Day 10 in Cuba, and after more than a week of having my ego constantly buggered, things started to look up. More or less. Enjoy!
Was woken at 2am by voices and music next door. Heard a familiar drum beat – someone was playing Alt J! Nearly wept with joy and went to find whoever it was, but alas, their door was closed. Could hear multiple people speaking in English. Was desperate to speak to them but didn’t dare knock and enter their room for fear of looking like a lonely maniac. As I got back into bed, Arctic Monkeys came on. Hearing that familiarity, my favourite band, and with potential friends so close but so far, was probably the lowest point of my trip.
Got up early as I farted in bed and nearly shit my pants. Turns out I have diarrhoea now, to add to my top trumps card of various ailments, maladies and inconveniences.
Paid the casa girl and left. Couldn’t find anywhere open selling food or water, so didn’t drink or eat. Went to Casa de Ania to wait for the taxi. Met a German girl and a girl from Nottingham who were very friendly, on a five month world trip.
Taxi arrived – a big old brown Chevrolet. Picked up six other passengers – two girls and a guy from Isreal, a German guy, and a Dutch couple. Starting to notice a theme here.
We all got chatting as we sped down the deserted motorway, banging our heads on the roof as we bounced over various potholes and being flung to either side as we skidded around trotting wild dogs. We all got on well. Stopped for a break and the Israeli guy went for a shit in a bush.
Drove on to a tobacco farm just outside Vinales. Saw the owner roll a cigar in front of us which we passed around amid much photograph taking. Had rum and coffee in his house and bought five cigars for a cuc each – bargain, and very high quality. Not that I would know.
We each got dropped at our casas, mine has a great mountain view in a quiet street. Sat in a rocking chair on the porch and aged 50 years. Was meant to meet the others but I’m bloody knackered.
Heaved myself out of bed. Went to find the Dutch couple, Marie Claire and Sina, who is originally Iranian. They’re both doctors. Sky was thundering and lightning but not a drop of rain. They arrived late after getting lost, and had already been on the mojitos, so were pretty relaxed.
Bumped into the German engineer, called Martin, in the street. We all went for a cerveza or three. Met another German couple whose names escape me. Went to a restaurant but didn’t bother eating, partially due to lack of funds.
Everyone, especially Sina, got hammered. Had a fascinating talk with our Cuban waiter. He used to be a high school teacher but left to become a waiter as the pay is better, enabling him to support his family. He works long hours and lives miles and miles away in the city, as does his wife. He doesn’t think Cuba will change when the Americans arrive – although he hopes it will. He told us that Vinales, Trinidad, Veradero are not real Cuba – this is just what tourists see.
The nation is the most contradictory and enigmatic I have ever visited. The more we talked, the more his frustrations with the country came out. He isn’t supposed to voice his opinions, and kept checking around as he spoke for authoritative ears. He doesn’t like Castro. He said school aren’t incentivised, poverty is rampant and the system doesn’t work. Something in the way he spoke – secretive, passionate, desperate, made me uncomfortable. Every Cuban says something different. I want to see behind the curtain.
As Sina put it when we left the restaurant, ‘A look into the eyes of real Cuba’.
After, we headed to the casa de la musica for drinks. Was forced to have a mojito by the barmaid despite asking for a beer. Meh. Was a good mojito. Spoke extensively with one of the German guys about immigration and Syria, which I pretended to know far more about than I actually do.
When the music started up I heard English accents at the bar and met two English girls. Had a brief chat before the music got too loud and they were whisked away to salsa. Having an extended conversation with a female at any casa de la musica is nigh impossible.
Got pretty smashed with Sina and Martin. Girls don’t ask guys to dance, so if you lack the confidence to ask a girl or the know-how to salsa, you ain’t gonna salsa. The three of us guys stood at the side of the dancing, acting like we didn’t want to dance anyway. Eventually we just said fuck it and got in amongst it.
Booze started to turn on me and we thankfully left just as I was reaching my well documented monging stage. Sat outside with Martin for a bit and were solicited by prostitutes – which Martin turned down because they were too expensive.
Said goodnight and staggered off home, only getting lost briefly in the sleepy streets of the small mountain town. A good day.
Day 11 – Tanning with Belgian Riot Police
“We were a real motley crew, with three or four languages criss crossing the table constantly and me nodding sagely, smiling knowingly, and pretending I had a clue what anybody was on about.”