April 30, 2014

The Streets of Havana and the In-Betweens

Photos of Havana. Havana is such a photogenic place with so much going on that I feel it deserves its own post. Particularly Old Havana where it's nostalgic and full of old American cars.

Essentially you can live like a king in Cuba if you stay away from tourist traps (uh hem, Veradero) and you are smart with your money. We booked a hotel in Santa Maria. It’s a small town right by a beautiful beach 20 minutes away from Havana by bus. The first few days we were living like ballers. We tipped like a North American (and they loved us for it), drank too much, ordered way too much food while enjoyed the company of the locals.

Guanabo is a small town filled with locals and it is a 5 minute drive from Santa Maria. The town has plenty of delicious and cheap places to eat. Our favorite place was ‘Little Chicken’ where you can get a 3 course meal and drinks for $12 - $15 CDN. It was one of the most delightful restaurants I have ever been. Since we spent a lot according to Cuban standard and we tipped like North Americans, the restaurant loved us so much that they offered us Cohibas to smoke. $15 to get treated like Royals. If there is one place I miss in Cuba it would be this place.

The first bar we went to was in Santa Maria. It was completely empty until we showed up, and then chickas “magically” appeared out of nowhere. They must have smelled dollar bills from tourists especially from Mr.Fannypack. Needless to say the next morning was a write off.

“I thought she liked my personality but oh well I only spent $20. Super affordable!”
“How can her or any of them like our personality when they don't speak the same language?”
“Well. No one will even notice you with $20 in Canada. Except desperate crack whores. I say it’s still good.”

Everywhere we went we joked to “make it rain”. Everyone got tips from us. Taxi drivers, hotel service staff, scammers, pregnant moms that approached Mr. Fannypack, or really anyone that approached Mr.Fannypack. We were all bleeding money from drinking too much, ordering too much food and generous tips that within only 3 days in I was down to $90 while one guy was down to 40 cents and the other was down to $3. There was no bank to exchange money where we lived.

“Shit. What are we going to eat tonight?”
“Well, we can’t afford to cab. So lets just get drunk in our room and eat at Casa Club across from our hotel.”

If Casa Club was in Canada they would have rejected our entrance from our smell of rum, but not in Cuba. The menu consisted dishes of “Ropa Vieja” which had translation beside that said “Old Clthes” for $5.15, “Ballotin de Pollo” which had translation of “Chicken Ballotin” for $5.30 and “Bistec de Cerdo Embutido” which had translation of “Byproduct pork steak” for $4.75.

“Uhm… Does ‘old clthes’ mean old clothes?!”
“I can’t even afford to eat ‘old clothes’!”
“What the hell is a byproduct pork steak?!”
“From now on we need to learn to say ‘how much’ and ‘too expensive’ in Spanish, so we’re not stuck getting drunk in our room and eating old clothes with a side of byproduct pork steak.”
“And 10, 20, 30 and 40 in Spanish.”
“What about 50?”
“50 is too high. Nothing here is worth 50 dollars.”

It’s a bit sad that everything has a price tag. If a girl hisses you on the street it isn’t because she hates you, she is actually cat calling you.

“Meet Jose Manuel. He is this bar's owner and he gets chickas.” AJ said to me.
“He is good looking.” I said.
“He is for sale.”
“Everything can be bought here, haven’t you realized?”
“Does he speak English?”
“Okay. I guess I can just pull out a bill and point at my crotch and say ‘Si! Si!’”

Obviously I was joking. But it’s pretty damn close that everything can be bought minus a ticket to get out of the country for the locals. Cuban women are all very attractive and more than you think would be willing as they make so little. In clubs there are attractive women like ones in those Latino music videos just hanging around and waiting to be picked up. I lost count of how often I see 50 year old white men, “greaseballs”, we call them, with a young Cuban woman. While it is illegal for locals to step onto hotel property, even the security guard and the police can be paid to turn a blind eye, if necessary.

And because of that, now whenever I hear single old men going to Cuba by themselves, my brain will automatically give them the side eye and label them as a greaseball.

In one of our drunken stupors we decided to go for a hooker watch at 1:30am in Santa Maria. The streets were empty. Not even a taxi in sight. Even Jose Manuel was absent. “Everyone is partying in Guanabo.” The Jose Manuel replacement said to us. For the first time I noticed how dingy these bars and restaurants were. Every building is runned down with wires hanging out somewhere and with some sort of structural damage.

“These places are sketchy.” I said.
“No sketchier than going for a hooker watch on Monday at 1:30am.” AJ reminded me.

How judgmental I have become! And no wonder our last night spent at an all-inclusive hotel in Veradero was a disappointment. Sure, the beach was nicer than Santa Maria's and it felt good to be able to communicate in English rather than hand gestures with the very few Spanish words we knew, but the food was bland and the meat was overcooked. The place was filled with tourists whose only purpose was to eat and lay on the beach. The night club on the resort felt like a highschool party of misfits with tourists and tourist gears. They danced to their English pop songs and embraced familiarity. It felt tame. It was too polished and too comfortable for me.

I knew I was heading home when as we boarded our plane, the little kid who sat in front us asked his mom to play on the iPad. Ahh. Us spoiled North Americans. We are so unappreciative of how good we have it. As much as we bitch about our jobs, our boring lives, how lucky we are to live in our country, where we have the freedom to make our own choices and create our own future. And on top of it all, can afford to have and follow our personal moral compass.

While I have made many drunken stupors there, I have carried home a sense of appreciation and enlightenment from Cuba and its people, along with an upset stomach that can’t take anymore rum… For now.