Trip Start Sep 25, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Well Holy God!  What an experience!  A place where the "Republic" is
female, Che is constantly smiling at you and the people are still
living the revolution.  I think that it is a place that will change
very soon though, so very interesting to see now.  But Iīm not sure
which way it will go....

Anyway, La Habana is a huge city that must have been one of the most
beautiful in the ī50s, and tofay the streets are like living museums with the famous American cars from this period everywhere.  But it a place that is falling down mostly,
apparently many floors collapse daily.  I only really saw the centro
and the old part, which is absolutely beautiful.  Also, Venado, a
mostly residential part, is filled with magnificent colonial homes.  I
only stayed one night before I went down to Trinidad to meet
Adelaide...who had fallen in love with the lovely Adolpho.  Trinidad is
quite a touristy place with a similarly beautiful old part to the
town.  We stayed just outside the centre of the town in a house with a landlady, both straight of the 50īs, on a street just like you would have found in Ireland before that, complete with ponies and traps as the transportation.

Each night there is live music and entertainment on a wide
expanse of steps in this area, where all the tourists, some locals and
lots of hustlers looking for a drink in exchange for some salsa
dancing.  We sat there drinking our own Cuba Libres and took it all in.
This was my first exposure to music, dancing and pageantry and Iīm so
sorry that I didnīt get to have another night of it.  A love affair
between the Spanish guitar and the African drums is a great
description, but it doesnīt completely explain the magic.  The reason
that we didnīt get to go back was that we had a run in with the law the
next day....A plain-clothes police man approached Adolpho when we were
at the beach and then carted him off without explanation...Anyway, all
that goes with that is for another day, but suffice to say that we were
pretty scared and got a not-so-nice glimpse of what itīs like to not be
a tourist in this country, where itīs 30 years for saying anything
negative about the place for example. 

Next up, Cienfuegus.  We stayed in the most beautiful home just off the
main square.  I really liked this town--it has amazing art that Iīm so
sorry that I didnīt buy something there.  The art in Cuba is amazing. 
There is so much of it everywhere and itīs so fanciful and free.  I
also bought a ticket for whatever was playing and got to see a kids
performance of Spanish Flamenco, for Christmas perhaps, but judging
from the standard they might have been in a professional dance school
And the price alone was worth it just to see the beautiful theatre. 
Unfortunately I had to get moving after only one night in Cienfuegos as
I still had everything to see in Havana.  There we stayed with the most
wonderful lady in another beautiful colonial house.  Everyone should
stay with Martha Dulce.  Not having Spanish really took from my
experience in Cuba but Martha took the time to speak slowly and we had
some chats.  So, time to start ticking off boxes...we went to a cigar
making factory where they make around 120 per day, depending on the
type.  Such a curious place where they have different types of
entertainment, like someone reading a book, for most of the day
apparently.  Shopping at the market and strolling through the old part
of town is a lovely way to spend a day, and I had the most amazing
pasta in one of the fab hotels.  Well...  Some other museums and lots
of walking later it was already time to leave. 

I think that my body knows that itīs coming to the end of this trip and
itīs feeling tired, and Iīm feeling that I missed out in parts in Cuba
because of this.  But, also things conspired against the place
where I set off to to listen to some music in Havana was closed.  Iīm
kicking myself that I didnīt get to enjoy more music and dancing!  And
then there was nothing on on our last night...  Itīs a place that
requires a budget larger than anywhere else in this part of the world
too.  Also, with the 2 currencies in circulation, itīs a bit strange. 
Tourism is the largest industry in Cuba now and they need it.  The
daily rations arenīt enough...itīs illegal to kill a horse.  So,
everyone who works in the tourist industry is doing very well.  The
convertible for the foreigners is worth 25-times that of the local
currency, and with tips that makes for a pretty large gap.  Salaries
are about $13 per month, which isnīt so difficult to make in one day on
tips alone.  My taxi driver from the airport told me that it takes his
brother who is a doctor about 3 months to make what he earns in a
week.  But then he gave up being an engineer to drive around all day. 
Plus, itīs really difficult to get such a job, there were 500
applicants for his job, so he said.

I really donīt like being negative but just to document it all.....the
men are astoundingly forward.  Walking around on your own or even with
another girl attracts attention that just doesnīt stop all day.  And
itīs them all--from 13 to 90!!  Incredible!!  But it is a cultural
thing.  The poor Cuban women are always giving out about them too! 
When we were having coffee in a very nice place in the heart of the old
part of Havana I watched as a waitress in her fifties continuously
brushed away the wandering hand of a waiter who was "massaging" her
shoulders....Our tour guide was kissed and love proclaimed to her by
another employee in front of us while she worked, giving us the
tour...the list goes on.  But even though I knew that I was probably
safer in Cuba that I would ever be at home (no jokes, thank you very
much!), I just couldnīt relax. 

So, in summary, the freedom in the arts has produced and is still
producing wonderful results, the men are tiresome, the architecture is
amazing, but crumbling to varying extents, it is a country that is
suffering very much from the embargo, and I think that the necessary
dependence on the tourist trade has completely undermined the
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