Poco's great adventure 2009 - 2010 travel blog

old cars down a narrow street

a building in Cuba,

The Floridita - Ernest Hemingway statue is here

Elaine really likes the narrow streets of Old Havana

Poco from the view tower of the Jose Marti museum

Cory in the window of the Jose Marti museum tower

these metals chairs look quite chic with their peeling paint - Trinidad...

cobblestone street in Trinidad

our feet as we wait out the rain storm in Playa Ancon,...

Elaine concentrating very hard on the journal

the view from the bottom of the planter Juan made out of...

the bamboo plants in the planter that Juan made. Havana

Poco has given Elaine permission to write this entry – thoughts on Cuba A couple of things had happened earlier in the trip that really weren’t worth mentioning. First, Cory broke the arm off of his glasses in Guatemala. Fortunately we had brought along his old pair, which functioned as an acceptable substitute. Secondly one of his Keen sandals was coming apart at the seams. As we are traveling with just our Keens - sandals and hikers, plus flip flops for Elaine and water shoes for Cory, this was a bit of a concern although not really a major one. OK, so now we are in Cuba, and are spending a few days in Trinidad. The casa we are staying in came recommended by Juan in Havana. The lady met us at the bus, and brought us to her home. On our first full day we had a list of things to accomplish: Find a book store with English books, see about getting Cory’s glasses fixed, see if we can get a yellow fever shot, and get a hair cut for Cory. Our host gave us a list of places to go to. It is an interesting little network that is in place here in Cuba everyone has a “friend” who can help you out. We found the bookstore and they had 2 English books, we purchased the one that had a communist based plot figuring when in Rome. We then made our way to see if we could get his glasses fixed. We had been told in Canada that if they broke, they would not be repairable. As we have previously mentioned they are many old vehicles here in Cuba and when they are in need of repair, the mechanics have the amazing ability to build, manufacture, fabricate replacement parts, as they are not readily available. With these thoughts in mind we went to see Senor Orlando, who was a friend of our host. Our host had already phoned him, so he was not surprised by our arrival. His shop was not one that we would consider going to in Canada but we had nothing to lose. We showed him the glasses, he said “no problema, can you come back between 3 and 5”. “No problema”. We carried on with our wanderings and came across a shoe repair place. Hmmm, maybe they can do something with Cory’s sandal. Now you have to picture this shop. At the reception desk sits a lady with perfectly manicured and polished nails. She is facing three men, who are all sitting on stools, with a table in front of them that reminded me of a classroom desk. On top of the desk, and at their feet was a pile of shoes in need of repair. As I glanced at some of them, my thoughts were that back home, we would just toss these shoes away – unsalvageable and beyond repair. You would not find most of these shoes in a second hand store. If you remember our earlier comments you will recall how we had noticed tourists were treated differently and nationals would step aside to allow us priority. Well, a similar thing happened in the shoe repair shop. What our man was working on was pushed aside and he began working on Cory’s sandal. He certainly seemed to know what he was doing, so we waited. He glued it, stuck it, pressed it, and at the end was sitting on his stool holding the sandal above his head underneath a fan or dryer. When he was satisfied it was done he handed it back to Cory. He asked how much, and the man just shrugged his shoulders and threw his hands up in the air and said something in Spanish we did not understand. We do fairly well at understanding what is being said, even though our speech needs some work. We were confused and we asked the receptionist, who wasn’t really any more help. We came to the conclusion the price was whatever we wanted to pay. Cory suggested amount and the guy nodded his head that that was acceptable. Then we stopped for a drink found out where the barberia was and Cory got a haircut. This was another interesting experience. You know the blue container of liquid that hairdressers and barbers put their combs and stuff in between each client in Canada – this did not exist in this shop. Well isn’t this trip all about the experiences and Cory does look rather good with his new haircut. We headed back to our casa and had a siesta. We awoke to the sound of thunder and rain. Yes, rain. We sat on the front porch, and watched the rain. We have mountains around us, similar to Hope, and like a rainy Hope day the mountains were not visible. However the difference was it was warm, and we were able to sit under a covered deck and watch the rain. The school children going home for the day didn’t bother to run, they couldn’t get any wetter. Why hurry. The rain bouncing off the street certainly gave us a taste of home, and we thought to ourselves, we never sit and watch a rainstorm at home. As quickly as the rain arrived it was gone. Our host had phoned Senor Orlando to see if the glasses were ready. They were and as it had rained, he didn’t want us to walk on the slippery streets so once he was done, he would deliver them. Imagine our delight and surprise to find he was able to fix them. Perhaps there is a benefit in being in a country without all the modern technology. Sure enough the glasses are not the prettiest, but only if you are looking closely will you be able to see the solder marks. Cory was hoping that he would be able to solder the arm on even if it didn’t fold. The arm folds and more importantly Cory can now see and read comfortably! So now it’s time for the big question. How much? Almost embarrassed by the question Senor Orlando says something in Spanish. We don’t comprehend, but it sounds vaguely familiar. That’s right it sounds like the shoe repairman. We get our host to assist in the translation. Sr. Orlando says “he doesn’t want any trouble, and he is a national and cannot ask us for money”. Our minds are calculating, Cory’s glasses probably cost more than this man makes in a year. What is it we see in his face, is it desperation? Is it apprehension? Fear? It was very difficult to read him. We were angry on his behalf. In some ways it is like a garage sale when a friend comes by. They ask how much and you don’t want to say a price because you might offend them, and they don’t want to make an offer for fear of offending you. We were offended, but this man although friendly is not our friend. It’s the system in Cuba. In our mind we know that in Canada the optical store would say, ooops, too bad so sad, can I show you some new frames. We knew the value of the repaired glasses, but what is the value to Orlando? We offered to give him money as a tip, a gift, and had him suggest an amount. Our host tentatively suggested $5 CUC’s the equivalent of $7 or 8 Canadian. We doubled it and gave him $10 CUCs, telling him $5 from each of us. As we discussed this later, we realized how angry we really were. It seems it is OK for people to approach us in the street and ask for money to feed their family or for medicine, but trouble could be found by asking us for money for services rendered. We felt discrimination, only we in some twisted sense were the discriminators while being discriminated against in a reverse fashion. We were being treated as if we are more important than the nationals and we didn’t ask for this and were really quite uncomfortable with the concept that we are more important. The 10 CUCs we paid this man is really nothing to us, and truth be told the value of his service is worth way more. I would like to believe that the money we gave Orlando will in some small way make his life a little bit better but really I hope and wish that eventually Cubans will be treated as equals to tourists. It is an unfortunate thought that I am sure some tourists who come to this country feel that they are superior, and have no problem taking advantage of nationals. As a closing note, I am really glad that Cory got his glasses fixed. Despite my warning to not wear his back up pair into the Caribbean Sea at Cayo Largo, he did, and when that big wave crashed over his head, yes they tumbled to the bottom. Fortunately there was a man with a snorkelling mask that he leant to Cory and miracle of miracles he found his glasses, just the arm was sticking out of the sand. These suffered what we considered minor damage, with some scratching to the lenses, that we are confident in Canada they would polish out, but according to Orlando there is nothing that can be done for this pair of glasses. Perhaps one day he will have the modern technology, but then will he be able to solder arms on? Oh one other side note, today we took a trip to Playa Ancon beach as we were getting ready to leave a national called Cory over and started whispering to him. I headed over to eavesdrop, he was definitely offering something to Cory, a couple of bottles of rum (10 CUCs) and a case of Cohiba cigars (another 25 CUCs) in exchange for his newly repaired Keen sandals. That shoe repairman did an amazing job, and it wasn’t unnoticed by his fellow national.

Am including some extra photos of Cuba with this entry

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