Hotel Havana Libre, Friday, April 8, 2005, 3:45 pm
So, of course, not everything is politics, learning, philosophizing and studying languages. Life also has to include some fun. And Cubans, despite all the hardships, know how to have fun. They love to laugh, to dance, to make music, and they are very sensual people. The women in particular around here are very good-looking (for the most part) and they dress in very tight, sexy clothes. It´s been a true delight observing the Cuban lifestyle.
For me it all starts with the “GuaGua”, the official local Havana transit system: overcrowded, with extremely long line-ups, and people pressed up against each other. I have read that the GuaGua is like the local Saturday night movie: it contains “sex, violence and crude language”.
Yesterday my friend Pedro and I took the GuaGua for the first time. As a foreigner, I would never take the GuaGua by myself and my professor recommended me not to. But with my friend Pedro as a tourist guide and body guard I felt safe. And indeed you have to line up (sometimes for several buses since each one of them is full), and then when you are inside you have to elbow your way to the back exit to get off at the back door. And it´s not surprising that pick-pocketing and some physical groping is quite normal. I certainly clutched my little backpack in front of me and didn´t let anything out of my sight.
2 evenings ago, Pedro and I went for a walk along the Malecon (waterfront promenade) and we had a peak at the “United States Office of Interests” (there is no US embassy here due to the political tension between these 2 countries). The US Office of Interests is a heavily guarded austere looking office building and right in front of it is a square that (I believe it´s called La Plaza Anti-Imperialista) where the Cubans hold anti-American demonstrations and parades, sometimes a million people strong. Another rather ironic constellation….
We then walked through the Vedado area and entered the famous Hotel Nacional, built as a grand hotel in 1930. Although Cubans normally may have problems entering luxury hotels by themselves, we were not held up by any guards and we ended up sitting and chatting for almost 2 hours in the beautiful gardens of the Hotel Nacional. That evening the Hotel also had a concert by the Buena Vista Social Club, but I decided I didn´t want to spend Can$30 plus. Next week I might have a chance to go to the Casa de la Musica and hear music for $5.00 instead.
My friend also explained to me the male-female dynamics in Cuba, that casual relationships (including sex) are very normal and that a young guy and woman can link up for a steamy night and return to being regular friends the next day. The same apparently applies in marriages where the concept of fidelity is apparently not very deeply entrenched. Some very interesting insights which are in quite strong contrast to the official morale in Canada….
Yesterday after class Pedro and I took a private car (which can always be organized in some way through somone) to Havana´s famous Playas del Este area, the cost is not cheap: more than US$25.00 for a few hours. Playas del Este is an area with kilometers of light sandy beaches with light blue and turquoise water, simply beautiful. The area where we went is mostly frequented by Cubans, although we also saw a few middle-aged Russian tourists with young beautiful Cuban jineteras. My friend had not been at a beach for the last 2 years since the public transport is so cumbersome and other alternatives are too expensive. And there are many Cubans who never even leave their local neighbourhoods. Living in such a beautiful country and not even having access to a beach – indeed hard to imagine…
The water was gorgeous, and scarred from the Canadian winter, all my pores opened up and soaked up the sun. But even changing into my bikini was a half hour ordeal! There are no changerooms or washrooms on the beach and I had to wait in front of the lifeguard station for about 30 minutes (since the male lifeguards took their sweet little time) to change into my bikini. Same with drinks: I tried to buy a pop at the beach bar: closed. So I walked to another beach bar: closed. Finally I followed some locals to a goverment-owned store on the street: it was temporarily locked by a guard, supposedly because there were too many people in the store! So I had to wait another 15 minutes to buy the pop….. “Hacer cola” – being in a line-up – is a way of life here and you encounter long line-ups several times a day, in banks, stores, all sorts of places.
I also noticed that the local Cubans at the beach were having quite a lot of raucous fun, drinking beer (unimaginable in Canada: drinking beer in public!) and then tossing the cans into the ocean. Environmental awareness has a huge way to go here…
Tomorrow or on Sunday I am going to meet a professor of mine, a very nice lady in here mid to late 50s, and we are going to go to a local market together. And Pedro and I made plans to do a little excursion outside the city, I am either going to rent a car or Pedro is going to arrange a loal private car and together with his family (wife, sister-in-law and daughter) we are going to have a nice outing outside of the city, something that is very exceptional and a real luxury for local Cuban people. I am already looking forward to it….