The magnificent and the crumbling...

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Hey Chino - como estas?"  A cuban cliche sticks his head out the window of a massive bus resembling optimus prime.  His cigar stretches kilometres.  From the shadows of the splendour of Havan's Capitolio building, I look up at Optimus in stunned amazement, Mr Cliche suddenly crushed up against the window by the 300 optimus occupants.  "Un peso chino?"  His hand extends towards me just as optimus chugs slowly away up Havana's massive boulevard, the Prado.  Beyond the reach of the capotolio's shadow, a museum of automotive history parks itself.  Vintage classic cars - some immacuately maintained, others almost completely neglected - stand row after row; too many happy days episodes rom your childhood making you expect a girl on rollerskates with a burger to materialise at any moment.  Such is the classic feel of Havana - a snapshot of history in a modern context; dude driving a studebaker whilst on his mobile phone; the latest digitial SLR taking the same shot as the 1920's black and white pinhole camera outside the Capitolio.  Even in this 3 million-plus metropolis, life is quite relaxed as people queue without hassle at the holes in the wall; lie in their bici-taxis waiting - not necessarily hoping - for customers; stand on a street corner watching the children shoot each other with bows and arrows.  There are smiles - for the cuban music playing from the corner cafe?  Or the sun's delightful rays moulded into a column by the gorgeous but ever crumbling colonial terraces?  Is the smile a temporary one?  A permanent facade?  Or is life geninely happy in this country where socialism remains at the heart of its political system?
It's fair to say that the Travel Cuba Team of the Devil - including Mel, Hannah and the recently joined Rojo - have a pretty poor understanding of how this plaec functions in practice.  A bit of the recent history of Cuba?  I think we now understand, with the aid of the awesome Museo de la Revolucion.  We even understand the functioning of the dual currency - convertible and nacional pesos.  But an understanding of ownership and business, what people can and can't do, get or don't get - essentially how it all works - is something that we have just started to grasp, its nuances hopefully something that will reveal itself over time...
We're getting on top of cigars much more quickly.  In fact, I'd call it a domination.  And the question has often been asked - is there any better existence that sitting on roof top terrace, puffing on a thick, montechristo cigar, watching the sun leave behind a sky of rich pink, purple and red over the amazing city of Havana.  The question has often been answered - yes.  How?  With a fucking Mojito.  Mojito is up I say.  Havana has been unexpectedly indulgent, especially given the guide book warnings as to the quality, quantity and variety of food.  Where exactly did the lonely planet writer go?  Certainly not to the place where you get spectacular seafood pasta for a few dollars.  Probably not to the corner paladar that does outrageous chorizo pizza for 40 cents.  How about that plaza side restaurant that does the crazy meat grill as you watch?  Havana's food selection is quite decent, at least as a tourist.  As you stroll through the delightful old havana, marvellinga t the elegant colonial buildings still housing traditional pharmacies and refined hotels, between the surprising, cafe surrounded Plaza Vieja and Plaza de la Catedral, holes in the wall pop up - burgers for 40 cents, icecream for 5 cents, street cigars for 10 cents, a juice for 5 cents - the idea of hunger never passing through your mind in the slightest as a privileged tourist.  Eating? Domination...
I can't salsa.  My parents can - I can't.  Nor can the rest of the group.  We dance like white people - and I'm not even white.  The salsa seems like a national institution in Cuba, its distinctive beat ringing out through the music houses and back streets alike.  Naturally, Cubans can dance salsa.  A bit.  A bit better than us anyway.  So, imagine this scene:  a reknowned Havana music house;4 aussies who can't dance; add mojitos, maybe an aussie or 2 on the ground - balance a constant problem - and a floor of cubans that can dance.  Average from us...
Havana is forever fascinating.  In a few days, the sights can easily be seen - the splendid Old havana, Verdado, the bizarre, star shaped monument overlooking the carpark that is the Plaza de la Revolucion.  But Cuba, to me, and especially Havana as its cultural and politial centre - more than most places I've travelled, covers itself with layer after layer, that continues to leave you wide-eyed, amazed and confused long aftert all the sights have been ticked, as you wander the streets, wait for food at a hole-in-the-wall or ride a cab through this incredibly unique city - a city which may be on the verge of incredible change...
So, to the Top 5.  Ok - don't get me wrong.  I lvoe the old-school classic car thing that's going on in Cuba.  But, even more than that, I love the crazy, innovative alternative methods of transport that we've seen people come up with over our time in Havana.  Here are the Top 5:
5.  Coco taxi - mini taxi shaped kinda like a coconut, kinda like a football, kinda just round.  And yellow... 
4.  Optimus Prime - the biggest thing in the entire world.  Massive, crammed full of 300+ people, ready to transform and lead the autobots at any moment.  Megatron stands little chance...
3.  Lawn mower - need to get somewhere?  Not on lawn?  Doesn't matter.  Ride-on-lawn-mower it up.  Maybe taken out a few pedestrians on the way...
2.  Bobcat - where do you ride a bobcat?  On the roof?  No.  In the passenger seat?  Don't be stupid.  On the shovelly thing.  That's where.  Quality...
1.  6 wheel military tank - it's Cuba.
To Santa Clara...
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