Yesterday I was exhausted after a long night and lots of dancing at the Casa de la Musica. I slept late and then only went for short walk in Centro Habana (why is the weather so bad all the time??). In the evening I had food and a drink at a very nice little bar called El Chanchullero. I really liked the food (chicken with vegetables), it was a little bit different from the usual and very tasty. The cocktail was good as well and cost only 2CUC ! I was alone so I was seated at the bar, in front of the cooking area. I could observe chefs prepare the meals and the bartender mix drinks, that was interesting. Many of them were young, quite handsome men and every now and then they would stop to chat with me for a minute. :) The ambience was cozy and casual, and great music, I totally recommend! After that, I wanted to go dancing again but I wasn’t sure where. I assumed that if I sit down for a drink on a terrace in Habana Vieja, someone will surely come talk to me and I can ask if they know a good place where the locals go. My plan worked out perfectly, I met two friendly local guys who took me to a night club called la Gruta. The music was a mix of salsa and reggeaton and, as always, the Cuban guys were very eager to teach me how to dance. It doesn’t bother me because they really know how to move and I like dancing. But as soon as they show interest in more than just dancing I find an excuse to go and disappear (because so far I haven’t found any Cubans I would be interested in).
Today I decided I should discover the third part of central Havana, Vedado. I saw the Plaza de la Revolucíon and then started walking towards Hotel Nacional because I had heard there is a rooftop with a nice view over the sea and the Malécon. But that was closed so spent a while in the garden instead.
Surprisingly, one man wanted to walk with me and I said ok, Spanish practice as always. The weather was better today, we walked through the residential part of Vedado and saw beautiful and elegant houses. We stopped at some famous buildings such as Casa de la Amistad, that before the revolution used to be home of a French duchess, and a Casa with a memorial for John Lennon because Fidel Castro is said to be a fan of the Beatles.
We also passed by a lovely fruit and vegetable market where I discovered new fruits: yuka, which is like manioc and something called mamei, though I’m not sure what it is.
We walked for a long time and I knew that I would end up buying him a drink but I was kind of curious to know how the situation would evolve. In the end, we came to a casa-restaurant, called Casa Palma something, which specialty is a cocktail Guantanamera (rum, pineapple and sparkling water) and he said I had to try it (of course). I didn’t want to drink but I needed to use the bathroom so we went in. When I came back from the baño, he had already ordered us drinks and was sitting at the table sipping his. His response to why I would have to pay was simply “Oh I don’t have money” and I really wanted to say that well that’s too bad and get out from there. But I didn’t dare so I paid. As soon as we had finished our drinks he was not interested in my company anymore and left (which was fine for me). But I just don’t get it, why are they willing to go through so much trouble for one free drink? I mean, we were walking for at least an hour and we stopped in front of every possible casa so that he could explain to me what it was and I could take pictures. He talked a lot, asked questions and seemed to be genuinely interested in knowing more about France and my life in Paris. He spent a lot of time telling me about how the Cubans buy food with a “livreta de razonamiento”. That is a card that allows each habitant to buy every month a certain amount of basic aliments, such as rice, beans and chicken, at a lower price. But that is barely enough to live and if they need more they need to buy it in supermarkets and pay a lot more. What I’m saying, is that if all this was only to get me to buy him a drink it just seems very bizarre to me.
I almost got fooled once more by a jinetera, a woman this time. I went in to something that looked like a convenient store because I wanted to buy snacks for tomorrow’s bus ride. The second I got in a woman asked me what I was looking for and I let her help me find biscuits. Obviously, after I had paid for my biscuits she wanted to chat and told me how pretty I was and how she loved my hair. I was wondering what she wanted and finally she asked me if I could buy her a small bottle of oil because she didn’t have CUCs and thus couldn’t buy it herself. I thought it would probably not cost more that 1 or 2 CUC so I said I could if it wasn’t too expensive. She walked me to the counter and asked for the oil. At least three times I tried to question how much it was but she would just say that not much and that the salesperson would tell me. When the seller came with the bottle this woman immediately took it and started walking away. Once again I asked how much it was, keeping my eyes on the woman who tried to escape. I was finally told the price, 17 CUC! I refused to pay and the girl behind the counter got angry with me. At this point, the woman with her oil was already far away. I figured there was not much the salesperson could do because she was on the other side of the counter and there were other people queuing to pay so I apologized and run out from the store. I’m so sorry they had one bottle of oil stolen but I’m tired of being nice.
Last night when I went clubbing with the guys we took a taxi from Habana Vieja and back. Both times we got a shared taxi from the street, like we did in Kingston, and paid only 1 or 2 CUC for all of us. I asked them about it and they said that tourists are usually not allowed to share a route taxi and thus have to pay more. So this afternoon when I wanted to go from Hotel Nacional to the Viazul bus station, I decided to try. In front the hotel taxi drivers rushed towards me and wanted to know where I was going. I asked for the price and they told me that it was15 CUC. 15! No way, I said and kept walking. A little further away I saw some other taxes waiting to find clients and I asked for the price. They said 15 as well and laughed at me when I told them that I wanted to pay 5. After a while of intense negotiation, they offered to take me to the bus station for 10, wait there and take me back for another 10. Although when I mentioned that I was going to Habana Vieja afterwards they said that the way back would be more expensive. So I kept walking and when I came to a bigger road I started stopping taxes and asking if I could hop on. The first two said no (I think they were going to a wrong direction) but the third one accepted and asked me to pay 5. I could have got it even cheaper I think but I was so happy about my achievement that I accepted immediately.
It was more problematic to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow. I stood in the line for what felt like an eternity and was finally told that there were no more tickets to anywhere tomorrow. I didn’t want to stay in Havana anymore so I asked what I could do. They told me to get there tomorrow one hour before the first bus leaves (which means at 6am) because there usually are cancellations. So that is what I'm going to do…
By the way, finding an accommodation here seems to be very easy. I had only booked in advance for the first days in Havana, for the rest of the time I thought I would just figure it out on the way. And it works very well. Yesterday one of the salsa club guys told me that he knows someone in Viñales who can accommodate me if I am interested. He even called his friend and asked so I just need to call her a couple of days earlier to confirm since it's in the end of my trip and I'm not sure about the dates yet. Easy. Then tonight at my casa, I was having a lovely teatime with Y and R and told them about the bus ticket episode. They asked me if I had a casa booked in Cienfuegos (if I get there) and when I said I didn't, that I was just planning on walking around and finding one, R took his cell, called a friend and booked a room for me. So tomorrow (if I get there) I just need to find the place. Easy.
Read the next story here.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!