A diary of a tourist in Cuba – Part 2

By | Category: Travel destinations

CubaA day-by-day memory of an unforgettable holiday

The new day came early and loudly with all the neighbourhood dogs barking loudly and incessantly from well before daylight. Still reeling from yet another sleep-deprived night, breakfast was served and then in no time at all, Rubio was outside with ‘Caballo’ to take us to the derelict prison where Fidel Castro was incarcerated before the revolution. What an eerie place! A hugely grand marble staircase up to the admin block and close by, colonial style houses set in a crescent for the officers. We bribed the curator 4 pesos and she allowed us to take forbidden photos of Fidel and his brother Raul’s beds in the amazing hospital block. The beds are still presented with immaculately laundered sheets, each with the additional scrap of black rag the inmates tore from their trousers to use as eye covers through the night, as the lights were permanently kept on. The only other clues that this really is no ordinary hospital, were the mug shots of each prisoner above every iron framed bed.
Fidel’s isolation room was huge with his own bathroom, marble bench and yet another iron bed. His books and manuscripts are on show in a glass case. Once more the curator turned a blind eye to our tourist antics.
The ‘circulations’ are four enormous circular blocks five storeys high, full of numbered tiny cells, each sleeping at least two. Each of these massive towers housed at least one thousand prisoners around the outside walls, with a central gun tower for the warders to keep their beady eyes on them. The gun slits on this reminded us they really did mean business.
Empty except for the birds and a quirky echo, it was truly an awe inspiring monument to imprisonment. We came away feeling humbled by such a historic yet vacant place.
Rubio escorted us to another beach with equally as hot water as the previous day, but this time black sands.
Having procured cold beers we all sank them without trace in a trice. Reluctantly and after much hashing together of Spanish and English with Rubio, we clip-clopped our way back to the house through the Sunday afternoon scenes of children playing baseball, and earsplittingly loud TVs and music, with barking, bouncing, strangely elongated dogs with short legs, women with good child bearing hips walking through the streets with amazing towering constructions of enormous hair curlers, each not in the least bit self conscious, while all the time, the hum of incessant chatter and laughter, with wafts of Creole suppers being prepared. This is the real Cuba. We were looked at, no STARED at, almost constantly. Tom is ‘lindo’ (handsome) and all the young girls were fascinated by him. We lived with the Cubans – they have integrity, honesty and humour, music and laughter. They adore their children although they are not spoilt, and they love their families. Indeed as a comparison, they appear materially to have little worth anything, but they have soul and love and they know what matters – people. They accept that we do not speak Spanish and do not laugh at our pathetic attempts to do so. In fact, the more you try, the more they like you and encourage it. Smiling and being pleasant helped, however with the frustratingly archaic systems enforced upon everyone, it is so hard to perform even everyday tasks.
Supper and then to bed with clanking air conditioning chugging away, (the Russian lettering gave away its’ age as considerable) and ear plugs in situ, we settled down for another sticky night.

It could never be easy. The comforting sound of Rubio’s cart and Caballo’s hooves, lulled us all into a false sense of security. This was to be the day from hell – another endurance test too far and above our dented stamina.
After the security guards had finished delivering, we were allowed into the cool, high-ceilinged bank. All was calm as we waited our turn, but on being told that we needed our receipt of purchase for the travellers cheques to encash them, as well as our present and correct passports, life became Cubanly ‘difficile’ again.
Another cart ride back to the casa to find the receipts (“Must always be kept separate when you travel”), and the truth dawned. We must have left them in the UK. Every rucksack was frantically turned inside out and savagely searched but to no avail. More hoop-jumping to negotiate the Cuban telephone system to Visa in the UK (“American Express not accepted in Cuba so take Visa travellers cheques”) and we had another challenge on our hands. Eventually, the UK connected, and they advised us to try the Cadeca, effectively an exchange kiosk with limited banking facilities. If they could not help, staff at Visa UK gave us a call collect UK number Cadeca could ring and they would authorise the transaction.
Off again, with Rubio and Caballo to Cadeca. “No possible” once again, but they gave us instructions to come back in two hours and all should be possible then.
Calm once more, as we bounced our way through the pot-holed tracks and palm trees to Playa Paraiso. A quick dip the balmy water, a few slurps of machete-opened, fresh coconut milk, and we were off on our intrepid return quest to Cadeca.
There were extra staff on duty now but still ‘no possible’ and they will not make the ‘phone call to prove we were not thieves. (Another mental note – consider taking cash next time, if there is a next time!)
Legging it across town and back to the first bank, they seemed this time to be more accommodating and would make that precious call but another hurdle leapt up and confronted us – now they wanted our Tourist visas as well and they were back at the casa. With instructions to return tomorrow as the bank was by now closed, we were utterly exhausted. Why could no-one tell us they would need these infernal dockets before? Never mind! Manyana and all that salsa, and all should be resolved.
Trusty Rubio dropped us back at the casa and we all flopped on the beds, drained and sweating profusely.
Simon was determined not to let this frustration be our lasting memory of the day, so proposed we took a walk to the top of the hill overlooking the town. Billed in the Rough Guide as “an exhilerating but short climb,” I should have sensed trouble. At 4pm the sun was very hot. The temperature was 37 degrees Celsius, so we set off with water in hand, (No bottled water available on the island and “Sometimes parasites in the tap water if there is no rain”), but we should be okay as it had rained every day. (Oh yes, Hurricane Ernesto came and went last night and we knew not a thing about it, except for a magnificent thunder storm. It seems he preferred the east of the island and gave the Foxleys a wide berth! Wise move, Ernesto!) After long and dusty perambulations around the unfamiliar town and out into the countryside, we arrived at the foot of the hill and the track that would take us to the top. Now, let’s get this straight, it IS a hill but the one word I overlooked in the Rough Guide was “climb”. I have never been consumed with a yearning to rock climb, nor do I ever expect to be so, but I had to then. Boy! These were serious lumps of stone and as we clambered, slipped, grunted and unspeakingly clawed our way up the mountain, I resolved never, ever willingly to do that again. When I know I am beaten, I am not stupid enough to torture myself. With this sound philosophy in mind, I conceded defeat some twenty metres from the top. Simon and Tom carried on to the top. As I sat perched on an enormous boulder, the predatory mosquitoes gathered round my increasingly sweaty body. They nipped in under the sarong I was furiously flapping around me, tucking into the fleshy feast.
Eventually Simon and Tom returned and we started the perilous descent. Never again!
About two miles further on, at 7pm and still 35 degrees, we tumbled into the casa and zippp!!! Just as the air con trundled into action, the whole town was blacked out with a power cut. The noise level in the cheek-by-jowel houses increased, with excited chitty-chatting amongst children and adults, until finally one hour later, illumination returned to a great cheer from the neighbourhood.
All was well, supper was soon on the table and then, with the promise tomorrow of cash in our pockets, we were off to bed.

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