewalks are less crumbly. The buildings are still eroding but they're from the 40s, not the previous centuries. Many streets have trees. At night, the sounds could be from any city. The musical cacophony of central Havana has been replaced by the hum of air conditioners.

Out for ice cream later at Bim Bom, we watch six children and four adults pry their way out of one car. Are we just acting like precious Norte Americanos being so obsessed with seatbelts? It's so easy to lose your compass on that kind of thing travelling.

We spend a lot of time in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional, not just because its cool seats and dark-beamed ceilings contain the ghosts of the past, but because we need services. My parents are due down at an all-inclusive in Varadero this coming Sunday, and Julie strongly desires to meet them there. Her dream: a relaxed week with extra hands to hold children. Unfortunately, I discover over scratchy phone lines and expensive Internet connections that no rooms are to be had, either through my folks' travel agent in Victoria, through websites, or the tourist desk in the lobby.

One great discovery I make in the Nacional's lobby is our casa-mate from Trinidad, Susanne. Over a mojito, she tells me about the challenges she found travelling solo around the east end of the island, and how hard it's been meeting people. "I didn't appreciate at the time how special Odalis's casa in Trinidad was." We all head out for pizza at Maraka's, the Italian joint just down the street, where the solemn-faced waiters surprise us by drawing delightful pictures on the back of Lucy's placemat. It's one of the more relaxing meals of the trip. It's such a delight to encounter a friend, unexpectedly, in a foreign land.

The next day, Jonathan, strapped to my chest, works his magic once again. An amazingly helpful woman at the Hotel Nacional takes one look at him and adopts our cause as her own. She tries to book us into the resort next door next to my parents (the only option available), only to discover they don't allow children there. We leave for Vinales tomorrow, returning to Havana next Saturday, hopefully en route to Varadero. The woman promises to somehow get us a room, at the best price she can. This is for family, she says.
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