Missing Havana

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Yesterday I was searching for some music to listen to. I was listening to Rodriguez, because I’m slow on the uptake of what’s cool and I’d only just heard the soundtrack to Searching for Sugar Man and loved it. I began poking around in different genres, and I stumbled across Buena Vista Social Club. I threw on their album, and sat still, amazed. Man, those guitars, those soft, complex nylon strings. Those soulful voices, those drums. Chan Chan. I knew that song, or I had once known it, somewhere far away. I’d heard it before, two years ago on the far side of the world. I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes and I was there again. Continue reading

Post Cuba

Actually no, that title’s shit. Need something edgier.

Cuba: A Look Back In Anger

No that’s wank.




Dan After Cuba

Oh forget it.

So. Assuming you have now read all 15 days of my diary (God bless your patience), you will now have an idea of why I find it so hard to sum the country up in a nice little manageable sentence. Two weeks after the first manic taxi ride took me plunging into the jaws of the mysterious communist island, Cuba belched me back out again, shivering and bewildered and wondering what the hell I’d just been through. Continue reading

Cuba Day 14 – At Last, Some Culture… Oh, And A Flailing Tramp

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.


Advertising just doesn’t exist in Cuba. It’s exciting to walk down the street trying to spy the local conveniences. The person who invents the sandwich board over there is going to be a billionaire.

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.


The Capitolio. Capitol building of Cuba. Just across the road, a crumbling old hovel.

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.


Chinatown. Which is neither remotely Chinese, nor a town.

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.


Despite my invariably white photographs, rest assured that Cuba is actually sun drenched and sweltering 90% of the time. My shitty camera just seems to ignore it.

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.


Tomorrow’s entry:

Day 15 – I Fuckin’ Made It

“One last scam. I’ll almost miss them.”

Cuba Day 13 – Malecon Wankers

Only a couple of days left of my Cuba diary now, and it’s been a whirlwind up to this point. Today’s entry features a storm on the beach, a concert on the University steps, and a drunken Canadian falling off a very high wall into the sea…

We all woke up nursing a dreadful collective hangover. Got a taxi to the Capitolio building with Martin and Sanya. Got a disgusting ‘meat’ sandwich thing which I ate two bites of before binning. Threw some to a stray dog, which hungrily ate it and hobbled away retching.

Went to a park to get wifi (the parks, for some reason, have wifi) and swapped a hundred or so quid over into my bank. Got cash out and met up with Joe before heading to the beach. The beggars where we got the bus from are the worst I’ve experienced. They refuse to leave even after being told no ten times. One old woman was pleading with us, showing us dirt on her skin. Everything I have read has said tipping beggars harms the economy. Doctors earn 20cuc a month – a beggar can earn twice that easily.

Everyone and their mum's piles down to wifi hotspots. Who are they all texting? Nobody has any bloody internet!

Sanya, Martin, Joe and I got to the beach on a lame tour bus with tourists frantically snapping photos of every building, bush and bird we passed. Got some beers and were metres from the beach when it started to rain. Waited it out in a restaurant, where we cracked our own tins as a frowning waiter looked on.

Beach was gorgeous and quiet, and the sea was warm. Would have been idyllic had furious black clouds not been rapidly approaching from the horizon. Had a swim and a long conversation with Joe about pretty much everything. Started to piss it down again so hopped on the bus back.

Nice, huh?

Oops, spoke too soon. Catastrophic thunderstorm.

At the hostel, we met everyone else, including an Australian guy called John, born in Hong Kong. He’s a doctor of astronomy studying galaxy formation, 28 years old, and is 8 months into a 2 year world trip. He’s done almost every country in South America so far, and is planning on going basically everywhere. He saved ten years for this trip.

Lesley, the German girl I met on my second night (whose name I absolutely cannot remember every time I speak to her), visited the hostel to meet Joe. We all got food from a local paladar – a licensed restaurant. Chicken, rice, avacado and potatoes. Took about an hour waiting for it. Some of the best advice I’ve had was from Kurt in Vinales – you need a lot of patience in Cuba. Nothing happens quickly. It was worth the wait. Delicious. One of the tastiest meals I’ve had in Cuba (although that’s not difficult).

Martin left for the airport. Said a very efficient German farewell.

We bought rum after and I headed to the malecon with Lesley, Sammy and Sanya. Drank rum on the wall. Talked to Lesley about her time in Cuba and it’s effect on her relationship with her boyfriend in Germany – she’s here for 7 months. Told me she has previously had open relationships and considers it completely normal and healthy. Sanya, Sammy and I couldn’t comprehend the idea of our partners sleeping with someone else and being fine with it. I’d be horrified. In theory though, I understand her views. Really interesting conversation in a gorgeous location.

Headed back at 9 to meet Joe and John. Had mojitos at the hostel, then, armed with more rum, we set out to the university amid rumours of a concert taking place there.

The street was packed full of people heading to the university steps, where a huge stage had been erected with a full light show that could be seen all over Havana. Police had made a perimeter a hundred or so metres around the centre and were frisking people as they went in – almost exclusively black people. We passed through without even an eyebrow raised.

Apologies for the blurry photography. I was hammered.

We smoked and drank rum and danced, enjoying watching the locals hanging out of windows, cramming onto balconies and clustering on rooftops to see the show. The booze turned on Sammy and he went from Cliff Richard to Keith Richards in about 10 minutes. We had to hold him back to prevent him running onto the stage. Told him he would most definitely end up slung in a Cuban jail.

Peepin' Cubans

Went for more rum and met a friend of Lesley’s, a dreadlocked Cuban guy called Louis. The longer we stayed, the more locals latched onto us and soon it snowballed into half the street giving us cigarettes, telling us about their cousins in Europe, and asking for rum. Louis was really cool. He works in television editing and works with Avid and Premiere – the same programmes I used at uni. He’s currently working on a documentary about a Dominican man who has collected 5000 handprints from every country in the world.

The show finished and we stayed to chat in the street as the crowd trickled away. As we floated drunkenly back toward the casa, screeching tires gave us all a heart attack. Police cruisers flew past and skidded to a halt fifty metres ahead, and officers jumped out and started knocking some Cubans about. Two groups were busy braying each other but were soon scattered and the main culprits slapped in irons. I already assumed, but now had it confirmed, Cuban police do not fuck about.

We grabbed yet more rum and stumbled to the malecon. Had a pizza each on the way, and lost half the group. Lesley wondered off with Louis, Joe disappeared to find wifi, and John made best friends with a family in the takeaway.

Sanya and I were left babysitting the paralytic Canadian on the sea wall. Any potential conversation was soiled by his constant drunken interjections and subsequent apologies. He began repeating that he needed the bathroom. I told him to go down an alleyway, vaguely hoping he might get lost and not come back. Nice guy, just an annoying drunk.

Lounging drunkenly on the malecon with a warm night breeze - there's no better way to spend an evening.

He ventured off into a dark alley and came back exclaiming that he needed to wash his hands. He tried to reach down to the sea from the malecon, failed due to the sea wall being 10 feet high above the water, dropped his keys to the rocks below, and, before I could even say ‘moron’ he had hopped over the wall.

Miraculously he didn’t die immediately from landing badly on the sharp, slippery rocks. More and more bemused locals were gathering to watch the floundering halfwit scrabbling about among the rock pools in the dark like a pissed up Gollum on his stag do. We shone our torches down for him, and, god knows how, he found his keys.

He yelled up and three squinting Cubans put their beers down and heaved him back up onto the right side of the wall. He repaid them by flopping his arms around them and asking the same questions fourteen times.

Sammy, looking rather like Gollum.

Had a monosyllabic conversation with the Cuban guys, who were refreshingly chilled and gratefully turned Sammy down when he tried to shove a fistful of coins their way. Swapped a cigarette for rum, said goodnight, and Sanya and I carried Sammy home.


Tomorrow’s entry:

Day 14 – At Last, Some Culture… Oh, And A Flailing Tramp

“A bleeding tramp sat on the floor of the second carriage, kicking people who walked past.”