Cuba’s Ironic Curtain, through Uncertain Countryside…

Old Cathedral in Trinidad

Old Cathedral in Trinidad, Cuba

Continued from previous…spent four days getting my internal bearings greased and realigned, so now my Cuba trip is one-third over… good to finally get out into the Cuban countryside… too little of that, and too much city…

…nothing spectacular about the Cuban countryside, but still it’s nice, rolling fields with agricultural plantations and the occasional wilderness.  We pass through Cienfuegos, a small city on the western coast, where half the passengers, mostly backpacker types, disembark…

…finally pull into Trinidad an hour and a half later… I gulp audibly.  Uh-oh, I’ve been here before… rot sets in first where the fruit is ripest… it’s too small, a tourist enclave and little else… lady on the sidewalk holds up a sign reading “ROOMS $15”, looking for all the world like a cute little webcam ‘performer’ with a sign across her bare midriff reading something like “$.99 min.” 

Street performers in Trinidad, Cuba

Street performers in Trinidad, Cuba

Touts swarm me like flies on m**rda, even though I explain that I’ve already booked a room… problem is that my place knows nothing of it, even though I’ve paid a deposit.

So now I need the barkers and their colored balloons and their cheap cheap rooms… no problem, but I immediately book onward transportation, leaving just two nights and one full day here… should be enough, considering there’s only expensive food… very little street food… prices for Gringo food go for $8-10 a plate and on into the stratosphere… no wonder everybody wants your lunch money…

…that’s the big deal here, hawking you to come to their house to eat.  I tire of the routine quickly.  “Open a restaurant!” I bark back.  There are good deals to be had, though, it just takes time to familiarize myself with them: the guy with the coffee, the old lady with the fruit, etc.  I went crazy when I found coconut custards and cakes for a dime a pop, buying a bag full for the onward journey.

Tourist market in Cuba

Tourist market in Cuba

…good music here, too, just like the Hemingway quarter of Havana.  That’ll soothe frayed nerves.  All in all Trinidad’s okay, with a lively little late-night music scene, though I can think of probably a dozen places in Mexico just as colonially charming without a UN plaque.  But this ain’t Mexico; this is Cuba.

I travel onward to Santa Clara… not only another view of Cuba, but also a different route back to Havana, so as to avoid backtracking… doesn’t have the charm of Trinidad, but compensates with diversity, lots of local theatre, and I even manage to catch a concert… not the bombed-out feel of much of Havana.  I’ll be back there all too soon; gotta check e-mail…

…big surprise here is that it seems no one’s ever met an American, or talked to one at least.  I thought it was way past all that by now, what with reasonably priced flights from TJ and anywhere in Canada.  It’s not.

Public transportation in Santa Clara, Cuba

Public transportation in Santa Clara, Cuba

“I’m fifty-one years old and you’re the first American I’ve ever talked to,” a friend of the house I’m staying in tells me.

“We’re not much different, are we?”

“Not at all: five fingers, two hands, two arms, two legs.”

We trade travel stories, he telling me of his trips to the Warsaw Pact countries and Angola… sounds like a tour of duty to me.  They make no attempt to hide their Communist connections, even a bit nostalgic, I sense.  I tell him my stories, and he gets excited when I talk about Hanoi.  We have common ground.  There are people named Hanoi here, or at least one who’s now a celebrity.

Sundays not bad here, more to see and do than many places in Latin America.  I run across an active cathedral while walking the old city, so decide to stick around for Sunday mass, my first ever.  That’s typical me: waiting to attend my first mass in a Communist country.

Masses in Cuba

Masses in Cuba

It drags on so long I’m getting really hungry towards the end.  So when everyone goes up for their holy wafer I sneak out to go look for a holy hot dog.  My stomach rumblings threatened to disrupt the service.  Aqui estoy, Senor, para hacer tu voluntad. 

What else? The three most common items at any street stall are: cigarettes, rum, and condoms, in no certain order, whatever gets you through the night.  Now that sounds like my kind of dialectical materialism… beggars here creative, freely offering to show you their disease, bandaged back, third eye blind, etc.

Pragmatic women are not to be outdone… Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! High heels follow you back to your hotel like horse hooves on cobblestone and THEN approach you, as if proximity implies acceptance.  After a quick inconclusive chat in the Paseo del Prado, one even snuck through the door of my apartment complex while I was holding it for a key-less elderly lady.  They’re quick, and stubbornly persistent.

Cubans: smoke 'em if you got 'em

Cubans: smoke ’em if you got ’em

Cuba’s got a long hard road ahead… good people, I think, but they’re out of the loop… feelings are going to get hurt.  Except for North Korea most all the other old Socialist bloc nations have long reverted to market economies with its ensuing growing pains.  Their newly capitalist sons and daughters now come to Cuba out of nostalgia.

When Cubans go to the US they probably look for lines to stand in, just to feel normal.

So now I’m off back to Jamaica then back to the US then on to Europe while the dollar can still hold its pants up.

Life’s a beach, but I preserve her.