Christmas Eve in La Habana

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve in Havana, Cuba

It is 11 pm, I have just spent the evening walking from our Centro Havana apartment to the old city, La Habana Vieja. Geoff and I walked down to the malecón and into the central part of the historic city. There are tourists and Cubans everywhere. We had a good supper in a small restaurant and then walked some more.

I realized that I had not seen much of the city at night the last time I was here alone. For a woman alone, walking the streets at night may not be dangerous in Havana, but it is certainly not comfortable, so I appreciated having male company.

Many buildings have been restored since the last time I was here. The Capitolio is almost finished; the ballet building (I need internet connection to tell you the exact title, but it named after Celia Alonso, the grande dame of ballet in Cuba.) is “estupendo”. Too bad we didn’t have a chance to visit it or attend a production.

There are musicians in many establishments. One can appreciate their music by standing not so discretely outside the door and windows, or sitting across the street on a bench or leaning against a building.

Walking back home through the narrow streets, music live and recorded filled every space. Every style and era mixing and competing with each other. In some houses, people were dancing; in others some serious drinking was the main activity. Men spilled out of the doorways talking, smoking, and imbibing beer and stronger alcoholic drinks. During the day, I had noticed many shops selling home-made rum from large drums.

Just now, I can hear a man and woman singing a kind of call and answer song, or a type of chanson a response though not the type we hear in French Canada. I think this a particular style particular to Cuba.
We stopped in one church around 10 pm. There were a few faithful in the pews. The church was decorated simply, and there was a large nativity scene on one side altar.

Many people wished us a Feliz Navidad. We returned their greeting, and I tipped more liberally than I might on a regular day.

Cuban people may not have much, but they certainly have not forgotten how to party.

The Joys of Travelling in Cuba

Friday, December 23, 2016, 16:45

Today we travelled from Trinidad to La Habana. We hired a car at 25 CUCs each, no more than the cost of a bus ride. The advantages are numerous: first, the driver picks you up and drops you off at your door; secondly, it is usually faster than the bus; and thirdly, one does not have to go to the station a few days ahead of time to reserve a place on the bus.

Usually, in small touristy cities, like Trinidad, one is approached by guys who match you up with a car going to your destination. A price is negotiated, and the driver comes to your house or hotel at the agreed upon hour. Unless they don’t like what happened to us in Holguien. The driver was over an hour and a half late! We finally gave up and rushed to the bus terminal to take the bus.

Today we were promised an American car big enough for seven although we are only five, they had a single traveller joining us. I imagined some kind of small van. Well, only about 30 minutes late, a big old 1957 Chevrolet arrived at the door. It had three bench seats and was quite ample although the bags had to go on the roof. It even had newly installed air-conditioning. The driver told me the motor was a Hyundai.

Everything went quite well. We stopped along the way at a house off the road to buy “black-market” gas. The car did not have a working odometer, but the driver told me he knew how fast we were going, more or less. Actually, I don’t think we ever went over 80 kilometres per hour. It had a pretty hard time passing other vehicles, and many more modern cars passed us.

About one hour outside of Havana, the motor started making funny noises… so the driver stopped in a gas station. He decided he couldn’t go on, and asked any car which was filling up if they could take some extra passengers.

Fortunately, he found an empty taxi (with two bench seats) going back to Havana. Money exchanged hands, but we didn’t have to pay any extra. We were lucky that the new driver was from Havana, so he found our “casas particulares” without too much difficulty.

Jessie’s, Patrick’s, and Emma’s place was a bit of a problem though as the address which they obtained through Airbnb was incorrect. In true Cuban style, another owner of a casa particular called the owner and directed us to the next street over.

It seems to me that these incidents show how kind, accommodating, and outgoing the Cubans are.

This is a picture of Emma lounging on the car we took to the beach, yesterday and the day before.IMG_0611.JPG

Travelling with Friends

Thursday, December 22, 2016, 17:15

Travelling with friends

I have been enjoying travelling with friends. Actually since leaving the boat almost three weeks ago, my crew mate or mates have been my constant companions. They are three Americans, around 30 years of age, although Geoff has been my constant companion as Patrick and Jessie spent some time with his parents before joining us in Cuba along with Jessie’s sister, Emma. .They have been very accepting of me, and I have enjoyed seeing things through their eyes, explaining some particularities of Cuba to them, and seeing more night life than I would have if I had ben alone.

Today, I went diving at Playa Ancon, which is a rather meditative past time and, later this afternoon, walking around this lovely town of Trinidad gloriously alone. . .img_0616

I know the locals are more likely to talk at some length with a single person than with a couple or a group, and this kind of exchange is one of the greatest pleasures of travelling in a foreign country. Getting to know the people surpasses, for me, scenery, good food, even a good drink. It is through the people that one gets closer to the culture; even though without art, food, music, and the urban and natural background of the environment the people would not be who they are.

Being able to communicate in Spanish is also one reason I keep coming back to Latin America.
In China, or Mongolia, or Thailand I missed so much when I was not with a native speaker.

Internet Access in Cuba

December 12, 2016
Internet access in Cuba

Since I was here two years ago, the internet situation has changed. In 2014, it would cost between $7 and $10 for an hour of internet access. Now it only costs $2. At first it seemed like a great thing, but we are learning the hard way that getting an internet card is even more difficult than before.

The hotel we went to in Havana wanted to charge us. $5 because we weren’t guests. We declined. Then we stood in line for about 40 or 50 minutes only to be told as we arrived at the door that there were no more cards available. The access is so popular that line-ups are long; and access cards are in short supply.

Today, as we stood in line, we politely refused to buy a card from a guy in the street for $3, but after an hour in the line-up we gave up and decided to go to a hotel where we could buy a card for $2 and sit in a comfortable lobby with a beer while we checked our mail. So after paying $4 for a taxi to get to the hotel, we were informed that they had run out of cards!

Swallowing our pride after supper tonight, we went back to the main square thinking we might find someone selling cards for $3, but the guy must have made enough money today to take the evening off…

All this means that I have not checked my email since I was in Florida on December 8th… four days ago. It seems like an eternity.

Disappointments

How we handle disappointment says a lot about us, I suppose. Life is too short to dwell upon our disappointments, but I must let you know that the boat I was to sail the Caribbean this winter was a complete mess.

Not only had the owners tried to move their 3000 square foot home into their 43 foot boat, but they neglected to install many, if not most, major systems needed for sailing. Also, they had not kept her is shape during the years they owned her. They invited four persons to come on as crew; unfortunately three had no sailing experience, and I have very little, none of it on blue water. We also found out that they don’t have much experience either, at least, much less that they let on. Needless to say we felt mislead.

So… after working 12 to 14 hour days for one week trying to get the boat ready, we left the marina in Kemah for Galveston which is directly on the Gulf of Mexico. It was raining, the boat was leaking all over Geoff’s bed and galley counters. The captain, could not see the navigational buoys very well, and decided to turn back after only 30 minutes. That was a very good decision, as he had not installed the navigational lights yet! We would have been sailing an unlit boat in very busy waters after dusk.

The next day, all the crew decided to abandon the ship. We didn’t have confidence in the captain or the boat.

We rented a car and drove to Florida. Patrick and Jessie went to his parents’ place. Geoff and I headed for Fort Lauderdale to hang out, before heading off to Cuba where we plan to help a friend build a house and visit the eastern end of the island.

After that, I hope to go diving in Mexico, and maybe find another boat to sail on… Time will tell.
Wish me luck.

Small towns and beaches

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

In an interesting change of roles, I have been the guest of Frida, a young woman who was my guest many years ago when she was only ten. Frida came to Canada to practise her English: she went to summer camp with my daughter, she caught poison ivy, she travelled out west by car with us; she marvelled at the “snow” when we crossed the glaciers between Jasper and Banff.

This past weekend, it was I who rode in the back of the van to Manzanillo. Frida and her husband, Ricardo, stopped in Comala on the way to have breakfast. We found a charming place on a side street, overlooking a lush ravine, which served some delicious Mexican breakfast dishes: chilaquiles, sopes, frijoles, fresh juices, and café, of course.

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On the beach in Manzanillo and in Malaque, we snacked on fresh pineapple, jícama, cucumber, and shrimp all laced with chile and lemon. We drank green coconut water and beer in the shade of big parasols and cooled off in the beautiful waters of the Pacific.

On the way back to Guadalajara, we stopped in Sayula, a pretty town which specializes in making knives, cajeta (dulce de leche), sweet pastries and empanadas, and birria. It is also the birthplace of the author and photographer, Juan Rulfo (1917-1986).