Posts Tagged With: Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

The heavens broke and the rain chucked it down. We ran for cover to the first available cafe, ordered mojitos and sat out the rain. There was a Spanish translated version of  the 1970’s Banana Splits cartoon on the bar TV; bizarre.

We sat and watched a group of kids play under the torrents of rain pouring off the old church into the square. They were using palm fronds as a  sled, sliding down the brick entrance in front of the church, much to the delight of the girls’ school students coming outside to watch.

After a mojito (or two), this looked like a good time to me. I’m in.

The boys had no problem giving me a palm frond ride and the girls screeched in delight as the boys pulled The American down the brick path. Good fun, except for the wet ass.

Palm frond ride

cuba_slide

We ran into our friend William from our group and so before returning to our hotel, we decided to have one last mojito in a cafe next to a nearby ruined church: Iglesia  de Santa Ana. Turns out, our waiter had a friend with a ‘cab’ that could give us a ride back to the hotel. So we finished our drinks, and outside met  the cabbie, Antonio, who was talking to our waiter in front of his 1952 Ford Customline Forder.

It was five different shades of blue paint. No hub caps  and the body was half-bondo. Again, we are in.

To open the passenger door Antonio had to kick the quarter panel just behind the front wheel and only then it would open like magic. We hopped in, and were off for the 15 minute ride to the hotel. The large bench seat in the back was loose: there was no interior panels for the doors, and of course, zero suspension.

1952 Ford Cutomline Forder.

 

Cuba_ford

Halfway to the hotel,  Antonio turned back to Helen and said, “I have something for you”. He reached down and pulled the shifter out of the floor and handed to her. Somewhat confused, Helen reluctantly took the 2-foot, old school shifter not really knowing what to do with it.

A minute later, somewhat suddenly, as we approached an intersection, Antonio asked for the shifter back, as he needed to downshift! He took it back, stuck it in the floor and dropped a gear.

Shifter

Antonio then asked our friend in the front if he wanted to drive, and after some prodding, William (a rather shy, US government employee) grabbed the wheel and drove from his spot in the passenger seat. Antonio, in broken English, then asked both of us if we wanted a go, and instantly Helen jumped over to the front and was driving the Forder from the passenger seat.

I politely declined,  2011 hadn’t been the luckiest year for me and it seemed like a disaster in the making.

We finally arrived (almost in one piece) at our Cuban Club Med style beach resort on the endless beach of Playa Ancon, 50 km east of Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs). We thanked Antonio for a memorable journey;  took a group picture in front of the Ford, gave him a healthy tip and he was on his way. We had survived another Cuban cab ride.

Home Safe!

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Categories: Cuba - October 2011 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Flavor-Neutral

Cuba_Food

I had read this often but found it hard to believe; how could Cuba have bland, just down-right, bad food when it sits in the Caribbean with neighbors that have explosive cuisine? Sadly, its true.

We had started to use the term ‘flavor neutral’ to describe everything from the fish to cheese; it was bizarre how bland these could taste.  The only thing that saved us was made-to-order omelet at the hotel breakfast.

Helen’s birthday fell on a Friday night and we were at our flavor neutral breaking point. So instead of a fancy dinner at a hotel or tourist restaurant, we went in search of peso pizza. We had heard of this Cuban street food: pizza served out of small street side storefronts. So we wandered outside of the downtown core and through Chinatown, (yes, Havana has a Chinatown, who knew?). Walking down a side street we came upon a storefront with a funky pizza oven. Success!

So Cuba has two currencies. Russia tried this when their economy hit the fan in the 80’s. Its hard to get your head around it; a country with two currencies. Cuban pesos are kind of a subsidized currency for Cubans to buy the basics: food, clothing, local services; most Cubans are paid in these. Cuban Convertible pesos, or Convertibles, are the tourist currency and are used for luxury goods: restaurants, hotels.   And it is difficult for tourists to obtain Cuban pesos.

Bottom line :1 Cuban Convertible Peso = 25 Cuban Pesos.

Anyway… the pizza was done in about five minutes: I asked, “how much?”….”ten pesos”  but all I had was Convertibles. With drool foaming at the corner of my mouth, I gave over the ten convertibles not fully grasping I overpaid by 25 times! Whatever, I was fine with it.

I think you find a variation of pizza in every country in the world, but this pizza was definitely not New York or Chicago deep dish. It was kind of doughy, with a ketchup-like sauce and  flavor-neutral cheese topping. That said, it was one of the best things we had all trip. We sat at a small bench on the sidewalk and ate as a group of boys played around us.

Havana

Helen’s brother, David  had wanted to buy his sister her birthday dinner. I felt a little strange telling him that he bought his sister, not a three course meal at a fancy restaurant,  but a peso street pizza that we overpaid for and ate on a bench curbside.

But how do you then explain that it was the best birthday dinner ever!

Birthday dinner

We moved on to a open-air bar/restaurant with tables and plastic chairs. They had modified two shipping containers; one was the bar, the other the restaurant. We ordered a few beers and another (slightly worse) pizza and took in the ambiance. The place was half-full; there was an animated group of youngsters with an undulating woman in a 70’s tube- top, and of course, everyone was watching Columbian MTV.

The small TV was located in a free-standing wall and next to the TV was a 50th anniversary of the Revolution retro poster of Raul Castro. I’m a sucker for these communist propaganda posters that are all over the place in Havana. Instead of advertising, billboards of Coke and Big Macs, there are propaganda billboards. I don’t know which is worse; they are all one in the same really.

Anyway, I couldn’t help myself: I asked the waiter if I could buy this poster; (which I realize is a kind of an ugly American thing to do! You know, come to Cuba and think you can buy anything you want?)  He gave me a confused look and said,”I cannot sell you that poster of Raul, he is like my brother.”

Unfortunate for me, but the typical passionate Cuban answer I had come to expect.

Havana cafe

We caught a cab back, this time a crappy Russian Lada from the 70’s. Looks like a cheap Fiat: No frills, basic utilitarian car, built like a t-34 tank and drove like one too.

This particular Lada was not the pride of Moscow. Homemade upholstery, zero suspension, and you need a pair of pliers to open the window. Where I come from, they would call this Lada a sh*tbox; however to this fine gentleman driving us home, it was an important financial asset. We bumped our way along the dark empty streets of Havana to our grand home for the evening, Hotel Nationale.

Categories: Americas, Cuba - October 2011 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Coco-cab!

One night we decided to go to a few bars we had read about, outside the tourist area in Havana. So we  hailed a Coco-cab which looks like a over-sized lemon with three wheels. It’s basically a motorized trike with a large round yellow canopy that cover the bench seat where the fares sit. We chatted with our driver,  Peter, as we buzzed through town to the seedier area and a bar that was rumored to make some of the bast mojitos in Havana.

When Peter suggested he come and pick us up a little later, we agreed and walked into Puerto De Sagua which has a nautical theme; Helen loves a themed bar.

Instead of windows it had portholes  that were small individual fishtanks with brightly colored tropical fish swimming inside. We were the only ones in the lounge and so we sat at the bar and ordered “dos mojitos” from our bartender, Raul. We talked with him within the confines of our limited comprehension of each others language and he proceeded to make our mojitos in front of us on the bar. The rumors were true, it a was a damn good mojito.

Puerto De Sagua

Every so often, a waiter would come in to watch the Columbian MTV on the small TV behind the bar. Columbian MTV is like a over sexed music video from the 80’s: lots of skin.  This kind of South American fluff television is the only international television piped in for the general pubic: soap operas, sports, music videos. The fancy tourist hotels get more international television including American channels, Although I did read that an occasional American sitcom, including Friends, did make it on government TV.

Coco cab

Peter was at the door;It was time to go, so we downed our second mojitos and hopped in the coco-cab and were off to an old Hemingway haunt, El Floridita, where he invented the daiquiri in the 1930’s. Peter dropped us off and said he would wait outside for us; implying heavily, in his opinion, that this place was not as good as the last.

Nice place: but a little sterile and touristy, kind looked like an old school ice cream parlor, with a four piece cuban/ jazz band. I’m sure it was a little  grittier in Hemingway’s days.

They had a life-sized bronze statue of the writer at the end of bar. We ordered two daiquiris and took some with pictures with Papa and enjoyed the band. Not our favorite place that evening, but a damn good daiquiri.

El Floridita

Now with just enough rum in our veins, we hopped in the coco again and Peter started off back to the hotel. We buzzed through the downtown past the bullet pock-marked former presidential palace of Batista, (now the Museum of the Revolution) and we started down the road that ran along the ocean, called the Malecon. Shortly Peter started to turn off the Malecon back inland and he turned to us, “perhaps we  go through town? Malecon very wet with waves”.  But Helen and I started chanting drunkenly “Malecon! Malecon! Malecon!” and so Peter instantly change direction and we were back  on track, on the Malecon.

The Malecon is a 8 km sea road and promenade along the city historic quarters and along most of Havana ocean front. The boulevard is lined with buildings in various states of disrepair and couples stroll along the the seawall at all hours, a social gathering spot for all of Havana’s residents. The lack of traffic in Havana made it eerily devoid of cars on it’s four lanes. The  Malecon was built-in the early 1900s, but there was one minor problem, they built it a meter too short. At most high tides, the waves crash up and over the seawall, often closing the road.

But the Malecon was not closed on this night. Peter punched it and within a few minutes we were at top speed,  maybe 25 mph. Peter dodged and weaved around large puddles and ocean debris scattered along the Malecon. It was kind of full on, every few minutes a wave would crash over the sea wall and onto the road. We felt a little guilty, after realizing that the over-size lemon canopy protected us but not Peter, and he was getting the brunt of the waves crashing over the  Malecon!

Luckily we soon arrived at the hotel and Peter sheepishly said the fare was $20.  But he had been so great and was essentially our personal driver all night. So we doubled it and gave him $40.  $20 dollars for a Cuban can make a difference.  Between over-tipping and Helen buying every handicraft and artwork in sight we were like a two person Cuban economic stimulus package.

Categories: Americas, Cuba - October 2011 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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