Here we go with the first new country this year as the needle creeps toward 100. I’m not into Cuban cigars, but I can seriously get into Latin music and vintage cars. Cuba has some of the most limited wifi access in the world so this material won’t get on the blog until my return to Playa del Carmen. Also, I don’t want to squander my week there sitting in an internet cafe. So check back soon on this one. There should be pictures and adventures galore.
MELIA COHIBA – No I didn’t stay here. It served as a landmark for getting my bearings as well as for some of the services they offer to their guests.
My AirBnb Apartment – Plenty of space and A/C in the bedroom.
I did keep up with my writing on the dining table, but try finding a lost, black, silicone earbud on that floor!
El Catédral – Nice restaurant around the corner.
One of the only fresh buildings within blocks of my neighborhood.
CUBA LIBRE, ANYONE?
Cuba is anything but free or inexpensive for that matter. If you’re American you best stock up in cash because the ATMs don’t service U.S. bank accounts. Usually, you get a third world discount for enduring the squalor, but not here in Havana. I’m already going through serious Western European vacation money here. However, if you happen to be a big fan of cigars, drinking, or the real deal in Cuban music then you may have found the place for your next holiday.
Then again, if poverty, crumbling sidewalks, and the deification of a communist dictator who failed to deliver are not your cup of tea, then you might want to give this one a pass until they tidy things up. As always, I find myself disappointed with the typical trappings of a third world country. There are hordes of locals asking you where you come from in order to curry favor to sell you something or overcharge you for a service. You can grow weary of the endless come-ons, but that just goes with the territory in a country where the average monthly salary is twenty-five dollars.
By and large, people are sincerely friendly and welcoming. They are just gripped with a desperation born of years under a system that has left them wanting. They have been peddled many slogans and promises but received very little in the way of relief in terms of jobs and services.
Behind this beautiful car is the second-floor supermarket I am about to share with you.
COLA OR ORANGE SODA?
How about a little deli?
I hope you enjoyed your visit to a supermarket in the mall across from the Melia Cohiba, a top class Cuban hotel. Half of the shelves were bare, and the ones that weren’t had excessive amounts of the same items! Eggs were nowhere to be found, but they had plenty of lard which would explain some of the obesity I encountered in the streets today. Sorry, but I’m finding it hard to enjoy myself under these conditions. Christ I sound like Jennifer Lopez! At least my landlady had a connection for the eggs. Can you imagine encountering such conditions back in the States?
All right enough grousing. One of the rules of the road is you can’t really form a proper opinion of a country in one day. Perspectives have a habit of changing so let’s start from the beginning.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed in a neighborhood seemingly in the middle of goddamn nowhere, and strolled to the one landmark I could see from my flat since I had yet to be able to find or interpret what are considered to be street signs which are actually concrete markers that are buried in the ground.
STREET SIGN – Calle 4 & 5th. Ave.
These will cost you 30-50 dollars per hour tour depending on bargaining skills and the condition of the car.
Having overslept, I felt I best get somewhere with food quickly so I took a $10 cab to Old Havana. Feeling quite hangry, I strolled the length of Calle Obispo, and turned around and went back to the Plaza de Armas in time to catch the start of lunch at La Mina consisting of lobster, fish and shrimp. This put me back on track so I ambled on down Calle Obispo past Hemingway’s decade long residence back down to his favorite bar, La Floridita, and committed an act of utter sacrilege.
I ordered a virgin daiquiri, and the ghost of “Papa” himself bestowed upon me one of the worst, eye-watering brain freezes on record.
CALLE OBISPO – Pedestrian street starting in the Plaza de Armas and arriving at La Floridita.
PLAZA DE ARMAS
HAVANA VIEJA – Old Havana
HOTEL AMBOS MUNDOS – Hemingway lived here during the Thirties.
LOBBY – Homage to Hemingway
Just about every little bar or restaurant in Old Havana has a musical group.
LA FLORIDITA – Hemingway’s go to bar for a Daiquiris.
DAIQUIRIS – First batch of the day. It sounded like B-17 bomber landing when he fired up all those blenders. I don’t think this is how they did it back in the day.
VIRGIN DAIQUIRI – This is the beverage put my brain into hypothermic shock.
After that brief punishment, a visit to the old Partagas cigar factory seemed like a good idea, but a city tour in a classic Chevrolet took precedence. Through a stroke of luck and my gregarious nature, I ended up sharing the cost of a vintage gas guzzling 57 Chevy with a couple of French ladies, and probably used up half of my carbon footprint for the year in the period of the hour tour. Frankly, it amazes me that they have managed to keep so many of these old rust buckets from oxidizing into dust by now given the salt air from the ocean.
Many have had their motors replaced with Chinese or Russian diesel engines. This enables them to use diesel fuel that is only fifty cents a gallon as opposed to the regular gas at six dollars a gallon.
It really is something seeing such a quantity of these old classics tooling around, but make sure and go for a well restored one that doesn’t smell of diesel like mine did. At any rate it was nice to save a few dollars for a change, and cruise around Havana with people from my favorite country. Speaking a cross current of two languages with the driver and the women proved challenging.
EL CAPITOLITOl – Capital Building – Taller than ours in Washington, D.C.
GRAN TEATRO DE LA HABANA
Favorite Hotel of J Lo and Madonna.
University of Havana
HOTEL COLINA – Old Mafia Property
REVOLUTION SQUARE – Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos on buildings. The square is really just a big parking lot, and not very impressive.
MONUMENT TO JOSÉ MARTI ON THE LEFT
BRIGITTE FROM NANTES
“Okay John, so what was the deal with the whole “Paul is dead” hoax from 67-69?” “Did you purposely insert “I Buried Paul” in Sgt. Peppers, as well as the clues on other albums?” “Would you please set the record straight as to your involvement?”
“What do you want from me, you silly person?” “First, I’m a bleeding bronze statue, and am currently dead as a tin of Spam you daft git!”
CRUISING UP THE MALECON
After the hour tour, I bid farewell to my French companions, and spent some time exploring the Morro which is a large fortress opposite Old Havana on the ocean. I paid the entry fee after getting some shots on the outside, and found relatively Spartan pickings within. Still there were some viable photos to be had on the inside.
Cannons to the left of me, cannons to the right of me…
The fortress is made of limestone like so many other fortresses and houses in the Caribbean. It is quarried, and can easily be sawed into blocks. After exposure to the elements, it tends to harden. It is composed of ancient layers of dead corals that built up over the years. In the picture above you can clearly see the imprint of a brain coral as well as another variety below.
HOPE YOU GOT YOUR FILL OF CANNONS
ART INSTALLATION – Vertical black filaments with white cord woven through and tied off on the matrix and illuminated with ultraviolet lights. Man superseded by his technology is my simplistic interpretation.
EXIT TO THE SEA – Probably for ships offloading/loading supplies.
That brings me to the end of my first day in Havana. We’ve already been over the dread supermarket experience, but clearly I managed to cover a lot of ground in just half a day after fearing that it would go completely to waste. Considering I was ready to hop on a return flight in the morning, things got turned around very quickly indeed.
JAZZ CAFÉ – The amazing thing is that it is one floor above that nasty supermarket!
ALEXIS BOSH – Top Notch Sextet
Just four blocks away from my flat was The Jazz Cafe featuring a grade A+ six piece Cuban band that played me the reason why I came to Cuba in the first place. If you don’t drink, smoke cigars, or get into Havana’s condition then the music just might make up for the rest of it. I settled into some crazy quality, top class jazz for ten dollars. Finally a bargain! I would pay $60 for the same quality entertainment at Ronnie Scotts in London.
Now there is a plan in place for the remaining nights in Cuba. They are the Cabaret Parisien and the Buena Vista Social Club, and El Gato Tuerto to name a few. The only drawback to my night at the Jazz Café was the young lady who inserted herself at my table and became difficult to get rid of. Seriously how many ways must a person say I’d prefer to be alone in Spanish. I was there for the amazing music, and she was just a twitchy distraction who eventually left me be. Many people are clearly desperate to get off this island.
After applying the salve of world-class jazz, and returning home to review the photos of the day, not only had it ended well, but I’d seemed to have had a lot more fun than I’d realized. It just goes to show you the importance of starting the day with a good solid breakfast, especially on your first day in a new and challenging country. Also, solo travel takes on a whole new meaning when you are completely off the grid. It’s tough when you can’t check your email, do some web research or just text a friend when things start going sideways.
Frankly, I think major computer addiction and withdrawals were seriously at play here, and the stinking wifi cards you buy on the street can be touch and go in terms of functionality which means not at all in most cases. One major stroke of luck was the map I picked up from the concierge at the Melia Cohiba Hotel. It had a schedule of their free bus to Old Havana which will save me twenty dollars a day minus a tip for the driver.
Friday started off with a lot of strolling around Old Havana after a nice omelet to start things off on the right track.
SCRUFFY ANGLE OF THE CAPITOLO
Capitolo undergoing restoration on right and Partages Factory on left.
The factory no longer functions, but there is a quality cigar shop just inside the entrance.
This is the rear of the Capital building with some freshly indoctrinated school children raising their fists in the air, as if somehow their dear departed leader improved their lot in life.
These are a few buildings directly behind the Capitol. Once proud dwellings fallen into disrepair.
MORE SQUALOR NEXT TO THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT
MUSEO NACIONAL DE BELLAS ARTES
MUSEO NACIONAL DE BELLAS ARTES – The prime attraction on the roster for the day was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes which houses mostly 20th century and contemporary art. Admission was a steal at five dollars.
Abel BARROSO – Residensia Multiple – 2012
Manuel MENDIVE – La Gallina – 1987
Eduardo PONJUAN & Rene Francisco RODRIGUES – Paleta – 1994
I usually like to include a comprehensive collection of photos, but there are huge gaps due to the aggressive docents preventing the taking of pictures. It was open season on the first floor, but photography was forbidden on the second and third. As you can see I still managed seven shots on the upper floors, even though a particularly annoying scold was so far up my bum that I asked if she wanted a piggy-back ride. As it turns out I unwittingly managed a shot of one of the prizes of the collection, which is this portrait of a young woman by Victor Manuel Garcia.
Victor Manuel GARCIA – Gitana Tropical – 1929
Raul MARTINEZ – Oye America – 1967
CORSET – the vaginal area consisted of nails pointing outward. Ouch.
PASEO DEL PRADO – The main boulevard.
Hopefully, one day they can be restored to their former glory.
ANOTHER THROWBACK FROM THE PAST
Saving a few dollars to make sure there will be enough money to carry me through the trip was turning into a new priority. Picking up a couple of dollar burgers and using the free hotel bus certainly helped out.
WHERE MUSIC AND ART COLLIDE
HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA – Five Star Hotel and location of the Cabaret Parisien.
The Tropicana is the same sort of thing as the Cabaret Parisien, but you’ll need to spend $85 per person to get a decent table. You only receive a cold cut plate, but gain a quarter bottle of rum and some cola to make Cuba Libres. As a relatively thrifty, non-drinker, choosing between the two shows was a no brainer, and the people who book the shows said that clients who had seen both shows pretty much always preferred the Parisien. The good news is the free bus at the Cohiba easily paid for my ticket.
CABARET PARISIEN – I secured a ticket for the Cabaret Parisien which is quite the extravaganza. There must have been at least fifty people in a show that featured numerous costume changes. I had a café table all to myself with a great view. It really helps to purchase the dinner option and to arrive a half hour before the doors open. It’s only sixty-five dollars, and I had a nice prosciutto plate followed by a decent filet mignon. It’s a good value in an intimate venue of about 150-175 people versus the Tropicana show which has a capacity of 900.
I was perched at stage level with no obstructions and the performers just ten feet away.
A LITTLE DINNER MUSIC
I’LL LET THE PICTURES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
A Sensational Show and an essential stop in any trip to Cuba. Although I didn’t visit the Tropicana, I would be inclined to recommend the Cabaret Parisien. It’s intimate, but with a big production value all the same. The doors open at 8:oo, but get there a half hour early for amazing seats. There are places to sit while you wait. Enjoy!
MELIA COHIBA – Just a stones throw from this squalid apartment complex – Vive la Revolution!
Hopped the free bus to Old Havana once again, and met a nice English couple so at least I didn’t have to feel guilty about being the only one on board this time. Eddie was in a wheelchair which I only realized when it came time to disembark. He is now my new world traveling hero. He and his wife who are in their sixties are approaching 100 countries visited as well, but many of them have been from a wheelchair or pushing one.
Those are real the travel zealots right there. I just have to deal with silly nonsense from time to time. They have to meet serious challenges every single day.
On the return trip they shared a story about how some Chinese people struggled to get him atop the Great Wall of China so he could stand upon the monument. It’s not exactly wheelchair friendly as are many places of interest, but they have been met with people eager to help all over the world. It renewed my faith in humanity for the time being.
MUSIC EVERYWHERE – All Good, Some Better Than Others.
STROLLING THE PRADO
I don’t derive a lot of pleasure seeing beautiful architecture in serious disrepair.
MARK MY WORDS – These buildings will be restored to their former glory in the next ten years.
El Gato Tuerto was on the evenings dining and entertainment list, and when my ride failed to show another taxi happened along. What a nice place, and just a five dollar cover. The spotless upstairs dining area also featured a balcony. I had the rabbit with red wine sauce which could have easily passed in a Parisian bistro, and it was a nice large portion. Things were really on the right track.
GATO TUERTO – One Eyed Cat
A LITTLE EARLY
Then the music started. It was three guys singing opera for an hour. This is a venue known for its Cuban music, and it was also a Saturday night. Enduring operas greatest hits for an hour was bad enough, but they threw in “Memories” at the end for good measure. Now, these three men were very, very good, but I came for la musica Cubana.
Okay, maybe this is just a bonus they’re throwing in before getting down to some serious Latin rhythms.
No such luck. The instruments were right, but instead some old guy came on and blathered on about something or other. I thought he’d never shut up, and then belted out an overtly dramatic, vainglorious, Spanish version of “My Way”.
After throwing up in my mouth a little, I asked the waiter if they were planning on playing any Cuban music in the establishment that evening. He said in another hour at 1:30am there would allegedly be some offered. I was done. It was such a nice club too, except for the cigarette and cigar smoke. Their ventilation system was quite good though, so if you plan on visiting the Gato Tuerto, make sure and check out who is playing. My assumptions proved most annoying.
That said, I highly recommend the club and the restaurant upstairs. Just make sure and find out what kind of what kind of music is playing.
A cabby came to my rescue who was a Jazz aficionado. He listened to my tale of woe, and took pity on my situation so I tipped him generously. That washed the bad taste out of my mouth, even though they are ridiculous white people problems.
Jumped on the Cohiba’s complimentary bus as usual, and headed for Old Havana once again.
PATRIA O MUERTE! – Dramatic Propoganda – Country or Death
Hit the Paseo del Prado, and found similar goings on as Saturday. The same artists lined the pedestrian area that divides the boulevard, so I made my way for the target of the day.
MUSEO DE LA REVOLUCION
There were mixed feelings gnawing at me about going to the Museum of the Revolution. The expected glorification of Castro and other revolutionaries, as well as the anticipated denigration of the United States loomed heavily. Surprisingly I didn’t encounter any real America drubbing until the very end, and it was rather humorous and contained multiple grammatical errors which weakened their message considerably.
In fact the English translations throughout the museum were so poor that they denigrated the viability of their content. By and large the displays were quite shabby, amateurish and looked as if they hadn’t seen a dusting since the Revolution.
One of two tanks with which they claim Castro shot at the U.S. ship “Houston”. Okay which one was it, already?
As usual the U.S. had sided with an unpopular Latin American dictator to stave off the threat of communism, and ended up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. In my travels through Central and South America I’ve seen how history has shown the same scenarios come to pass again and again. When will we ever learn to stop meddling in the affairs of others? However, rarely if ever is the lot of the people well served by the change in power. Most of the time the cure proves as injurious as the disease as is the case here in Cuba.
CASTRO’S BRONZED CAP
One need only spend a few days in Havana to realize that a raised fist in the air doesn’t fill the shelves in the supermarkets or repair their crumbling infrastructure. Hopefully one day, Cuba can start making repairs and be the country it dreams of becoming.
The sad thing that many people are unaware of is that JFK was interested in opening the door of diplomacy with Castro after the Cuban Missile crisis. Often he would send unofficial envoys to feel things out with other leaders. In this case a French journalist had planned a visit with Fidel, and Kennedy asked him to put out some feelers in the hopes of opening the door for some dialogue between the two countries.
During his meeting with Castro, the journalist discussed the issues JFK had floated with him. Castro showed considerable interest especially since the tone of Kennedy’s ideas were not aggressive or demanding in nature.
In the middle of the meeting, his aid entered the room, and delivered the tragic news that Kennedy had been assassinated. The people in the room realized immediately that a great opportunity had been lost. Imagine what might have transpired for the Cuban people had Kennedy lived. Also Kennedy knew to avoid another anti-communist quagmire. He was infinitely aware after France’s experience in Vietnam that such an incursion was out of the question.
Two days before he was shot the decision was made to get out of Vietnam. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but arms manufacturers are not fond of losing profits. Like Eisenhauer said, “Beware the military industrial complex”. When a five-star general issues a warning about the war for profit industry, I listen.
Trading one dictator for another. Poisoned champagne or rum will both kill you.
Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos – Sculpture made in hyper-realistic style. The main materials used were polyester resin and fiberglass. It represents both heroes of the Revolution during the National Liberation war.
So is proper spelling as a means of better communication and credibility for your cause. Unavoiddable? This is supposed to be a serious museum. The building restorations are going well, but now they need to tackle their signage and tired displays. Last I looked, Havana was no boomtown so you can take a powder on the better future promises. Nice sentiments with poor results.
Some cheaply executed, grammatically challenged signage.
Fidel Castro – “History Will Absolve Me”
Cuban People – “We fought your Revolution and all we got was this lousy museum all about you!”
YURI GAGARIN – The First Man In Space – Brightest Spot in the Museum
If the satellite, Sputnik, ignited the space race then this wonderful little Russian cosmonaut inspired JFK to put a man on the Moon. Thank you Yuri. I hold my heroes like John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin close to my heart, but Yuri Gagarin deserves our admiration and our gratitude as well.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS – I think we all know this guy was no angel.
MAKESHIFT CHEESY SOUVENIR SHOP – Little to be found with any historical significance.
If they can handle these restorations, why can’t they manage decent display cases and a respectable gift shop?
GRANMA – This is an artistic rendering of the famed 60 foot yacht which was used to transport 82 fighters of the Cuban Revolution from Mexico to Cuba to overthrow Fulgencio Batista.
CHE – I hate to burst anyone’s bubble surrounding the romanticized nature of this Marxist Revolutionary, but this guy helped to nearly get millions upon millions of people in the world vaporized. This irresponsible madman encouraged bringing the Russian missiles into Cuba, and wanted the Soviets to attack the United States. Post Revolution he ordered the summary execution of around five hundred people. This was not a nice man. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people that seek power, are incapable of wielding it in a civilized manner no matter how altruistic they might seem upon obtaining it. The real conundrum is that people that are capable handling power usually want nothing to do with it. Herein lies the challenge we are faced with in staffing our governments with people who are pro humanity.
Our technology and destructive capacity have seeming outpaced our ability manage our planet in a constructive manner. We came so close to complete annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most people are unaware of just how close. With the current lineup of leadership and challenges on the world stage it gives one pause as it seems we are in very dangerous times once again.
The doomsday clock was just advanced by thirty seconds to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight. This is never a good sign especially given whose fingers are currently poised over the launch buttons. Instead of worrying about the war on drugs, we should probably consider classifying testosterone as a controlled substance. It seems that the majority of humans under the influence of this substance are hell bent on destroying everything on this planet either on purpose or by purely by chemically induced instinct.
CHE, FIDEL,AND CAMILO CIENFUEGOS – A Revolution to Nowheresville
ELEGANT CLOCK – Probably a remnant of Batista’s excessive regime
Another out of place capitalist souvenir stand on the main floor of a Marxist Museum.
CORNER OF THE CRETINS – It was on a wall and not in a corner at all. Now, I really can’t stand any of these characters, but if you’re going to insult them at least get the location of the display and the grammar straight, especially if you’re going to cast it in bronze. For Christ’s sake they seem to have gotten the French right, and they aren’t even the target of the insult.
FULGENCIO BATISTA – U.S. backed dictator overthrown by Castro.
RONALD REAGAN – Involved in many sordid dealings in Latin America including supporting the Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza as well as extensive involvement in Iran/Contra.
GEORGE BUSH SR. – Ex CIA President who spawned “W”. Need I say more?
“W” – Invaded Iraq based on falsified evidence to enrich his friends, Big Oil and the War for Profit Industry, and in doing so destabilized the Middle East for years to come.
Damn, I disliked this guy as much as anybody, but I think they overshot the mark with the swastika. They should have saved that for our latest installment. Unfortunately, this time the dictator we are propping up is in our own country. Talk about karma!
GRANMA – This is the 60 foot yacht which was used to transport 82 fighters of the Cuban Revolution from Mexico to Cuba to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. Since 1976 it has been on display in this glass enclosed building adjacent to the museum. It is the primary symbol of the revolution, and a replica is paraded at state functions to commemorate the original voyage.
Also the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party is aptly named Granma.
TANK T-34 – Soviet Tank – Considered the best of its kind in WWII. Used by Castro at the Bay of Pigs to fire on the “Houston”, one of the ships supporting the U.S. mercenary forces. There is one in front of the museum as well claiming the same thing.
MISSLE – Used to shoot down a U-2 Spy Plane in 1962 during the October Crisis.
CAMION “FARGO” – Belonged to the fast delivery business. It was used to carry 42 of the 50 assailants who took part in the attack of the Presidential Palace on March 15th. 1957.
THE TRUCK WAS RIDDLED WITH BULLET HOLES
DRAGON I – Armored vehicle made from a tractor by workers of the “Narcisa” sugar mill in Yaguajay, Sancti Spiritus province. It had a flame-gun attached. Commander Camilo Cienfuegos made use of this vehicle when laying siege to the garrison of that city.
LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO – A bar that Castro as well as Hemingway used to enjoy. I just took a quick snap after picking up three Monte Cristos for my pal Jason who has had an obsession with getting a Cuban cigar that was purchased in Cuba. He just didn’t trust even the many viable shops in Playa del Carmen which he will be visiting in February. Anyway I put that to rest and saved 50% over what I would have paid in Mexico! Yes cigars are another bargain to be had in Havana, but don’t start smoking to take advantage of it. Stick with the music.
AFTERNOON BITE AT AREA 53 – Ropas Viejas – Traditional Cuban Dish
To avoid any possible musical mishaps this evening, a decision was made to return to the incredible Jazz Café. It didn’t disappoint in the food or music department.
HOY PORTILLO & CAUCE
JAZZ CAFÉ – Music + Beef Stroganoff + Drink + Tip = $25
I tried something completely different today, and walked to my first destination in the opposite direction from Old Havana to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. The walk along the Malecon was deliciously dust and crowd free compared to downtown.
VIVA FIDEL- A large sign on a hotel attempts to perpetuate a glory that never was. I fail to see the reason to worship a so called revolutionary who failed in his attempt at successfully reforming the largest island in the Caribbean that has had such great potential. Even after Russia abandoned communism, he continued to run his country into the ground. He wasn’t a visionary, but a myopic cigar wielding, egotist dictator.
What a nice place for lunch. I opted for the dollar burger at a less elegant establishment, and pocketed the cash for more important diversions.
FABRICA DE ARTE CUBANO
It ended up being a bit of a miscue given that The Fabrica is a nighttime spot, and it is closed for the month as well. As any good traveler knows, you need to stay flexible. After chatting with some Cuban guys about my mishap and my next destination, they offered a ride and then refused any gas money. Points scored for Cuba!
The next and final destination was Fusterlandia which is the brainchild of the Cuban naive artist, Jose Rodriguez Fuster, specializing in painting, ceramics, drawing, engraving and graphic design. Here, over a ten year period he has undertaken the work of rebuilding and decorating the fishing town of Jaimanitas. It is now a Gaudiesque tribute with about eighty homes that have been transformed. New modifications are still being implemented. It’s a fun place to visit, and it doesn’t cost one thin peso. Yet.
BUS STOP WELCOMES ME TO FUSTERLANDIA
ROAD MARKER – Casa Fusterlandia
Brand new entry signage being constructed on the main road.
HOMAGE TO GAUDÍ
WELCOME TO FUSTERLANDIA
GRANMA – Another homage to the yacht which carried Cuban Revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba.
FIDEL & FRIENDS
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – One of my next stops in the Caribbean.
A CLASSIC FUSTER – Hanging on someones gate.
LA ALEGRIA DE VIVIR – The Joy of Living
Unfortunately not my ride back from Fusterlandia.
Tonight’s entertainment is slated for the Jazz Café again for three reasons. My funds are too tight to waste on any more cab fare today, the music is guaranteed to be good and it’s short walk from home which will help with my early trip to Vinales in the morning.
The band was good as usual, and I was fortunate to share a table with a New York jazz aficionado who I had seen at the club the night before. It was his fourth night at the club.
Jose Luis Hernandez managed to show up ten minutes late for my all day tour to Vinales Valley where a good deal of the tobacco for Cuban cigars are grown. I had forgotten how run down his car was, and it turns out he’s not doing much better. He made a point of showing me the truss he put on after we were underway, and it turns out he needed a number of stops for his weak bladder.
LADA – Life After Death Adventures?
The first pit stop was to get gas which he had neglected to do. Here I was trying to help a local feed his family, and I end up validating the axiom that no good deed goes unpunished. Don’t let the decent paint job deceive you. His car was a thirty year old Russian beater was on its last legs, and there were no seat belts or A/C. I began to yearn for the comfort of the tourist bus I might have taken instead, and due to the heat, we were forced to choke on diesel fumes until we made it well outside of Havana.
His alleged 25 years of tour experience consisted of pointing at different crops and telling me what they were on multiple occasions. Most were banana and mango trees. I grew up in Bermuda, and can identify a banana tree blindfolded at fifty yards away.
After listening to him yammer on about the bleeding obvious we finally arrived at a tobacco plantation where he proceeded to put on a very stupid looking, misshapen straw hat, and pulled out a cigar that looked like a horse’s schlong. I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t want to encourage this behavior or remind myself of the incident.
I guess he fancied himself as a prop comic, but frankly it was embarrassing to be seen with a guy who was essentially carrying around a carcinogenic brown dildo. What’s furthermore he had me photograph him with some people he used to work with in full regalia. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to die of embarrassment or perish at the mechanical whim of his Soviet shitbox.
I was there to get pictures, and I got a few decent shots whenever he managed to get out of my way. The owner of the farm didn’t seem particularly overjoyed to see him as you can see in my photo. Luckily the inanimate objects were unable show their displeasure and ruin my entire shoot.
FARM OWNER – Not a cheerful guy! – Check out the body language.
Seriously Antique Tractor
VALLE DE VIÑALES
Next we were off to the promontory overlooking the Vinales Valley. This is where everyone goes for a nice panorama shot, but I found something even better that helped to make up for this meddling moron. There was a Cuban music ensemble playing in the shade that was outstanding. The singer was sensational. She had the sound, the emotion and the moves.
COLOR CUBANO – Band’s Name
This is what Cuba is all about. It’s the music people! The music, the passion, the rhythm and the dancing. The rest is window dressing. At that moment, the three hour drive with that idiot all made sense. It was all worth it for that twenty-five minutes of music. I would have stayed longer if I’d realized how useless the rest of the tour would be.
DOWNTOWN VIÑALES – Where I was abandoned unexpectedly due to my driver’s urinary issues.
RESTAURANT IN A CAVE
MORE TOBACCO FIELDS
HARVESTING RACKS – Straight from the fields to the drying houses.
This is how my afternoon ended, and I was transported back to Havana on this magic horse cart.
Jose’s two and a half decades of experience didn’t even enable him to find us a nice little restaurant. Instead he took us to some joint with five tour buses parked outside, which is what I hired him to avoid. After he disappeared into a bathroom without notice in downtown Vinales, I decided I’d had enough of this bozo, and asked to be taken back to Havana.
He ended up stopping for a quick bite at a snack shack. I had a really nasty burger which I shared with a hungry dog that seemed to enjoy it a whole lot more than I did. Jose Luis had the chicken with rice, and when we got back on the road he started getting sleepy due to his recent meal, and had to fetch his water bottle from the trunk to splash on his face to stay awake.
Great, I have three hour drive, a long night ahead of me which includes a show until 11:00pm, and packing until 2:45 when my ride to the airport is supposed to arrive. So how am I going to get my nap with this nimrod nodding off beside me. Now I’m concerned he’s going to fall asleep at the wheel, run out of gas or that the car will break down.
Fortunately a gas station appeared and he filled the tank, drained his own, and grabbed a coffee so we could make it back to Havana alive. Originally, he was slated to take me to and from my Buena Vista Social Club show, and then to the airport. No way, Jose. With those words, I denied him the ability to further sully my last day in Cuba. I returned to my flat in one piece, and headed straight for the shower to wash the grime of that car off of me.
BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB
I’m happy to report that my Cuban trip ended on a high note at the Buena Vista Social Club. For starters, they gave the best seat in the house, and the show was spectacular. Grammy winners preened, sang and danced as they strolled up the catwalk in the middle of the hall.
THE WAITRESS – Love those stylized little cowboy hats.
THE FOOD – Lobster – Always a good start, but I would recommend the traditional chicken as a main course.
THE MUSIC – A little warmup during dinner
HAPPY GUY – Cleaned up and well fed
FLAN – Probably the most common desert in Latin America, but this one was truly exceptional.
SASSY SENIOR SONGSTRESS