Playa La Boca
Trip Start Jan 24, 2009
7Trip End Feb 23, 2009
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I have cleared out of "shifty lady" casa. I biked to La Boca and found a casa for 30CUC per night meals included. I am gong to stay here for 10 days because it seems that I have found my Shangri La. The prices are higher here because of the tourists but the paradox is that there is hardly anyone here. It is really quiet and the beach is pretty on a small secluded bay. It was a downhill ride all the way here with the wind in my sails so the 20 kg on my back was a real breeze. While biking here, Julio (name I later found out) pulled beside me on his motorcycle and started talking to me.
So now, I am biking along trying to understand what this guy is talking about in Spanish over the din of his motorbike keeping myself balanced on this toy bike with my packsack and other bag on the carrier. It turns out that I saved 5CUC per day for a place at La Boca only about 400 meters from the beach for the effort ... Que Rico!! It's a really nice place with a pool that I won't use, but has a terrace on the roof and in front of the casa where I am writing now with the sun making it difficult to see the computer screen, and smoking a cigar that I bought in Vinales.
I met a couple from Ireland who were on a scooter while having a beer near the beach. We chatted for a while about the politics and the future of the CUC as a monetary instrument that only exists here. They were very nice and suggested Egypt as an inexpensive place to go because they found that it was not cheap here. I understand what they were saying but I also understand that if you can get along in Spanish that the cost can drop by a factor of 25 if you don't mind taking what you can get and can pretend like you know what you are doing.
Sitting on the Terrace just before supper, Julio was kind enough to explain that he didn't mind if I had visitors for the night as long as they were not too noisy .... whatever that means LOL. Then he asked me if I preferred Mullato or white and I think that we have wondered into an area that I didn't want to go to. The adventure continues because I am not sure if someone is going to turn up at my door tonight to keep me warm, I hope not. I was not expecting to be propositioned by the casa owner in this tiny little town when a week in Habana only had a passing opportunity with a salesman on the Malecon who I sent on his way without problem. There is something about the thought of being intimate with a stranger that does not appeal to me. I have enough problems digesting the food although it is apparent that the women make up for the spices lacking here.
At the beach bar, my wallet slipped out of my back pocket with about $700.00 in it. The waiter came running after me to return it. I like this place already!!
While strolling along the road that follows the beach I came across a small food stand. Having nothing to do, I stood there while contemplating the menu on the wall. All the items on the menu were for different fast foods and snacks. Except one item that was stuck in the middle of the "offerta". I didn't need my dictionary to know what "condoms" were. All prices for the food was listed in CUC with the exception of the condoms which had the moneda national price of 10 pesos. Would you like some fries with your condom?
There is another "couple" staying here. A retired Air France pilot and his Cuban partner. At least I have the opportunity to speak a language that I know. The Frenchman has been to Montreal on many occasions so that is probably the reason that he can understand my French.
I slept badly last night. My back was killing me and I my throat is very sore. I guess the packsack had it's toll while biking here. I hope a little salt gargle will do the trick. Ahh yes, I didn't have any visitors so I guess Julio got the message that I was not interested. The next 9 days will be spend just taking pictures, working on my tan, and hiking through the countryside if the pain in my back goes away. It is on one side of my back so I guess you can say I have a pain in my sideback or would that be backside?
During the night I awoke many times and on one memorable occasion I reached for the bathroom doorknob in the dark to feel a soft fuzzy something where the know was supposed to be. When it moved a little, I moved a lot, mostly upward and backward. Scrambling for a light switch I made my way back to my room where I searched for my flashlight and returned to the bathroom.
Sitting on the terrace relaxing and reading a novel I am treated to the unusual site of goats walking down the street and frolicking like young puppy dogs. I looks like the whole family is there and maybe a few cousins too. The dogs join into the action and it passes the time. I wondered why the first gate into the casa was not locked then understood when it was left open and the goats came in to munch on the garden. A little yell scared them off.
I went into Trinidad today to get a phone card because I can't make international calls from here. I spotted an old man walking down the cobblestones with a humongous male pig that was endowed with a pair of papayas swinging back and forth.
A little further I scored a sweet desert that looked like fudge but tasted of coconut with the richness of sweetened condensed milk, which I love.
It is noticeably cooler here in La Boca compared to Trinidad because of the breeze from the ocean.
I got up and decided that I would bike to Playa Ancon. It is a resort area with larger hotels full of Canadians and other nationalities. Along the way there are many coral reefs and opportunities to do some snorkelling. It is a great cycling route with hardly any traffic and only the odd horse or cow grazing by the side of the road. The azure ocean calmly lapping on the shore with the occasional place to go down to the water provides a scenic and peaceful experience. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere I come across a bar sitting in front of a small sandy beach area. I'll stop there on the way back. My mission right now is Playa Ancon where the guide book says they tolerate topless bathing and I am in a tolerant mood so I keep on trucking.
On my way back I encountered a guy trying to push start an old Chevy by himself without too much luck. So I stopped and gave him a hand until the old clunker came to life and I was on my way again. I guess I'll go down to the beach and find a tree to read my book where I won't get distracted or have to tolerate the sight of International boobs turning red.
When I returned to Julio's place he was working on his motorcycle that had an obvious wheel bearing problem. The casing in the wheel hub was worn and he was trying to make a shim out of an empty aluminium coke can by cutting it up so that the bearing would stay in place. I know how to fix it but I do not think he has access to a machine shop to make a bushing so I came in and used my dictionary to explain that I can get him a product called "liquid metal" that just might do the trick. The question was that if I mailed it to him "Would he get it?". He was not too confident in the postal system so when I get back I will try to find someone coming reasonably close to him who would be willing to take it here. I know that this product would be a life saver for many applications. I have just experienced first hand the ingenuity of the Cubans to keep their mechanics running ..... a coke can.
I have developed somewhat of an affection for Julio and his family who are expecting another baby in the next little while. He invited me to a fiesta on Saturday and said that I would not have to pay for my meals that day because it is fiesta and I am part of the family. How can I express the generosity of a people so in need but are willing to give up the income for the friendship of a stranger.
I have decided that I will leave my bike here for Julio and his kids. I asked him if he would get me back to Trinidad so I didn't have to pay for a cab and the deal was made. I traded my bike for 4 nights stay here.. He let his young son try it and then he biked up and down the street showing it off to his friends and neighbours. There was a lot of happy sounding Spanish going on and I feel good.
An Italian couple arrived last night taking the place of Michel from Paris. When Michel left he was in tears to leave but he will be back in May. I'm not sure if he will miss Julio or his male friend more. I met the Italian couple this morning at breakfast. The woman in her early 30's spoke a little French but her husband only understood Italian and Spanish. They had rented a car and invited me to tag along for the steam train excursion out of Trinidad. I jumped at the chance and had a great day with the other tourists on the train up to a small town about 20km away.
On the steam train we stopped along the way to fill up with water and the passengers on the left side of the train were in for a little surprise as they were sprayed by the leaking overhead fill pipe that splashed into the open cars as we started up. I was on the other side watching everyone pop-up out of their seats like a synchronized dance ... just enough to bring smiles all around.
I paid my 1CUC to climb the stairs of what appears to be the steeple of a church that has long disappeared. It was really quite high for a single standing structure and provided a fine view. It turns out that the tower was used to watch over the slaves on this sugar plantation. Everyone is wearing sweaters and are chilly which I am in my perfect temperature in short sleeves so I guess the Canadian winters have conditioned me more than most of the tourists which were from Europe.
I couldn't help but try the Guanabo being sold at a stand near the train station.
I met an older couple near the Guanabo stand with their touring bikes.
I have just been interrupted while typing this on the terrace by Julio's wife asking me whether I want lobster or shrimp for supper. I'll take the shrimp ... gracias. Grilled or in sauce? Grilled ...gracias. Nobody has any food in the stores but everyone is cooking. I think that maybe because I am in a small fishing community that there are things available that are not on the shelves. That seems to be the case everywhere. When I was in Vinales and going through the fields of crops with Armando, I asked him if the crops were sold and he replied no, they were used right there. I can understand the way things are when the government takes 90 percent of the profits on production. I can imagine that no matter how much control a government has on things ....it is pretty hard to start counting tomatoes or fish before they get to market.
Feb 11 ,
I biked into Trinidad today to secure a couple of days in Trinidad before I head back to Havana for the 17th 18th of the month. Julio suggested a place but I looked around first at the guide book recommended places. The places were all full and for good reason. This is high season and the places I looked at were gorgeous. Anyway I finally found the place Julio suggested and I liked it a lot. I had a better chance to get a good look at Trinidad while I was looking around and I like this place better than the first day I spent here. Perhaps it was shifty Aunt Jemima that made me want to move on to La Boca. So I've decided that I'll cut my stay here in Playa La Boca by a day and spent 3 or 4 days in Trinidad leaving 2 nights for Havana. It turns out that the owner of Casa Jenna, the place I will be staying in Trinidad, speaks English and has family that live in Lancaster. She says that the family come to visit her occasionally so I have found a way to get needed parts to Julio when Jenna's family comes to visit her from Lancaster. It's a small world.
I am feeling a little better today after 3 days of forcing myself to digest the bland usual diet of beans, rice, tomato, and something else on the menu. Although there is a lot of it, it has not hit the flavour buds. I went out and got myself a Cuban burger for 2CUC that I enjoyed with a beer sitting by the bay. I saved 5CUC by not eating at the casa and preferred the atmosphere of the ocean than sitting alone at the table at the casa, even though I sat on the beach without a table.
It is 4AM. I thought I was dreaming when I awoke to voices. I had no idea what time it was. When I looked at the time I asked myself if this was Friday night and there was a party going on which it turns out it was Thursday night. So I got dressed and went out to the back yard where all the commotion was and found Julio, his wife, another lady and a strange man sitting around talking.
When I awoke this morning I got the whole scoop. The guy passed out completely with his eyeballs rolled back into head and he was vomiting violently. His wife was quite upset this morning because he was blaming her for everything but this woman has a lot of spirit because she was going ahead with the day's plans without him while he slept it off. I jumped at the offer to accompany her to the national park Topes De Collantes where a main feature is the waterfall that requires a hike to get to. I soon got the feeling what is was like to drive next to an Italian who does not have a whole lot of patience for horse carts, or bicycles for that matter. I don't know what she was saying but I do know that it wasn't nice. Even so, there is something about an aggravated Italian that made me smile as the words flowed out her. There are not very women drivers in Cuba and that made us somewhat of a spectacle. On top of that a woman who can negotiate switchback curves, handle a stick, and swear!
The ride to the park was beautiful as the valley opened up in front of us from Trinidad and we made our way towards the park through farmland then up very steep grades for which we were often in 1st gear. I cannot compare with Spain but impressive nonetheless. We paid our 6 CUC entrance into the park and started off on our hike to see the falls. The sign said 45 minutes but it took us longer than that. After about a half hour into the hike we both looked at each other and wondered the same thing.
Does this ever stop going down? When I mean down, I mean really down. The average incline was about 20-25% and Michelle was looking a little worried about the trek back.
The 2km trail dropped 800 meters so you can do the math on the incline. It was a fantastic trail with Eucalyptus, various other flora that I have never seen before. About 80% down the trail we came across some horses for people to rent and I suggested that we ask the price for the way up but Michelle said she didn't like riding horses so no problem. Well the last 20% was closer to going down ladders than hiking but it was fun and a challenge. Michelle was a lot more tired than I so I was expecting a good 2-3 hours to get back up. We spent about 20 minutes at the base of the falls and I really wished I had brought my swim suit because it was so enticing to just stretch out in the cascades of this natural wonder.
It is definitely not Niagara Falls but I prefer the ambience here any day to Niagara falls. There is also an aqua green swimming pool where people go for a swim after the trek down. If nature could only have reversed to trek to go up first then down on the way back the pool would have been full of Canadians, swim suit or not LOL.
The trek back was as I expected. Michele was really having a hard time keeping up to me even though she must have been at least 35 years younger. This old man ain't dead yet but I must admit that my deodorant was working overtime! There is nothing like a good sweat to clean out the pores. It takes a lot to make me sweat but the climb in this tropical forest made me glisten in the sun.
It did not surprise me that Michele had a change of heart about asking the price to rent a horse when we finally got there after stopping 3 times to let her rest. So for 5CUC I joined her in the experience of hanging on to a horse UP narrow trails with lose stones and other obstacles. There were a couple of steep descents that made me glad that I'd rather be on a horse going up than going down. There is just something that makes the hair stand up on my back when I look down a steep incline sitting on an animal that probably doesn't really want me there. When we got to the end of the trail we had a pretty good sandwich and I had probably the best tasting beer on my trip so far. We climbed the last remaining hills to the parking lot that surprises me a car can actually climb and Michelle was completely dead. Actually I would have preferred to hike up with Michelle because she stopped so often that I really enjoyed the nature as I sat quietly examining the flora and spotting some of the birds and other little insects that made this their home. The climb was arduous but nothing my muscles couldn't take with a few minutes here and there to catch my breath and maybe a little breeze to give my air conditioning a little help. It is humid in the afternoon.
It is getting close to supper and I have a made a special request for chicken/vegetable soup and a cheese sandwich. It's gotta be better than those beans and rice and boiled leather that is the regular fare even if they do put fried onions on it. It is not that the food is not good, it just does not have any flavour. If you were to blindfold me I could only guess at what I am eating by the size shape or texture of what is in my mouth. Sorry to interrupt but the neighbour is punching out Boccelli and I am in the mood for Italian so I'll sign off for the moment and enjoy sitting on the porch smelling the flowers.
Thank god for Spanish/English dictionaries as I looked up and managed to get across that I only wanted supper after I take some pictures of the sunset over the water .... which turned out to be not very impressive but the hour I spent by the sea waiting for it to happen was paradise. There was a Cuban close by waiting on his motorcycle for his girlfriend (from what I could gather) who was very curious about me so as the sun set the scene was relaxing but unfortunately the occasional words between us were mostly not understood. His girlfriend never showed up before I left for supper to my casa. .
Julio's wife prepared the special meal I asked for and it was really good. There is nothing like a good homemade soup but the sandwich provided the fibre and that's about it. It was thick full of cheese but ....
I am sitting on the front porch typing this and my attention is drawn to a skinny old man having a little problem keeping his balance coming up the street. I watched as he was about to pass by but didn't reappear from behind the tree on the porch in front of me. After a little bit, I got up to see him sitting on the curb speaking to the gods that made him sit down. He eventually stood up and made a rather indirect route to where he was going, one crooked step at a time. I often hear "Cuba Libre" amongst the conversations and celebrations that the locals have from my distant perspective and I wonder whether they mean the "rum and coke" or the nationalistic sense of the phrase.
It was breakfast with the Italians. Michelle's husband has recovered but Michelle and I are a little stiff from yesterday's hike but I can barely feel it whereas Michelle's gait gives away her condition. Today I decide to do a little snorkelling on the road to Playa Ancon where I passed many coral beaches ideal for the sport. I set off and came across Julio in the village so I stopped and told him what I was planning and he said he would lend me a mask and snorkel so back I went to the casa and picked it up. I found a spot on a beach where there were a 4 other people and set about to find a good entry into the water.
The corals and seaside can be a little treacherous at spots but I found my little cove and in I went. The water is spectacular. Perfect temperature. No "entrance shock" . The bottom dropped to about 10 feet close to shore but it was so clear that I felt I could almost touch it. I let the tide rock me 3-4 feet back and forth just off shore as I floated watching the marine life go about their graceful dance among the coral formations. Fish, the colour of the pastel chevys and casas that are so much Cuba, frolicked effortlessly below me and I was entranced by the silent symphony of motion and colour as I floated in my heaven above another world. Interruption: here come the goats LOL. The Cuban at the beach really wanted my "beisball" cap with the Moose and Canadian Flag which I ironed on but it is the only one I brought so he asked me to send him one when I get back to Canada. OK amigo .... will do! I gave him a buck for keeping an eye on my bike and off I went.
I ran into another older couple in their sixties from Florence Italy on the beach. They speak a little French so communication was pretty good. They are spending the afternoon at the beach from their casa in Trinidad, having taken a taxi here who will pick them up later. Of course my bike was the conversation starter but one thing led to another and I have made another friend.
I'm going back for another look at the underworld.
My toleration was put to test at the beach just down the road where the guidebook did not mention that topless sunbathing also applied to La Boca. I no longer have to peddle all the way to Playa Ancon for my lesson in the beauty of human nature.
It was getting close to supper time and today I was not asked what I wanted. Today, it is lobster whether I like it or not. Well, I was not expecting a grand daddy lobster tail that I could not finish. I took a picture and gorged myself on the crustacean. The Cubans tend to overcook the lobster and since it was grilled it had the texture pretty close to the meat they serve.
I jokingly asked Julio if he knew of an old salsa teacher that might be at the party who can try get these hips to move like they are supposed to in this part of the world. Michelle translated for me and Julio called a very young woman over who is a salsa teacher and will be at the party tomorrow. I am not sure what I am in for but I got the message that I would not be going to bed early. Viva Cuba!
This morning I bid farewell to my Italians friends from Milan. I felt a warmth in the handshake from Michelle that let me know I have made a new friend and that Canadians will hold a warm spot for them in their thoughts. I will be in touch with them when |I return home to send them the pics I took and invite them to my face book. They know they have a place to stay if ever they want to visit Glen Robertson LOL.
The preparations are under way for the fiesta tonight. The children must have spent days gluing paper chains together for the decoration. There are 4 humongous cakes and the fridges are being filled with beer and drinks. There are large garbage bags full of bread pastries and cookies and the women are busy cooking up a storm. I am in for a night of total Spanish immersion a la Cuba Libre.
I had an idea of creating a website for the smaller casa particulares that I might be able to turn into a business. I pulled Julio aside and asked him if he was interested in having a website for his casa and we discussed the possible monetary compensation. I think that it is a good idea and that my next trip here will be to gather together a list of casas for the site. That makes the trip a business proposition that is tax deductible. I like the sound of it. I must take some Spanish courses to also to improve communications.
I walked down to the beach and passed the casa where my Vancouver friend is staying at an artist studio. I seen him standing at the door up the hill and made my presence known. He invited me to see the studio and the resident artist. The studio is about the size of my bathroom with a table full of random paints in a very disorganised fashion. It looks more like my shed but the walls are made of planks of wood that have spaces in between so maybe an old outhouse might fit the description of the studio more appropriately. I perused the artwork on the walls which consisted mostly of recycled pieces of wood from old fishing boats (as the owner/artist explained) that were painted with some themes. One particular piece of wood was painted with the Cuban flag and had an old rusty mousetrap glued on the top of the painted flag ... armed and ready to spring. The word "desafiar" (best my memory can recollect) under the trap . I looked at the work and was contemplating the meaning of the work when he approached me and explained that the meaning was "dare to touch my Cuba". He spoke English very well as did his wife. He sported a nicely trimmed beard is very presentable as a clean cut person but living in a barn-like house with meagre furniture made from recycled rowboats, which is a nice way of saying old wood found around the shore.
My friend Larry, from Vancouver, who lives in a boat that is not very seaworthy there, is merrily mixing a little paint and singing an old Beatles tune which I immediately recognize....
"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away ..... "
So I helped him with the chorus while I watched what he was doing. His work is not exactly what I would call art but who am I to judge what art is. It is more like what the resident artist does. That is to say, very simple themes painted on an old piece of wood. But the one he was working on seemed more like a sign for a mailbox than art. Who knows, this guy might turn out to be nuts like most great artists and the sign will be worth a fortune LOL. I'll have to take a pic of this place before I leave because it is pretty hard to describe being set back from the road up on a hill. It has sort of a haunted feel to it. Time to go.
It's 2:30PM and the party has started. I counted 62 kids as best I could all sitting around in a circle. There is aclown to amuse them with some pretty hokey tricks but the children are ecstatic.
Most noticeably is the well behaviour of the kids. The decibel level is well beyond recommended safety levels with the music and humdrum behind it but if this was back home, the kids would have taken over the place .... a revolution LOL. I sit here on my porch as the party wonders what the hell I am doing with this computer. What struck me was the absence of cameras so I really hope the pictures that I am taking to send back will be appreciated. At the moment I have 3 kids randomly pushing buttons on this keyboard as I type so I am learning a new experience in patience because the kids are a lot more difficult to communicate with than the adults. I had to repeat "como te llama" 3 times before the little guy would give me his name. I have a long way to go LOL.
The cake is being cut and let me tell you that the kids here really get a big piece. There is no fooling around when cake is concerned and there is plenty to go around. There is no food in the stores but everyone has a plate full.
I am just realizing that this is my last last full day here at Playa La Boca. Yesterday the birthday party started about 2PM and they disappeared as quickly as they came around 6PM. The 8 year old boy who was hanging around me turns out to live in St Sophie about 2km from where I built my first house in New Glasgow. His dad works for a travel agency in St Jerome and is with his girlfriend here. The boy is only eight and speaks Spanish very well. He is very intelligent and keeps pointing his toy revolver at me that spews little sparks LOL. I kept him company as he waited for his dad to pick him up from the party, all the other kids had left.
I was considering calling it a day because although the music was pumped up to the latino beat, the only action were a couple of tables with people playing dominos. You have to picture the scene with ear popping music and people playing dominos! What is wrong here? Doesn't anyone want to dance? Just as I was about to retire, Julio's beautiful daughter and Salsa teacher takes me by the hand and we begin to move to the music. We were the first on the floor but soon others followed. The action had begun. I walzed over to a 40ish lady who was jiving to the music while everyone was playing dominos, but she was too shy and disappeared somewhere when I asked her to dance.
A short time later a woman who looked 70 asked me to dance and away we went. Well, this women was making very suggestive moves and I wasn't quite sure how to follow but then she ended up in front of me sitting on her butt rocking back an forth in a very sexual way. The crowd around us gave me the message to get down too. Down I went on my butt and she wraps her legs around me jiving to the music. So here I am sitting on my butt with a woman who has her legs wrapped around my waist doing moves that reminds me of something I would only do in private. OK ... here we go. Well the crowd went nuts watching us and I was having a blast. You really had to be there. The woman kept coming to ask me to dance and while doing so a rather large man sort of motioned to me in sign language whether I was interested in something else with her for which I shook my head and then she soon disappeared.
A dump truck pulled up with two large kegs of beer, a gas cylinder, and a bar on wheels equipped with a pouring spout. It didn't take long for that to be set up and the party was on it's way. Instant bar!!
Julio's daughter is a really good dancer and gave me many opportunities to boogie with her. What do you do when a woman turns around and starts grinding her butt into your groin to the music? You try to follow the beat and I was having simulated sex with this beautiful woman in front on 40 people...oh man ..... otro mas por favor (another drink please).
I met Martin, the 8 year old's dad. He has been coming here for 15 years and is a jovial fellow. His girlfriend doesn't weigh more than 90 pounds soaking wet and is extremely affectionate. We chatted about all kinds of things and I have a better insight into the scams that people have been lured into here. As he left he said that we would meet tomorrow and talk some more.
It's now 830AM and there is beginning to be movement around the casa. I ask for coffee. Breakfast is picking the carcass of the roasted pig from yesterday in their kitchen as the women go about washing dishes and cleaning up from the night before.
Julio told me that is another fiesta today for his anniversary and more dancing. Sitting around the courtyard they seemed to be discussing the dancing I was doing last night ..... yup, I had a good time. The next thing I knew the sound system was connected and the salsa has begun again. At an impossibly loud volume at 9AM they laugh as I try to grease these old hips into doing what they do so well. No one is jiving except me but what do you expect when you put on music like that?
A horse and cart pulled up to the house with another keg of beer ...it's 10AM and I understand that these people know how to party even if the music doesn't get them going like it gets to me. They must think I am nuts but I really don't care ...and I think they know that LOL. So I took a little break from the pig and the keg to jot his down as the music fills the air. It is going to be a long day LOL ..... it's hard to type and move my hips with a computer on my lap .... gotta go!
I played a few games of dominoes which I didn't have a clue what I was doing other than the brief intro to the game when Isabel visited me last year. The cervesa is flowing and it isn't noon yet. The volume of the music is mind boggling as I play bartender for the guys playing dominoes and be just being part of the Cuban "joie de vie". I am trying to figure a way to extend my stay .... I don't want to go home.
Where I stayed