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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Havana, and the journey back

CUBA | Tuesday, 3 November 2009 | Views [1380]

Getting back to Havana from Trinidad would be a long arduous journey but was half the fun! Juana woke me at 8:00 AM because I asked her to last night. Immediately I washed up and went to the kitchen por mi desayuno de bananos, guayaba de jugo, pan y cafe. Muy bueno. Juana's daughter folded my laundry and gave it to me when I was ready to pack up. What a nice family! There are a number of people living in this house: Juana, her esposo (husband), mother (who is at least 80), her daughter and granddaughter. There is a dog here as well. At about 8:30 it was time for me to leave that wonderful family and then the beautiful city of Trinidad. Walking toward the outskirts of town I got a candid photo of a lady peering out her front door through the bars. She thought that was cool! It was near the amarillo stop that I got a glimpse at a Cuban hospital when I ran in to use the toilet. While the hospital itself seemed quite rundown, the equipment from what I saw appeared to be state of the art; IV equipment, eye exam equipment, etc. But, I only got a brief glimpse. There was a huge group of hitchhikers and I waited there while I got a copa de cafe for 1 CUP. For nearly an hour I stood there but I finally walked along the road. Holding out my thumb for vehicles with red license plates, I was sweating bullets and being thankful whenever a small cloud passed over the sun. Like 4 km into my walk I got a botella de agua at the turnoff to Topes de Collantes. I'd love to go there but I unfortunately don't have enough time. Cars were few and I kept walking under the scorching Cuban sun. Locals along the way were trying to sell me bananas; while I didn't buy any I did get to sample a few. Finally luck caught up with me. An Austrian couple in their rental car picked me up as they were driving to Cienfuegos. While it's not all the way to the Autopista, it's a good distance. I knew full well that the tricky part would be getting from Trinidad to the Autopista. As we drove along the south Cuban coast, they were asking me about being an Amiercan in Cuba. It's a lot of fun! I love being here! Being in Cuba shows me that people really care about others, even though I've experienced generous people in just about every other country except America. We stopped for petrol just outside of Cienfuegos. I really wanted an ice cream but there weren't any. Oh well. If I had more time I'd stay in Cienfuegos for a night or two. It's the "Paris of Cuba." They dropped me off at the turnoff to Cienfuegos and then I was heading the other direction toward the Autopista, some 75 km away. Vehicles were few as I walked thirstily with my heavy mochila under the scorching heat. Holding out my thumb just outside of a Cuban military base, a military truck picked me up. Sitting in the back with a couple of Cubanos dressed in fatigues, they dropped me off up the road. I didn't get too far but at least it got me a little further. Many people would think of someone going to Cuba as being taken to Auschwitz and that they likely wouldn't come out alive but that's most certainly not the case! Cuba is a very special country, and you'll get looked after by somebody at some point! As I walked past the communist-style apartment blocks with clothes draped over the balconies, I seemed to forget that I was thirsty and looked for a ride. I was admiring the area! It was past 3:00 by the time I stopped for a rest underneath an overpass. Cuban schoolchildren walked past me, smiling, and in wonder of me. Finally I saw a petrol station where I got a huge bottle of water! Just around the corner was the amarillo stop. A ride from one town to the next is normally like 20 CUP but the amarillo tried to charge me 10 CUC! I don't think so! And besides I didn't even have that much cash on me. Waiting there with a huge crowd of hitchhikers I was hoping someone was at least going to the Autopista. Sipping the water that quenched my soul, I was hoping and praying for a ride because I really wanted to get back to Havana tonight. At around 4:00 a guagua came by and I was lucky enough to get a ride and it was only 1 CUP. Sitting near the front of the guagua packed with Cubans I was very content; it was just like the other night. What an experience! I've taken Cuba and turned it into a land that I wander around like it's my own, like I'm an "American Che" exploring. It wasn't a very comfortable ride but like I've said, I have to take these things with a grain of salt. We passed through a tiny hamlet called Ariza and then another called Abreus. My my, I'd love to stay in one of these hamlets for a night or two. The guagua stopped in another hamlet at the amarillo stop. Right in my face was another graffiti "Viva la Revolucion." They're all over! It was almost 5:00 PM. I've been on the road for almost 9 hours and I'm still not even halfway! After waiting for like 20 minutes and admiring the vintage cars, a guagua picked me up. I was only about 20 km from the Autopista by this point so I was hoping this one would get me all the way. The only advantage about today is that I've spent almost no money on my journey; the other day it cost 18 CUC to go to Santa Clara from Havana, and I spent like 5 CUC getting to Trinidad. Oh man, it was a long day. The sun had set by the time I was dropped off in the tiny town of Aguada de Pasajeros. The people seem to be so happy as horse-drawn carriages move down the street. The Autopista was only about 1 km away so I walked quickly, and in doing so a dog was following me. It made me a bit nervous because I've been bit by dogs and I had a British friend who was bit while he was in Peru and needed like 10 rabies shots! That wouldn't be good! Just before reaching the Autopista I called out a prayer: God, please let me get back to Havana in one ride! Shortly thereafter, I saw a rental car drop off a hitchhiker. Quickly I held out my thumb. They pulled up and asked "Are you going to Havana?" and I was like "I sure am!" and they were like "jump in let's go." Thank you Lord, I called out a prayer and it was answered! The driver and passenger, who are from China, are working in Cuba for a year. Over to my left I could see a huge storm brewing and shortly thereafter it rained. The Autopista is quite dark at night and there is almost no traffic. There are still plenty of hitchhikers, presumably trying to get to Havana. I got lucky because I could have easily been stuck on the side of the road until morning. For more than two hours we drove through the darkness until we reached the bright lights of Havana. They dropped me off on the Malecon just outside of Habana Vieja. From there I walked over to the Museo del Chocolate and got a vaso de chocolate frio. Mmmmm, delicious! While it's not really a museum, it's definitely a place well worth visiting! Hell, I've fallen in love with it these past couple of weeks. It's also one of the few places I've been to in Cuba (other than a couple of casas particulares) that's air-conditioned. When I finished my cocoa I called David to see if I could stop by in the morning to get some cash because I'm running out right now. It required some searching around before I found a hotel which would let me use their phone. He got the lobsters like he promised and he told me we'd have dinner tomorrow evening. It's hard to believe that lobsters are only one dollar here in Cuba! In the U.S. one lobster is a hefty $35. It was dark and it was time for me to head back to Angie's house. The buildings are crumbling but it really is a lovely walk from Habana Vieja to Cerro, where Angie lives. I walk past El Capitolio and down Av Maximo Gomez. From below I kept yelling out for Angie but nobody heard me. One of the neighbours invited me into her house to relax and she even gave me a bowl of ice cream. About 10 minutes later, Anita showed up. It feels great to be back in this historic city with this lovely family after a few days of adventure. Anita immediately offered me some black beans, which I really enjoyed with a huge glass of water. In a place like Cuba you need to drink a lot of water! Don't underestimate the humidity! It's time for me to go to sleep, if I can sleep over the ruckus of trumpets, violins, and all-night-long chatting in this city that never sleeps....

Music all night long! As I slept peacefully under my thin sheet. If New York is "The Big Apple" and New Orleans is "The Big Easy," then Havana is most definitely "The Big Symphony." Everywhere you go and at any time, you'll hear the serenade of musical instruments and enthusiastic voices emanating from the dwellings, singing passionately. However, this morning it was like I was in a jail cell. Trapped inside Angie's house for four hours! Anita woke up early to leave for work and Angie didn't realize I was back from Trinidad so he left and locked the door. In Cuba (as with most Central American countries) if you lock your door you can't open it from either side. My gosh it really sucked; I didn't want to spend my last full day in Havana trapped inside. Pacing around I was trying to find a way out. The home next door (connected to Angie's house) has some shutters and, theoretically, I could have banged on the shutters so that someone would hear me. In that case they might let me climb down and go through their house to get out. But, I wanted that to be a last resort. I did have water but I didn't have any food, but that didn't matter. At the beginning of this journey I told myself I'm going to be a Cuban: if I have to go a little bit hungry, so be it. For awhile I lie down and relax hoping Angie or Anita would be home soon. Then I went up onto the roof thinking there was a way I could climb down somehow. Nothing worked; for a few moments I trapped myself on the roof because the door slammed shut behind me. Eventually I was able to pry it open with a piece of drainpipe that was outside. Then an idea came to mind: the cinder blocks on the balcony have holes in them, so I was thinking I could use the drainpipe and kind of "swing down" to the ground, but when I tested that on the inside, the cinder block broke. Many of Havana's buildings have had no restoration work in more than 50 years so a lot of them are crumbling. Shortly after noon Angie finally came home! It was relief to get out! He didn't realize I was back from Santa Clara and Trinidad but that's OK. Feeling like I didn't need to make up for four lost hours I walked slowly toward Habana Vieja. Stopping at the agropecuario I said hello to that gorgeous Cubana whom I've gotten to like. Her name is Jesenia and she's probably about 35. Who knows, maybe she'd want to live with me in the U.S. or New Zealand. What I needed to get was some lemons for mojitos at David's house tonight. With a dozen or so lemons I went to the Museo del Chocolate and got un vaso de chocolate frio. I'll have to come back to Havana just for that...and for a lot more! Then I went to the Museo Numismatico which is right up my alley because I've been a coin collector for more than 20 years! There are heaps of displays of Cuban currency from even before its independence in 1898. I sure love Cuba! It's an amazing country and it's going to be very difficult leaving tomorrow. When I went online for 10 minutes at Hotel Florida, my sister Dannielle sent me a message saying "We're worried about you, give us a call." That's the tricky part of me being in Cuba because I have so many people who are always on pins and needles when I'm on an adventure. Castillo de San Salvador is where I strolled to next. Built in the 1550s it is one of Havana's oldest structures. When you come to Cuba, be prepared to spend most (if not all) of your time in Havana. It was like 2:00 PM and I needed to start making my way toward David's house. Taking the P 5 guagua I got off a short distance from el Hotel Habana Libre (formerly the Havana Hilton). Fidel ran the country from the 25th floor. Inside I took the lift up to that very floor and got that million-dollar shot of Havana. Havana definitely isn't as colourful as a city like Reykjavik but it's still very beautiful from up high. It was late in the day so the glittering of the sun made it that much more beautiful. I've now been in two areas that Fidel has actually been in: Che's mausoleum and the 25th floor of the Hotel Habana Libre. Taxi drivers heckled me when I walked out the front door but I was content with walking. As I continued through suburban Vedado and to Parque Lennon a group of musicians were there paying tribute. It wasn't until recently that I found out that the Beatles are from Liverpool (I thought they were from New York) and I actually thought there were five Beatles, not four. The four are Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon. It's clear to you readers that I'm not a Beatlemaniac. When I got to David's house at about 5:00 he was home! He had some mint so we could make some delicious mojitos. As I waited, David let me use his computer to send an email to Teressa. He only gets about 10 hours of internet per month so he uses it very wisely and doesn't let friends use it. Leftover I have 120 euros and I decided I'd give 40 euros to David and 40 euros to Angie. Two things I told myself I'd do in Cuba is that I'd try a cigar and help someone out, and I've done both. What I did is I made some envelopes out of printer paper and wrapped the cash in the envelopes. When I handed David his I told him not to open it until my plane leaves tomorrow. If I hadn't of just had all my dental work done I would have given him at least 100 euros. Mojitos and lobster for dinner! Absolutely fabulous! David is a great cook! While dinner tasted great I didn't feel so great after downing a couple of mojitos. Lying on the bed I had a headache and a stomach ache and I just felt sore. David had me drink some water, and at first I thought it might have been the alcohol (I've never actually been drunk) but after a couple of hours I felt pretty bad. Another CSer had joined us for dinner tonight and both he andd David were worried about me. David was heading out to see a friend tonight but I felt that I had enough strength to go back to Angie's. When we got on the bus I was feeling a bit better and I had enough strength to say goodbye to David when we got off the bus. I'll sure miss David. This fine young man is to Cuba like Uluru is to Australia; unmissable! And if you do miss him then you shouldn't be in Cuba :). Still feeling a bit under the weather I walked back in the darkness to Angie's house. As soon as I got in the door Anita offered me a huge plate of food but I was so full and not feeling well.  On my last night in Havana I decided I wanted to do something truly magical! Up on the roof I rolled out my swag and decided I wanted to sleep up there. On my last Havana night, I fell asleep on los tejados de la Habana (the rooftops of Havana).

At around 6:00 AM I woke up on the roof feeling absolutely terrible! I had a horrible headache and my stomach was hurting like hell; bad enough that I was on the toilet for a good awhile. It was probably from the lobsters last night. At this point I was feeling so weak and it was a bad way to spend my final day in Cuba. I was in so much pain that I could barely move. Angie was very worried about me so I sat at his house drinking as much water as possible. It could have even been something in the tap water even though most of the water I've drank is boiled. Even though I wasn't feeling well I had to make it to the airport. I'm almost out of money until I get back to Costa Rica and I need 25 CUC for the departure tax. This morning I couldn't do anything and it was frustrating and painful. Since I didn't have enough money to take a taxi to the airport I had to take buses. At noon it was time for me to make my way to the airport. Slowly and painfully, Angie walked with me to the guagua stop where the bus came straight away. A lady on the bus seemed to see how much pain I was in and offered me her seat. Normally I'd say "that's OK" but I really needed to sit down. She checked to see if I had a fever but it didn't seem like I did. Cuban people are extremely caring, and I'll certainly miss their wonderful warmth and hospitality. I had to get off the bus and then catch another. For a few minutes I tried to flag down a local taxi, hoping it would take me to the airport but to no avail. A bus did some eventually and it took more than half hour to get to the airport. Havana is a huge city and the international airport is so far away from the centre. It's also not easy to get to and from using public transport; it requires patience and resilience. Walking slowly I thought I was at the international terminal but I was at the domestic terminal so I had to walk further. Finally I flagged down a taxi and it cost me 1 CUC to only go about 500 metres. The driver didn't have change for a 5 CUC note so I gave him 26 CUP. Reluctantly I gave up my 10 CUP note with Camilo Cienfuegos on the front. Next up I had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the terminal. All of these normally simple tasks were a real mission; I literally felt so bad it was like I just reached my 80th birthday. Check-in was open and I then gave up most of the remainder of my CUC to pay the departure tax. As I went through security I saw quite a few people with Cuban passports, on their way to other countries. Contrary to popular belief, Cubans do travel but not to the level that Europeans or even Americans do. I had just enough money to get a Cuban flag magnet and keep a 1 CUC note as a souvenir. As I sat at the gate chatting with an Australian girl named Kirby I was feeling really sick; it's ever been this bad for me on my travels in regards to sickness. When I was on the Inca Trail I got the flu but I wasn't on the toilet all the time and I didn't have a terrible headache. As the plane rose into the sky I waved goodbye to this beautiful island. My first journey to Cuba has concluded...and someday another shall begin!

My journey around Cuba was, all in all, a mix of good and bad. It's a bit of a challenging country for some people but much easier than most. You can't just run to the store late at night and get lemons for your mojito, like David told me. Socialism, like capitalism, has its share of negatives as well as positives. The positives are that you don't have to put your house up for bond to pay your medical bills and everyone is entitled to a home, free education, and free health care. But, people who work hard shouldn't have to give up everything. However, they should be required to share more than a lesser-advantaged person. Being there for only two weeks I didn't get to experience what it was like to actually live in Cuba. It would be nice to someday live here for like six months; I feel that it'd help me to vastly improve my Spanish and it'd help me appreciate life. Someday that might happen. Unlike most Americans, I have the privilege of saying that I have a trip around Cuba under my belt, and I fulfilled the two tasks I promised myself: to try a cigar and to help someone out!

Tags: adventures, cities, food, hitchhiking, mojitos, old cars, people, socialism

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