The Havana Diaries – Getting Adjusted

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 get ready for the day and walk down Linea between Paseo and Calle A, and the small panaderia is as crowded as it was before. I stand in line to order, only to be told that they don’t have any bread or coffee today. Wait, isn’t this a panaderia? *Shrugs* I guess I just got lucky yesterday. I buy a bottle of water and head across the street to the Metro Bank to exchange currency. I walk in and it’s basically like the DMV. I tell the woman at the front desk the reason I’m there, she hands me a number, and I sit and wait until my number is called. Despite a number of people also waiting, I don’t sit for a full minute before my number is called. I approach the teller with my passport and 100 euros, and we go through the same process as the airport CADECA.

Next, I head to Melia Cohiba for another 15 minutes of snapshotting Regla and other Havana maps. I walk out of the hotel, and take an old Chevy to Parque Central for 10 CUC. Then I take a stroll southward past Ralph Trejo boxing gym and down to Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. I have no intentions of buying anything, but I am browsing to get an idea of what I want and how much it will cost me.

I walk out of the art market and head to the ferry terminal in order to get to Regla. The workers make me finish drinking my bottle of water, check my bag, flirt a little by kissing my hand, and confirm that I have 10 cents for the fare. When I get 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 is smooth and about 5 minutes. It has some nice views of the city and the Capitol, which is being remodeled.

Once off the ferry, I get fussed at for taking pictures of the ferry. I smile and continue my journey to Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Regla a few steps away from the ferry. The church is 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 is actually Yemaya, the orisha of the ocean.

black Madonna

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 don’t go near them.

I stroll around Regla for a bit. There isn’t much to see here, as it’s more of a residential neighborhood and not a tourist area. I consider going to Guanabacoa and the Museo Municipal de Guanabacoa to learn more about orishas, but there are no taxis around the neighborhood and it’s not in walking distance. I see buses come and go, but have no idea what the routes are, so I head back to the ferry. By the time I get back to Habana Viejo, my feet are on fire. I’m slowly walking along to get to a taxi when I am 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.

Picture

He starts by saying that I don’t look Cubana and asks where I’m 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 forget about my plan and tell him that I am from America. MISTAKE! He tells me that he teaches English here in Habana and goes on about how they are waiting for Americans to come to Cuba and “uplift” them. We’re the great savior, I guess. Call me a bitch, but at this point, I really DGAF. I’m exhausted, hot, sweaty, hangry, and dehydrated. Basically, I’m in full bitch mode, and I’m wearing my bitch face, but he does not notice. What he does notice is how sweaty I am and offers to take me to a place across the street where I can sit that has cool air. I roll my eyes and decline the offer, wishing that more people would cut the bullshit and get to the point of what they want out of me. I start walking away, and tell him that I’m headed to lunch. Of course, he knows a place. I decline again, saying I have plans to go to a place in Centro Habana.

Well, what do you know, he’s also a taxi driver! 😐 He eagerly offers to take me there, and I sigh heavily, and finally accept. If anything he’ll get a free meal, and we can both get on with our lives. He walks away to get his car, and I ponder walking away during the two minutes it takes for him to show up. He arrives before I can decide, but he’s not driving. He’s on the passenger side of the taxi. Nigga, what?

I just stand there, knowing that something incredibly wack is about to go down if I get in that taxi. In that extended pause, I realize that my feet are throbbing, so I get in the taxi against my better judgement – bitchface still in tact. The driver drives for a minute and then stops. The Afro-Cuban asks for the fare, and I’m confused because we aren’t even there. I tell him I’ll pay when we get there. He tells me he already paid the driver, and now he’s leaving so he needs reimbursement. Again, nigga what?

I just open my wallet and hand over the fare. He’s trying to look all in my wallet the entire time, and then asks 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 hand him all of the loose change I have left, and he gets pissed off at me and goes on a mini-rant about how we are supposed to be “people”. He hops out of the car yelling that this is bullshit, and the driver speeds away before I can give him the American tongue-lashing that he truly deserves. Dude just used me for a free ride, and I know I overpaid for the taxi fare, so he made a profit off that as well! After all of that abuse of someone he calls his “people,” he wants to get mad. Fuck outta here!

I grab lunch, and head to my casa to sleep off the mess of the day. Maybe it will be better when I awake. I awake to the sound of the kid next door singing Adele’s “Hello” at the top of his lungs. The only problem is he doesn’t really know the words – just the harmony of the chorus. So that’s all he sings over and over.

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

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

ropa vieja

 The waitress walks 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 is seasoned so well, and it’s a nice change of pace from seafood. Satisfied with that, I decide to skip the nightlife tonight.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

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

As I’m minding my business and not making eye contact with anyone, I get approached by what is probably the 5th Luis I’ve met in Habana. He asks the same questions everyone else asks. Where are you from? Where are you staying? Where is your husband? I ignore him and continue to not make eye contact, but he sits right next to me. So much for ignoring. He speaks zero English, so I don’t know how the conversation progresses, but we talk about the ballet happening this week with Carlos Acosta. He volunteers to get me tickets, since the price for locals is significantly cheaper that the $30 tourist price. I tell him no, and walk away. The bus still hasn’t arrived, and I take the time to get my tickets to the ballet. It looks like there are two lines – one for locals and one for tourists. The large crowd that I noticed earlier is for locals, and the more expensive tourist line was no line at all. I go to the ticket counter and ask for one ticket to the April 8th event. The man writes down my seat number and the price on a slip, collects my money, and hands me the slip. No official electronic record or anything.

Acosta Danza

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

playa del este

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

I take the last bus back to Parque Central, and head to Sala Polivante Kid Chocolate to see if any boxing events are posted on the announcement board. The board was empty, so I guess I won’t be seeing any boxing matches while in Habana. I continue to O’Reilly street to a restaurant named O’Reilly 304. It came highly recommended by someone in my travel community. I’m asked about a reservation again, and I again wonder who makes a reservation for one person. They make me wait for about ten minutes until some people at the bar leaves. Once inside, I order empanadas and tacos with a strawberry daiquiri. Alas, I enjoy all of my food selections, especially the empanadas.
After departing O’Reilly 304, I FINALLY meet the plug. A woman is selling large bottles of water from her home in Habana Vieja, so I stock up and head home.

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