Santiago de Cuba
18 Aug 2007
|Saturday 18th August 2007
Having booked our Casa Particular we were met by a guy in a jeep but unfortunately I was so tired I didn't realise why his friend was trying to grab my bag...didn't do much for their latino impressions of western women when I entered a push and pull contest with the bag. Turned out our place was full and we were sent over the road to use the spare room of a friend. The place was pretty much a museum with decoration untouched in decades. Exhausted from the overnight bus we went straight to bed. Spent the afternoon wandering around the town and getting some peso pizza which also involved an invite to a local party then went to the aptly named Casa Granda hotel for some drinks on the terrace. We had wanted to go to the infamous roof bar but that had been closed with the tourist drop off shortly after 11th September. We had an interesting time at Santiago 1900 restaurant in the evening where having been provided with a menu we spent 10 minutes making our choices. The waitress then informed us both dishes were unavaible. When our second choices were also 'off' we questioned what in fact was on the menu at which point she pointed to the 'red beef dish' which begs the question why in fact they even provided us with a menu. That was followed by an evening in the Music Bar - Casa de los Estudiantes where there was a great band playing. It was just as much fun watching the room full of tourists however, as each table had at least one Cuban talking and drinking with them. Very hard to define the difference between 'friendly Cuba' and 'buy me a drink Cuba'. We had a good night but left in giggles following a "your hair is like sunshine" comment to Zoe from our table companions.
Sunday 19th August 2007
Spent the night awake with stomach ache, if only I had known about the books warnings of parasites in the water at this point! We went for lunch at Casa Granda and then jumped in a fabulous old open topped taxi to the fortress. The taxi waited for us whilst we walked around the walls of the fortress accompanied by a lady who did a bit of a show and tell and then asked for some money. When we paid her friend also put her hand out so we paid her too...absolutely no idea what for...maybe we should have given the iguana money too for taking its photo.
I started to feel better by the time we got back but then Zoe was doubled over with stomach too. After a siesta back at the old ladies place whilst she rocked too and fro in her rocking chair watching old black and white movies, we went up the road for a drink in a bar that was booming through the open windows. The waitresses spent as much time swinging their hips in front of the band as they did serving and Zoe received an on the spot cartoon of herself from an attentive man at a nearby table. We went across the road to our Casa Particular for dinner where we got great views of the city skyline and were overwhelmed by chicken, rice and avocado. The lady of the house was fantastically friendly and introduced us to her son. Dinner was followed by a small shot of coffee that I promptly necked as I didn't want to appear rude by wasting it. Now being completely inexperienced in the ways of coffee I didn't really realise that would have me up reading until 4 am, or perhaps that was also to do with the ice cream we had down the street for dessert!
Monday 20th August 2007
We actually remembered to take out the soap today so we were able to hand that out to some kids who asked for it on a street corner whilst we were walking around. That just meant that they nosed down my bag to see what other goodies I had though! We had street pizza again which is getting a little tiresome as it is literally a round doughy lump dovered in watery tomato sauce and salty cheese.....so I can't imagine how the locals feel!
Shopping for food has basically become a habit of see someone with something and head in the direction they came from, you'll start to see more people with the same thing and eventually trace the source! This morning we saw a man with cake and very excited we went down the road he came out of, saw other ladies with pastries, then smelled the panaderia and there we have it...pastry shop! Took a little effort to get served but out we walked with one fruit loaf handed to us in tongs...seems you are supposed to bring your own bag! The next stop was completely the other end of the Cuban shopping experience. A large throng of people were pushing their way in and out of what at first seemed to be a supermarket but sold everything from rum to underwear. I still find it very strange that there is this dual economy. Anyone in work related to tourists is paid in dollar valued pesos and as a result is much wealthier that a doctor or professor and is able to shop in these dollar stores for things like shampoo whilst others are begging on the street for soap.
After all our shopping we decided to brave a break in the park for ten minutes which proved to be a mistake. I really thought that we needed to get Zoe a wig, as this time the blonde hair attracted an ex-olympic boxer who wasn't satisfied to just look but wanted to stroke....so we moved on back to old faithful Casa Grande for lunch. Every day we have seen the same faces there, seems everybody feels it's the only place to get some peace. Had a siesta and then left for the 6pm bus to Havana on the jeep we were picked up in the other day. We had to pay him around the corner before we arrived because he wasn't a taxi driver. Zoe was pretty ill by this point with the stomach pains (oh did we wish we'd read about the water parasites before accepting those ice cubes!) Was surprised the bus provided us with drinks and a ham roll once we got going then when we stopped at a bus station I got yet more street pizza and very soon felt very ill.
Tuesday 21st August 2007
Whilst Zoe seemed to be feeling better, I came off the bus in a bad way. Realised very quickly that there was no way I was going to make it on a bus to Viñales straight away so we got a taxi to take us to any Casa Particular he knew. That turned out to be just the flat of an old lady who he knew on the third floor of a rather communist 1950's looking block of flats in Central Havana. I hardly made it up the stairs before collapsing in a bed slightly worried I had actually kicked the 80 year old out of her bed. She was so sweet, stroking my leg and feeling sorry for me whilst the room spun. I was ill all morning and felt so guilty afterwards that I had just wandered into this old ladies home and spent half the day in her bathroom. It turned out that there was another bedroom she was sleeping in and the pillow we saw on the sofa was for her husband...clearly they'd had a row the night before! When I finally stopped being sick we went off in search of a hospital so I could get some drugs to sort myself out as the stomach pain was really nasty. We got a horse taxi to a big hospital on the waterfront which had a fantastic 1960's lobby but they couldn't help me and sent us off to another section of the city to a private clinic. We got in a gigantic American car that kept picking up and dropping off other people and arrived at the clinic to an English speaking doctor and very speedy service. I got three pots of drugs for $20 and necked them in the taxi on the way back to sleep more so hopefully we can move on tomorrow.