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

The Real Havana!

CUBA | Friday, 23 October 2009 | Views [1852]

This morning I woke up early but I was too lazy to leave. I don't know why. I paid Lisdey 30 CUC for my stay and I just lazed around for a bit. After having a few cups of tea I was finally ready to set out at about noon. My plan was to go to Angie's house to drop off my gear and then go to David's house. Yesterday I dropped by his house but wasn't home. His wife, Teresita told me to drop in today. As I walked down the street I stopped at a street stall and got a cajita (Spanish for "little box"). It's a filling box of rice, vegetables, and fried pork for about $1. Normally you'd have to tear off a piece of the box to use as a spoon but I have a camping spoon with me. Residents of Havana are called "Habaneros" and in the U.S. a habanero is a really hot chili. However there is nothing spicy about Cuban food. This morning I called David, and he told me to come by around 4:00 PM and it was almost 2:00. Getting to Angie's house would be rather difficult so I decided on going to David's house first with my heavy mochila (backpack). Walking past Universidad de La Habana and Hotel Habana Libre, I saw and got the best photo of the coolest looking vintage red car!

I've never even owned a car but I love these classic cars! As I photographed a mural of Che Guevara, taxi drivers were yelling out to me asking if I wanted a ride but I just ignored them as I waited at the bus stop. Getting on a crowded guagua, I would eventually get there but not without some hassle. Even though the buses are very crowded, the public transport system is still much better than in California. When I reached David's house he greated me with a hug the Cuban way. David has been to the United Kingdom where he spent a month and a half working. Very few Cubans travel abroad because it's rather tricky getting the "leaving permission." While I agree with most things in Cuba, I do feel that Cubans should get to travel more easily and if they don't like living there then should get to leave without having to cross 90 miles of shark-infested water. David and I chatted for a bit, discussing life in Cuba. While David is a member of CouchSurfing, he doesn't host people at his home because one of his neighbours denounced him to the authorities when he hosted somebody. The neighbour is the president of the CDR (Comite de Defensa la Revolucion). A really nice girl from Argentina (also a member of CS) came and visited us. When I told her I was American she was like "how did you get here?" A little confused I was like "I flew" and then in joking I was like "No, I rode my bicycle." She thought that I wasn't allowed in Cuba because I'm American. What a lot of people don't know is that Cuba doesn't prohibit Americans from visiting the island; it's the American government that prohibits Americans from going to Cuba without a license from the State Department. David's house is very tiny; not much bigger than the size of two of my bedrooms. He, Teresita, and his mother all live there, and his mother sleeps on a couch in the front area. His dream is to build an extra room above his current living area. If I had more money I'd most certainly help him, but I just spent $12,000 in dental work. The first thing David asked me is if I had lunch. He told me that it'd be extremely difficult, if not impossible for anyone to starve in Cuba. Food here is limited by American standards; most of the world would agree that Americans eat too much. The three of us hung out for a bit before it was time for me to head to Angie's house. I'll talk a little bit more about Cuba. Officially there are only five communist countries remaining in the world: Cuba, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Laos. In China you see a lot of capitalism (McDonald's everywhere, Starbucks in Tianamen Square). Vietnam and Laos both have communist governments but capitalist societies. The only true communist countries remaining are North Korea and Cuba, but in North Korea you have to be with a guide at all times. Therefore, Cuba is the only country where you can really see socialism in its true form. That what makes the country different to the rest of the world. At around 5:00PM I caught a guagua that went along the Malecón and dropped me off in Centro Habana. From there I had to walk the rest of the way "back in time" to Angie's house. He was there with Anita and Manyeli when I got there. Angie's house is much bigger than David's but it's not as well kept. But, they don't have as much as David has. Whilst tonight I was thinking about making a run for Vinales, tomorrow is Angie's 26th birthday and I'm going to get him a birthday cake. Part of the agreement for staying here is that I contribute for food, which I would be up to doing anyway even if they didn't request it. There is a fabulous view of Havana at night from their rooftop, and it could be amazing to sleep on my swag up here. It's so nice to actually find a CSer who is willing to host me without charging me a set fee. But, it is a risk because it's officially not allowed for Cubans to host foreigners via CouchSurfing, Hospitality Club, etc. The Cuban government has taken strong incentives to protect foreigners, so in addition to what I mentioned above, foreigners are not allowed to ride in local taxis. In any case, it's the Cuban that faces the risk, not the foreigner. Even so, I have to be cautious as if I'd be the one getting in trouble and, just like as an American being in Cuba, it's all about using common sense. Angie, Anita, and I all hung out for a good while, just relaxing Cuban style. There was a big party going on across the street so all night long I hear the music blasting as the gregarious Cubanos are celebrating. Then, quietly, I prepare for a new day.

Deciding to put the trip to Viñales off until tomorrow, I decided to stay with Angie and his family for his 26th birthday. Anita woke me up early so I we could go out to get a cake and some food. I washed up and then I got some cash and we were set to go with little Manyeli in tow. We picked out a chocolate cake at a shop up the street for 6 CUC before we went to the agropecuario.

The other day when I came to get some frutabamba (papaya) a gorgeous Cubana caught my eye, so I wanted to say hello to her. Like I said in one of my previous entries, papaya the fruit is "frutabamba" in Cuba. "Papaya" is a woman's pubic area in Cuban Spanish. First I had to exchange some CUC for CUP and then I we got some frutabamba, ground corn, rice, and a few other things. There is a wide range of fruit and veggies available at this market. Outside I wanted a delicious batido de frutabamba. Anita corrected me to make sure I was using CUP instead of CUC; that would be a costly mistake. The 3 CUP note has Che Guevara on the front. On the way back to the house I got a peso pizza for each of us. Manyeli didn't want hers so we gave it to Angie. There is definitely better pizza; the cheese of these pizzas sticks to the roof of my mouth like gum to a sidewalk. Today I didn't go out exploring; I mostly stayed at home with my Cuban friends. When I went for a walk along Avenido Maximo Gomez, I just sat there on the curb for awhile watching life go by.

Wearing no shoes (my jandal was busted) and with messed up hair, I watched the Habaneros and the strays, the Chevys and Ladas, the bici-taxis and Cubanas. For more than a half hour I, a weary nomad admiring Havana, sat there watching life go by. When I returned it was time to celebrate Angie's 26th birthday! Anita lit 26 matches as candles, then we all sang "Feliz Cumpleanos" for Angie. A slice of cake tonight is simply tasty!

Later, at night we decided to all walk up to the Malecón. It's a good 4 km or so but it was a beautiful night in Havana. It is perfectly safe to walk around Havana at night; you don't have to worry like in many other Latin American cities. The Malecón at night is breathtaking!

There's nothing better than watching a classic Chevy drive past the bright lights of the Malecón. This is so special! I really wanted to be in Havana for my 25th birthday, but that didn't happen because Teressa made it a disaster! It feels so much better that I'm here on Angie's Birthday! That means a lot more to me! We all hung out up there for about an hour or so before starting the walk back. We got an ice cream and when caught a guagua back to the house. The guaguas are much less crowded at night. Four nights in Havana and it's been an amazing experience. The only bad part is that I can't call my family. Earlier I got a chess game at the store around the corner from Angie's house, and the two of us played a game tonight. King is "rey" and queen is "reina." For me it's easier to practice my Spanish in Cuba because Cubans love to converse and are intellectual, animated, and extroverted. My mouth still hurts from getting my dental work done so I'm resting now.

I love Havana but today I felt that I needed to make a move to other areas of the island. If I had enough time I'd visit Isla de la Juventud but I'm only in Cuba for two weeks. This morning I packed up all my stuff and told Anita I'd be back in a few days. Holding out my thumb I was picked up by a classic 1950s Chevy and got a ride to estacion de ferrocarriles for only 20 CUP. Even though the ride was only like 4 km the driver had to get out and restart the car like four times! Somehow these people just keep these cars running; I'm not sure how they do it! There was only one train to Pinar del Rio at like 10:30 PM and I didn't want to get to Viñales at 3:00 AM so I thought I'd try my luck at hitchhiking. The clerk at the ticket counter told me that no photos were allowed inside when I snapped a photo of a large Cuban flag. Getting out of Havana (as is any other big city) would be the difficult first step of hitchhiking to Viñales. Sweating bullets I walked all the way over to the Jose Marti memorial. Fidel has given many speeches to mass crowds gathered in the Plaza de la Revolucion in front of the memorial.

Tags: history, people, socialism

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