By bicitaxi in Camaguey. And yes, Che is everywhere.
Transportation runs the gamut in the Cuba. We saw 1950s American cars, Ladas and Russian army trucks, horsecarts, oxcarts, bicycles, and the above bicitaxi. This is a bicycle that's been modified and made similar to a rickshaw. The seat is attached to the back of the bike and the only power is the guy pumping the pedals. It's a great way to see the sights and it's a fun ride. It was fairly cheap, too, as I think it worked out to 2.50 CUC per person. Our guide hired bicitaxis for the group one morning for a city tour. We rode for close to two hours although we had plenty of stops and even walked a bit. For as much as I enjoyed it I could not help but feel sorry for the drivers. It's healthy work and a good honest living, but it can't be easy.
I finished going over the hard copy of Biting the Dust the other day. The final push was on Saturday with seven or so chapters remaining. I decided I wanted it done so I put my head down and did it. On the one hand that's good. On the other I was useless all day Sunday and most of yesterday. At least I have an excuse. So far the only major change I have to make is to switch a scene over to a later chapter or cut it completely. I favour cutting simply because it's quicker and the scene's not all that important. It worries me that I can't sort out what else the ms needs. Right now I think it's okay the way it is but for a bit of clean up. I am sensible enough to realize that's probably a danger signal. Once I've cleaned it up I'll set it aside and work on something else for a while. Maybe then I'll see what it needs. If not, I'll go looking for some beta readers to give me the hard truth. Meanwhile, since I did sort of edit, and that counts, here's a bit from Biting the Dust.
"Eury averted her gaze in what she hoped was a demure manner. It wasn't her nature to be demure, but she'd seen other young women do it. If they did, then maybe she should, too."
I started reading the second Discworld novel on the weekend. Terry Pratchett is really growing on me. Here's why:
"'Rincewind, the tree said-' 'Trees can't talk,' snapped Rincewind. 'It's very important to remember that.' "
-The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett (Corgi, 1986)
A prayer corner to the Sea Goddess in the Santeria religion in Cuba.
I did something monumentally stupid when I went to Cuba. Sure, I've pulled some stunts that I thought were award-winningly dumb, but this one, well, if there was a Nobel Prize for whoopsies, I'd win and they'd name a category after me. Now that I've finished bragging--and call it what it is I am bragging--here's what happened. I counted out all the beta blockers I'd need for the two weeks and threw in a few extras just in case. As I popped one in my mouth that first morning in Havana the horrid realization came over me with a cold, glaring clarity. I only counted on one beta blocker a day. I take two. I let myself panic for about 30 seconds. I figure after that time panic would take over and I needed to think. Fortunately, I can muster up reason and logic when I have to, and I was pretty sure I had to. I went on half-doses. I snapped the pills in two and had half in the morning and half in the evening. It worked. I'm here writing this. As to the prayer part, well, it's good to cover the bases. We had a visit with a Santeria priest one morning. He was a friend of our guide and was happy to answer our questions. The religion has taken over from Catholicism in Cuba in the past few years. As near as I could tell it's a hybrid of some African religions and Christianity with the highest deity in it being the Virgin Mary. In Santeria she is a Sea Goddess. Please follow the link if you want to find out more. After the talk we had the opportunity to ask the Goddess for something. I put a coin in the plate before Her, shook a rattle a few times, and asked to please get away with being on half the dose of beta blockers until I got home. I am grateful to say my logical approach to the matter worked and I'm sure the prayer helped.
Santeria practitioners (seated, center of photo) wear all white and plenty of jewelry.
Tour member Anders Evertsson gets some fruit for lunch.
Our tour guide, Ernesto, gave us each a crisp 20 peso bill in the local currency to spend at this market. It was chiefly for the experience of it, and it was fun. Tourist are required by law to us Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) but our guide knew that this one of the few places we could use the local money without raising any uncomfortable questions. CUCs traded near the Loonie. I got 420P and some change for $500 CDN. Based on that, for those better at math than me, you can sort out what a 20 local peso note was worth. I bought three small sweet bananas for one peso. A papaya was 3P, and a pineapple was 8P.
This was also the most veggies we saw during the whole two weeks. Starches are big there, but vegetables of the non-starch variety are a rare find. We had them twice on our plates, I believe. I often ordered a salad. A tomato salad is a thinly sliced tomato. One on occasion it was green. Of course I ate it anyway. Oil and vinegar or lemon was often the accompaniment although in the case of tomato I am happy with salt. That's good as it was often only salt. A cucumber salad was sometimes available and one occasion all the restaurant had was lettuce. I ate a plate of lettuce and was happy about it as it calmed down my disturbing mental images of a crisp assorted green salad with 1000 Island dressing. I crave than dressing once a year, about this time of year, and I make my own. It's in the fridge now and the craving is nearly subdued, but I had a few difficult moments on the trip.
Most meals had a rice and beans accompaniment and a reasonable slab of meat or fish. Pork was common, as was chicken, and while beef was available I didn't try it as when the oxen are too old to work they are sold to the government (this is mandatory, a farmer cannot kill his own bovine) and become meat.
One of the local starchy veggies is a malanga. It's tasty enough and very potato like. One evening the restaurant served it as the side dish. It was thinly sliced and became the equivalent of potato chips. They were tasty and as I'd been craving potato chips they were welcome. I saw potato chips twice the whole trip. They were "Mr. Potato" brand which looks eerily like Pringles chips in the tube container. These were made from potato starch, potato flakes, potato something else that I have blissfully forgotten, and bleached, refined coconut oil. I was going to get them anyway, but they were 3.95 P for a container and my craving was not that strong.
To wind this up on positive note the country doesn't have much for junk food and there's hardly any litter. Related? You tell me.
The sea crashes into the sea wall along Havana harbour
We were at Parque Historico Miltar Morro-Cabana as part of our tour. The only non-water way to get to the park is through the harbour tunnel. It was interesting to wander along the area, but I found the view far more interesting. I could watch the sea all day.
Here's the sea wall again, but from the city. The military park is in the background.
This is a pedestrian way in Old Havana from near the Havana Plaza down to the sea wall. It made a lovely walk.
I'm nearly recovered from my trip. Like in the above photo I've been waiting for the fog to clear as being tired does not lend itself to good editing. If a sentence already makes no appreciable sense, then correcting it when tired ain't a help. I decided on Saturday that I was able to get back at it and have managed to get mark up two chapters in Biting The Dust. In theory, the corrections are improvements, but I won't know until I start adding them to the file. Meanwhile, here are more than two sentences from the first page of the first chapter that only needed quote marks changed. I'm sure that correction will hold. # "Kid, run to the house and get the shotgun. Never know quite who we might find." "Ma, you know we don't need a gun." Kid was secretly thrilled. He loved the hard, cold feel of the barrel and how the butt snugged up against his shoulder like he was born with it. "Yes, my son. But our guest doesn't know it." # It was Saturday before I picked up anything to read, too. I'm only a little way into this book, but so far I think I've made a good choice. Here's a bit from Christopher Moore's Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. (Harper, 2003) " 'You might want to go up in the bow and look for whales, Amy." "Whales? They're big and wet. What else do you need to know?' " # Thanks for indulging me. For more, or to get in on the fun, please see The Women of Mystery.
El Morro Fort in Santiago de Cuba -- this particular loophole had a strong smell of urine. Not everyone choses to pay.
Cuba has it's charms. It is also a poor country and like many others the public toilet facilities are commonly pay- to- play. That is, an attendant or two is stationed outside. You can buy supplies on the way in although the forewarned traveller will have his or her own. You can pay then or drop a coin or so on the way out. It's better you do as these are the people who keep the toilets clean. It's their job. It doesn't pay well. A nurse makes the equivalent of $30 a month, a chambermaid makes about $10. A public toilet attendant most likely makes much less than that so tips are important to her or him. Stall walls are half-sized or so. I'm about 5'4" and a good stall covered me from knees to shoulders when standing up. One of the women on the tour was about 5'10" so everyone knew where she was. She was also sensitive and was too appalled on one occasion to avail herself of the restroom. Perhaps the toilet flushed, but it fussed about it. Sometimes water, cold, came out of the taps so I could wash my hands, on other occasions I was blessed with soap, too. Hand towels were rare. An attendant may offer toilet paper for drying one's hands. I used the air. We're spoiled here. Our toilet stalls as often taller than we are, they are well-stocked, and the hand-washing facilities have hot and cold water, soap, and towels or hand-driers. We pee for free here and in many cases public toilets flush themselves. Oh, yeah, I'm grateful.
Morning on the theatre and the top of Capitolo from the terrace of the Havana Plaza.
The Havana Plaza is in Old Havana. It's a few blocks from the sea and a few blocks from one of Ernest Hemingway's favourite bars, La Floridita, where the daiquiri was invented. Old Havana's streets are narrow, made of cobblestone, uneven, and full the sea crush of humanity. Small shops dotted along a main street, Obispo, offer sandwiches, water, cigars, and rum. Sad-eyed old women press postcard quality photos of children toward the unwary tourist and beg for money. Health care is free in Cuba. So is education. They play on the sympathies of the foreigner. They had no hope with me and moved on to a fresh target when ignored. Locals hang their laundry out on small balconies above the street and turn quickly away when a camera is pointed at them. I understand. I would do the same.
I'm still shaking the travel dust off so please don't expect much from this post.
Cuba was interesting, if appalling. I'll write more about why in the coming days, but for now suffice it to say that there is very little in what could be a land of plenty.
The people are demonstrative, loving, and expressive. Music is everywhere.
Food is rationed and it is common for stores and travel stops to be out of the thing you want.
Rum, however, is everywhere. So are cigars.
This will have to do for now. The last thing I'll say right now is the photo in the header is an agave or century plant in bloom that we saw at a lookout. It takes a long time for it to bloom and then it dies, thus it's a once in a lifetime event.