The 14th day and penultimate entry of my Cuban diary, and I discovered Havana’s empty Chinatown & met a furious hobo. We’ve nearly made it to the end of this slapdash, sun fried, rum stained voyage. Enjoy!
Crawled out of bed. Sammy was dead to the world, bless ‘im. Headed out with John and got breakfast from a few different street stalls. A sandwich here, an ice cream there, dodging fume belching cars and whistling hustlers and steaming bins – even breakfast in Cuba is an adventure.
Met a couple more Isreali girls who are travelling after finishing their mandatory army service, as is common among Isreali twenty somethings, and a guy from Lebanon with a tattoo commemorating the Cuban revolution. Give him a week of seeing constant Fidel and Che posters plastered over every available service and he’ll be sanding it off.
We said goodbye to Sammy, who was so drunk last night that he couldn’t even remember having anything to be embarrassed about. So I reminded him. As with many of my experiences in Cuba, while last night I was quivering with rage watching the smashed Canadian stagger around Havana offending literally everyone, with hindsight it’s pretty hilarious.
Sanya and I were planning to explore Habana Vieja – the old town. Luckily, John decided to tag along, and thanks to his Spanish made an excellent tour guide. Walked the length of the malecon, saw the castle, the Capitolio, cannons in the bay, and wondered around the police station – which is bizarrely open to explore. You can literally see into the cells from outside. Morose (and mostly black) faces watched us from behind iron bars, some in bandages, presumably (and hopefully) just from boozey antics the night before.
Found some cool town squares. A guy came up to us as we lounged on a bench and told us he was a champion boxer from the Olympics and we could take a photo with him . He had left his medal at home unfortunately. Between this and the fact that I’ve seen more muscle on a ferret, we were rather skeptical and soon hurried off.
Had a beer in the cool but touristy Floridita, Hemingway’s old haunt. A bronze statue of him at the side of the bar watches the sunburnt tourists arrive by the coachload and spend four hundred pounds on a beer.
After, headed to a backpacker bar I had been recommended called El Chanchullero. Had the best meal I’ve had in Cuba. Chicken, sweet potato, Cuban salad (AKA cabbage), and a fuckload of avocado. Backpackers were queueing to get in. The decor wouldn’t look out of place in Camden, with currencies the world over stuck to the walls and a defiant poster reading ‘Hemingway was never here’. I tried to ask the exquisitely bearded Cuban waiter how such a hipster, independent restaurant could possibly exist in the country, but, as is the hipster way, polite conversation is too mainstream and he answered only with a few non-committal shrugs, the self satisfied knob end.
Wandered through Habana’s Chinatown, which looks exactly like every other Chinatown in the world, except for one small detail. A complete and utter lack of Chinese people. They all jumped ship after the Revolution and subsequent breakdown in relations spanning the next 20 years.
Got the local bus back to nearby Ania’s. Cost just one peso nacionale, and you can see why. At the first stop began ‘the crushing’, as John put it. What seemed like 400 Cubans with faces like slapped arses piled into the double length bus. Imagine peering inside a clown car after a troupe of them have hopped in and finding 12 clowns molded and crammed right into each other’s orifices, big shoes sticking out of windows and red noses trapped in automatic doors. This is a Cuban bus. A bleeding tramp sat on the floor of the second carriage, kicking people who walked past. Thankfully we got off after two stops.
Had a group meal at Ania’s which was delicious – yet more chicken, avocado and rice. Personally I could eat it every day – and after a fortnight of the dough and ketchup creations that the locals call peso pizza, even a Tesco value macaroni would have been a godsend.
We bought a litre of rum but they wouldn’t let us drink it – apparently in the last day or so Ania’s has decided it’s now a bar as well as hostel and drinks are prohibited. Bah.
All roads lead to the malecon. Joe, Lesley, Sanya, John and I passed the rum around for a few hours. I was intent on getting smashed and ruining my life with one big fuck off last night, but Lesley hadn’t recovered from the previous night (she threw up and woke up wearing a different set of clothes in a friends bed) and Joe was experiencing the right of passage for all Cuban backpackers that is explosive diarrhoea.
Made a valiant effort with the rum, but in the end called it a night and headed back. Sat up with John for an hour or so looking at his photos from Bolivia.
Not quite the blow out I was hoping for, but a nice night nonetheless. Joe was originally planning on a pool party that he was going to bring us to, but you can’t blame the guy for not wanting to loudly shit his swimming trunks in front a hundred mortified strangers.
Day 15 – I Fuckin’ Made It
“One last scam. I’ll almost miss them.”