December 01, 2013

"Live" Blog of Yucatan/Cuba Trip, Days 4 & 5: Cuba Libre!

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November 9, 2013
On a plane to Cuba. It's late, and we're missing half a day in Havana as a result, but at least we knew about it days ahead of time so we knew we could take most of the day to meander back to Cancun.


We wasted most of this extra day, so it is probably a good thing we had it. The highlight of today was probably talking to the man selling hammocks made by prisoners. What irony, to buy something like a hammock made by someone who has no freedom. It was too weird not to stop, and then, well, now we own hammocks. But we utterly failed to do any real sightseeing today. First we tried to go back to Chichen Itza's main entrance to buy the souvenirs we passed up before But we would have had to pay before even parking, so we left. Then we tried to hit the Grutas Balankanche, but they won't do a tour without at least six people, so we would have needed two more, and at 15 till the hour none had come. The next tour would have been in French (unless we all wanted a different language), but I was willing to go on that one. Bunny and I were practicing our terrible French in anticipation.

Still, it was probably better that we got on the road. We barely made it to the car rental return as it was, because the libre road didn't let us out anywhere near the aeropuerto and we drove back and forth for a while not recognizing anything before asking for directions. The road we were directed to was not at all the same as the one we left on, but we did find our destination eventually, with little time to spare.

I don't always picnic in the Yucatan,
but when I do, I prefer FUD brand food.
Bunny & Crow enjoy their fud.

On the way we pulled over into a small dirt road leading to a cenote, and ate a picnic of all the things we bought at the supermarket yesterday. This was another highlight. Mexican mayonnaise with lime is really very good.





November 10, 2013
Today was our first day in Havana, and it started with breakfast in the hotel. There's no menu; they just ask you what you want and then bring it--or a reasonable substitute. They brought us someone else's food and we just ate it. I laughed because some of the other people on our tour are grumpy, and I imagined how much they must hate aspects of this hotel, and that made me perversely happy. Our shower barely worked and the water wasn't hot and our toilet had no seat. But we changed rooms because of a water leak. Now we are in an amazing room, with 20+ foot ceilings and a little porch that opens practically right into the homes across the street. I am sitting by it now, listening to the quite loud sounds of Havana. The rooms we can see into are a total dump, but everyone seems lively.

Seriously, though. When we arrived last night, after the slightly nerve-wracking one-person-at-a-time immigration booths, we spent literally two hours waiting for our luggage, and it was so hot that it reminded me of mosh pits from days past. It took so long to get our luggage that we could have flown back to Cancun and back again before it arrived. Then we finally got on the bus and our guides said that we shouldn't drink water; that they would provide bottled water, but that there wasn't any tonight, because duh, everything is closed. It was 11:30pm. They said that they would get us water tomorrow, and one of the people on the bus was like, no, tonight. I get it. I was thirsty too. But then when Danilo said we'd get it at the hotel, another woman said, no, we need it now. And I'm pretty sure she was serious. I can't even imagine what goes on in a brain like that. Where did she think she was going? Sometimes things aren't possible when you're traveling, and you've just got to cope. This is especially true when traveling to a country like Cuba. Did she really think that was a reasonable request? So anyway, whenever something isn't what we might prefer, I imagine that she's unhappy and it makes me feel a little terrible glee.

This is the road in front of our hotel.

The road in front of our hotel is a construction zone, a heap of rubble and pit of trash with makeshift bridges over it. But the hotel is amazing. It has an open central courtyard that goes through every floor, and sitting areas on each level. It's a stunning Colonial-era style of architecture.

But this CASTLE is across the street.

After breakfast we all went to the Casa de Cambio for CUCs, the more robust of Cuba's two currencies. We had to stand in line in a plaza, and a musician played for us, and he seemed tickled that we were from America. He sang "I Did It My Way," en espanol and he actually sounded really good [spoiler: I will come to realize that there are only six songs in Cuba, and this is one of them. That will rob some of the surprise from this initial moment . . . but not all of it.]. Then these two people drew terrible, horrible caricatures of us, and then heckled us for money and we could barely escape.

The first of many musician friends.

We went to the Art Museum, which was nice. Bunny saw vampires in many of the portraits. It is interesting how the early Cuban paintings mimic the European style of the time. Religious paintings and such. I quite enjoyed some of the later ones.

Outside my window right now, rap, something sort of syncopated, and "Stand By Me" are all competing. People are singing along to the latter. After the museum we did a walking tour of this downtown, and I retained almost nothing from the info. Downtown is vibrant. Even last night it was vibrant at midnight, with people hanging out in all the parks we passed.

It's just pretty, right?

We had a terrific lunch of waterbugs and rice and excellent coffee afterward. It was hot, but they gave us local cola and rum, and then beer. The cola, called tukola, tastes much better with rum in it. Last night we drank the assorted vodkas that we bought at duty-free mixed with gaseosa, a lemon-lime soda. That was pretty good too.

The view from lunch.

After lunch we had a lecture/q&a with a professor of sociology and women's studies. I can't begin to capture all I learned from that. She was amazing. A middle-class Cuban, her family made the choice to stay after the revolucion for ideological reasons. She was part of the campaign for literacy, which pretty much ended illiteracy in a year(!). I know it's not as rosy as it seems on the surface, but socialism sounds pretty good. Also, I am embarrassed for my country a lot of the time. Propaganda or not, the US  hasn't been a good neighbor to Cuba. I wonder how the country would be doing without our obstructionism.

Tonight after dinner we went to the canon-firing ceremony. A daily ritual, they shout in espanol, and wave some fire around, and there's drumming and colonial Spanish uniforms and "prancing," but it's all very dark and people are crowding around to see better. And then they fire the cannon (with no cannonball, obviously) and it's over in a second. They do this every day at 9pm. Danilo says it's the only thing in Cuba that's punctual. But the view from the fortress back over the city is stunning.




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