The 9th day of my Cuba trip was probably the most difficult. I was smack in the middle of my trip, with the next week stretching out in front, and the misadventures of the past week still fresh wounds on my ego. On this day I had some of the best and worst experiences of my trip, and I’ve not sugar coated it. Today’s diary entry is a helter skelter of a read…
This country, man.
Time and time again, Cuba kisses me on the cheek, gives me a glimpse of how good it can be, and then knees me hard in the balls -with a wink after that always keeps me coming back for more.
After a night of bizarre nightmares and uncomfortable sleep in the intense humidity, I woke up early for breakfast. The breakfasts get more extravagant every day. Today’s consisted of watermelon, papaya, mamey, pineapple, fresh mango juice, coffee, tea, three slices of cake, four bread rolls, cheese, salami, scrambled egg, and tomato.
And I was full after the watermelon. Forced as much down as possible while sat on the porch overlooking the bay.
Said ciao to my host and stepped out into the already scorching morning sun, determined to march the 4 kilometres to the bus station unassisted by the chirping bicycle taxi men.
Made it about a quarter of the way before I gave in, dripping sweat. Hopped in a Cyclo with a skinny black guy driving, whistling at every girl and chatting to me in Spanish all the way, despite my best efforts to pronounce ‘no comprende’.
Paid him 2cuc (bargain). He left and set about badgering other tourists. Was offered a taxi to Habana for the same price as the bus by one of the fifty hustlers crowding the bus station entrance, which I accepted for some reason.
Took me to his taxi along with another Cuban passenger – taxis are almost always shared here. I sat in the back where seatbelts were apparently not a thing. Set off on the motorway, only for the driver to receive a phone call, turn and say sorry to me, and immediately head back to Cienfuckingfuegos. We parked up outside a small marketplace in a dodgy looking neighbourhood. Once again, assumed my days were numbered.
Asked the Cuban passenger if he spoke English (Hablas Ingles?) and he did, thank fuck. Explained we were picking up another passenger and it happens all the time. Got chatting, his English vocabulary was outstanding. He’s a journalist for a Cuban newspaper, having previously worked on TV and radio. Told me about his life and job. Cool, intelligent guy.
The other passenger arrived, a woman with a baby. They sat in the back with me. Very surreal. Set off once more, blasting Cuban rap music. The kid was playing on a tablet. Even more surreal. Cuba makes less sense every day.
Drove for a few hours. Motorways are deserted – miles of road but no cars. Woman and kid got out at some nondescript field and wondered off. We stopped about an hour from Habana for drinks and toilet breaks at a station thing.
About 40 miles from Habana, we suddenly stopped under a bridge. Oh great, murder/robbery/sodomy time. Actually turned out that we had broken down, which is bad but compared to a bum-mugging is a step in the right direction.
I got out and sat with the journalist as the driver rolled the knackered old Russian car to one side, pulled on some overalls out of the boot, threw open the bonnet and set to work. Watched him climb under the car and begin fiddling with something with barely an inconvenienced sigh. Journalist told me this is very, very common in Cuba. Fifty year old cars travelling 400 miles a day often need a little tinkering to keep them rumbling along.
The journalist told me about his predictions and hopes for the future of the country. We are in agreement that change is certainly coming – which means for him, as a journalist, it’s incredibly exciting. ‘The country is changing and I get to tell the story’ was how he put it.
Within minutes, incredibly, the car was fixed and we sped on. They dropped me at the University, which I remembered was two blocks from good old Casa de Ania. Only paid 20cuc for that 4 hour adventure.
The owner of the casa, Ania, was present this time, and she is an incredibly warm and friendly woman who speaks good English, thank the lord. They were booked for the night but found me a casa one block away for the same price – 10cuc, the cheapest I’ve seen in Cuba. Also arranged a taxi to Vinales for tomorrow as well as cheap accommodation. Absolute legends. Booked Casa de Ania for my return to Habana in three days.
Young girl picked me up from Ania and led me to my new casa. It’s a cramped apartment on the 6th floor of a communal building thing, but it’s pleasant enough, and the hosts are sweet despite the language barrier.
Went searching for a bank, took me maybe an hour to find an ATM. Everything is an adventure in Cuba – every menial task is a potential disaster or treasured memory. Today has proved it more than ever.
Following the Cuban kiss earlier, now came the slap.
I decided to take a shower to relax. Turned on the shower. Flicked a switch for hot water. Showered. Went to turn shower off. Got electrocuted. Screamed.
Turned hot water switch off. Used towel to turn tap off. Used beach towel to dry my body. Got thorn from the beach stabbed into penis. Tried to grab thorn from towel. Wedged thorn down fingernail. Tried to get thorn out with piece of paper. Pushed it further in. Put towel round me to go find help. Got another thorn in arse cheek. Had to ask for tweezers from young girl in casa. She looked horrified watching me de-thorn myself. Started bleeding. Retrieved thorn.
Fuck *you* Cuba.
Really, fuck you Cuba. If part 2 was a slap, part 3 is a punt to the bollocks.
After my super fun shower, headed out to the malecon. Had a beer and pizza for a few cuc and wondered along the sea wall hoping vaguely that I might see a familiar face.
What I got instead was relentless, infuriating jinetero harassment and multiple propositions from prostitutes.
Every hundred metres along the malecon, a different hustler would hop off his perch on the wall and either walk alongside me, hold out a hand, offer a cigarette or, most irritatingly, pretend to walk ahead and act like they just noticed me behind them. They whistle at me, whisper, shout, and prod. It’s so hard to make them go away. Fucking ruined what was already a lonely, difficult evening.
The jineteros are so bad that I not only feel alienated as I can’t speak the language, but I feel downright violated by a local populace who see me as nothing but a cash cow, and will employ any long winded means to get something from me – including, painfully, pretending to be genuinely interested and friendly. Every conversation eventually turns to a great restaurant nearby, or a great place to buy cigars.
The prostitutes are incredibly attractive girls – some with a look of complete innocence. They would come and sit next to me, ask something about a ‘chica’ in Spanish (presumably, do I want one) and rest their hand on my leg, or head on my shoulder, or kiss my cheek. Politely said every time that I have a girlfriend. They replied every time that I can have more than one girlfriend. Eventually I gave in and just had sex with one.
Walked home fuming, ready to belt the next hissing Hispanic bastard to emerge from the shadows.
Whew. Okay. It’s not gone great so far. Don’t worry though, from Day 10 onward, my trip was really quite pleasant.
Day 10: Viñales Vagabonds
“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.”