The Havana Diaries – Getting Adjusted

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Monday, April 4, 2016

After enjoying a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast at Dulcinea yesterday, I decided that it would be my regular breakfast spot. I got ready for the day and walked down Linea between Paseo and Calle A, and the small panaderia was as crowded as it was before. I stood in line to order, only to be told that they didn’t have any bread or coffee today. Wait, wasn’t this a panaderia? *Shrugs* I guess I just got lucky yesterday. I bought a bottle of water and headed across the street to the Metro Bank to exchange currency. I walk in and it was basically like the DMV. I told the woman at the front desk the reason I was there, she handed me a number, and I sat and waited until my number was called. Despite a number of people also waiting, I didn’t sit for a full minute before my number was called. I approached the teller with my passport and 100 euros, and we went through the same process as the airport CADECA.

Next, I headed to Melia Cohiba for another 15 minutes of screenshotting Regla and other Havana maps. I walked out of the hotel, and took an old Chevy to Parque Central for 10 CUC. Then I took a stroll southward past Ralph Trejo boxing gym and down to Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. I had no intentions of buying anything, but I was browsing to get an idea of what I wanted and how much it would cost me.

I walked out of the art market and headed to the ferry terminal in order to get to Regla. The workers made me finish drinking my bottle of water. Then they checked my bag, flirted a little by kissing my hand, and confirmed that I had 10 cents for the fare. When I got to the ferry, I hand over my 10 cents and get 1 CUP back in change. Basically, the fare was about 7 cents altogether. The ride was smooth and about 5 minutes. It had some nice views of the city and the Capitol, which was being remodeled.

ferry to Regla

El Capitolio Havana

Once off the ferry, I got fussed at for taking pictures of the ferry. I smiled and continued my journey to Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla a few steps away from the ferry. The church was the home to a black Madonna and her white baby Jesus. When the slaves were forced into the Atlantic Slave Trade, they brought their religion with them. mixing it with Catholicism to create Santeria. The black Madonna was actually Yemaya, the orisha of the ocean.

La Virgen de Regla

Virgen de Regla

Outside of the church were several priestesses who are performing “cleanses” on tourists. Listen, when it comes to religion, I don’t play. If I don’t know enough about, I don’t get involved. I genuinely believe in the powers of the orishas, but I also believe that those priestesses are full of shit. Either way, I didn’t go near them.

I strolled around Regla for a bit. There wasn’t much to see here, as it was more of a residential neighborhood and not a tourist area. I considered going to Guanabacoa and the Museo Municipal de Guanabacoa to learn more about orishas, but there were no taxis around the neighborhood and i was not in walking distance. I see buses come and go, but have no idea what the routes were, so I headed back to the ferry. By the time I get back to Habana Viejo, my feet were on fire. I was slowly walking along to get to a taxi when I got approached by an Afro-Cuban man right across the street from the ferry terminal. He obviously saw me before I saw him because he came out of nowhere and I felt slightly ambushed.

Mr. Crab meme

He started by saying I didn’t look Cubana and asked where I was from. After loads of street harassment, and overhearing a guy say that the Americans were visiting and they had a lot of money, I was supposed to say I was from Jamaica since being American wasn’t working in my favor. I forgot about my plan and told him I was from America. MISTAKE! He told me that he taught English here in Habana and went on about how they were waiting for Americans to come to Cuba and “uplift” them. We were the great savior, I guess. Call me a bitch, but at this point, I really DGAF. I was exhausted, hot, sweaty, hangry, and dehydrated. Basically, I was in full bitch mode, and I was wearing my bitch face, but he did not notice. What he does notice was how sweaty I was and offered to take me to a place across the street where I could sit in cool air. I rolled my eyes and declined the offer, wishing more people would cut the bullshit and get to the point of what they wanted out of me. I started walking away, and told him I was headed to lunch. Of course, he knew a place. I declined again, saying I had plans to go to a place in Centro Habana.

Well, what do you know, he was also a taxi driver! He eagerly offered to take me there, and I sighed heavily, and finally accepted. If anything he’d get a free meal, and we could both get on with our lives. He walked away to get his car, and I pondered walking away during the two minutes it took for him to show up. He arrived before I could decide, but he was not driving. He wa on the passenger side of the taxi. Nigga, what?

I just stood there, knowing that something incredibly wack was about to go down if I got in that taxi. In that extended pause, I realized my feet were throbbing, so I got in the taxi against my better judgement – bitchface still in tact. The driver drove for a minute and then stopped. The Afro-Cuban asked for the fare, and I was confused because we weren’t even there. I told him I’d pay when we get there. He told me he already paid the driver, and now he was leaving so he needed reimbursement. Again, nigga what?

I just opened my wallet and handed over the fare. He was trying to look all in my wallet the entire time, and then asked for a little something for him. I only had enough for the exact amount of the fare, and everything else was large bills. He sure wasn’t getting that. I instead handed him all of the loose change I had left, and he got pissed off at me and went on a mini-rant about how we were supposed to be “people”. He hopped out of the car yelling that this was bullshit, and the driver sped away before I could give him the American tongue-lashing that he truly deserved. Dude used me for a free ride, and I knew I overpaid for the taxi fare, so he made a profit off that as well! After all of that abuse of someone he called his “people,” he wanted to get mad. Fuck outta here!

I grabbed lunch, and headed to my casa to sleep off the mess of the day. Maybe the day would be better when I woke up. I awoke to the sound of the kid next door singing Adele’s “Hello” at the top of his lungs. The only problem was he didn’t really know the words – just the harmony of the chorus. So that was all he sung over and over.

I decided not to shower. I’d continue to smell like sweat and despair, but whatever. My legs, knees, and ankles were in shambles from walking so much on Habana’s damaged sidewalks, so I couldn’t walk too far. Decameron was on my backup list of restaurants since it was nearby, and I headed there and see the lights off. Closed on a Monday? I later learned this Decameron was for Italian cultural activities, and the restaurant was one more block ahead.

The next closest thing was Paladar El Idilio, which was further than I was willing to walk, but I did it anyway. I arrived, and the place was loaded with people. I wa getting bored with seafood already, and chose ropa vieja instead, along with a mojito, bread, and rice pilaf. I decided to order bread for everything because if the food was nasty, at least I could get full on $2 bread.

ropa vieja at Paladar El Idilio

The waitress walked out with one plate full of ropa vieja and another plate full of rice pilaf. For the record, I am only one person.  The ropa vieja was seasoned so well, and it was a nice change of pace from seafood. Satisfied with that, I decided to skip the nightlife that night and go to bed instead.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Today’s itinerary was going to be pretty simple: get to Playa del Este and stay for a while. I got to Parque Central before the first bus to Playa del Este arrived, and took a seat in the park to wait. I noticed a huge crowd standing across the street outside Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, and wondered if they were waiting on tickets or if that was a wifi hotspot. Either way, it reminded me to get my ticket to Acosta Danza before it sold out.

As I was minding my business and not making eye contact with anyone, I got approached by what was probably the 5th Luis I met in Habana. He asked the same questions everyone else asked.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you staying?”

“Where is your husband?”

I ignored him and continued to not make eye contact, but he sat right next to me. So much for ignoring. He spoke zero English, so I don’t know how the conversation progressed, but we talked about the ballet happening this week with Carlos Acosta. He volunteered to get me tickets, since the price for locals was significantly cheaper than the $30 tourist price. I told him no, and walked away. The bus still hadn’t arrived, and I took the time to get my tickets to the ballet. It looked like there were two lines – one for locals and one for tourists. The large crowd that I noticed earlier was for locals, and the more expensive tourist line was no line at all. I went to the ticket counter and asked for one ticket to the April 8th event. The man wrote down my seat number and the price on a slip, collected my money, and handed me the slip. No official electronic record or anything.

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I crossed the street just in time to catch the bus as it was getting ready to leave. I paid $5 and took the last stop of the Habana Tour Bus to Playa del Este. The ride was 40 minutes, and we passed through the Tarara neighborhood where all of the homes look remodeled or in the process of being remodeled.

Santa Maria beach

Santa Maria beach

I sat on the beach for the entire day, reading the latest Walter Mosley book and enjoying the calmness of it all. There weren’t many people visiting today, and it was a mix of tourists and locals alike. Every once in a while, I chatted with Alex, who I considered to be my “official beach concierge.” He got me food and drinks so I didn’t have to get up. For some reason, he was overly surprised that I was American, and wanted to know everything about me,

I took the last bus back to Parque Central, and headed to Sala Polivante Kid Chocolate to see if any boxing events were posted on the announcement board. The board was empty, so I guess I wouldn’t be seeing any boxing matches while in Habana. I continued to O’Reilly street to a restaurant named O’Reilly 304. It came highly recommended by someone in my travel community. I was asked about a reservation again, and I again wondered who makes a reservation for one person. They made me wait for about ten minutes until some people at the bar left. Once inside, I ordered empanadas and tacos with a strawberry daiquiri. Alas, I enjoy all of my food selections, especially the empanadas.

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empenadas

tacos

After departing O’Reilly 304, I FINALLY met the plug. A woman was selling large bottles of water from her home in Habana Vieja, so I stocked up and headed home.

Read more about my visit to Havana below:
The Havana Diaries: Wandering
The Havana Diaries: The Arrival

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