One month ago I was alone on a coach from Trinidad to Havana. The woman to my right was using a compact mirror to pluck her eyebrows. I have this issue with hair once it becomes detached from the body. The thought of it makes me gag, in fact I am gagging right now just thinking about it, particularly the image of long strands curling up in the back of my throat - having been chaperoned there by a food vehicle - or the sticky root of a stranger's short hair attaching to something close to me. This was a six and a half hour ride so I vowed to keep my cool and instead focus on something else, ANYTHING else, for instance the clock that was perpetually stuck counting the seconds of minute 22:00.
Six hours into the journey, my neighbor had fully groomed herself with deodorant, makeup, and of course a new set of manicured eyebrows! I had watched the broken clock oscillate from 22:00 to 22:59 roughly three hundred and sixty times, when she very suddenly shrieked, stood up, and started to wipe herself down the way one does before getting out of the shower (you do that too, right?). Her hair and clothes were soaked and her fresh mascara smudged, meanwhile I was perfectly dry. I was slightly dozy so it took a moment to understand that the air conditioning supply had cracked, drenching her with fluid from the vent above. I suppose I do believe in the spiritual principle of cause and effect, but as a tendency don't see karma as something that operates incidentally and with immediate turnaround. Never would I wish ill on anyone, but I couldn't help my slightly sinister smile as I offered up the full supply of my kleenex.
If you've been to Cuba or you're planning a trip, perhaps you have learned that the mainstay of accommodation is the Casa Particular. It's a homestay/b&b most often with a private room and bathroom that will cost you $25-30/night. Hotels, conversely, are extremely expensive, outdated, and frankly, really fu*king sad. I stayed in one in Cienfuegos that had a stainless steel steam table pan filled with a heaping pile of potato chips as a main course at both the dinner and breakfast buffet. When Morgan went to ask for a mojito, they told him they didn't have any. Now, I'm not the kind of person to indulge in a poor-customer-service fueled rage scene, but this is an "all-inclusive hotel" in flipping CUBA and there are no mojitos! ZERO mojitos. Like, NONE. So he asked for a bottle of water. NOPE. None of those either. Then a roach landed on Morgan's dad in the shower. Then liquid from an unknown source landed on my stash of Cohibas, rendering them untokeable. The sliding door to my hotel room didn't lock nor close which i wouldn't have really cared about had the hotel not taken on the Wes Anderson meets serial killer vibe. Oh, and don't even think about using the internet- the dial up hotel computer I used to try to email my mum abruptly shut down (like screen went black) after I searched "google.com" and apparently "violated the terms of agreement".
Havana is pretty cool, boasting a range of architectural milieu unique to each neighborhood. Old Havana is beautifully maintained and charming. Vedado has a vibe I can't quite describe. There are pristine streets and others quite rough, though the only time I ever felt unsafe was walking past a nail salon on Simón Bolivar at the same time the aesthetician was dumping out the tub of dirty foot water into the street (as one does) that splashed all up my bare legs, front, and face. Microbiological disaster.
Public busses bump reggaeton and are often packed to the maximum with live human body parts dangling out the door and windows. People salsa dance in the street. Food is not the country's highlight, though unlike every other travel experience of my life, I didn't puke once! Infrastructure is behind but Cuba is socially progressive- Mariela Castro herself leads gay rights parades, and sex change surgeries are paid for by the state. Mojitos don't actually get old and neither does live music. If you don't smoke cigars, now is a good time to start. People are friendly, sociable, and educated. Air is smoggy. Planes to take you home don't necessarily show up. Do you mind? Not too much.
|National Capitol Building from Paseo de Marti, Havana|
|Paseo de Marti, Havana|
|Paseo de Marti, Havana|
|Plaza de la Revolución, Havana|
|La Bodeguita del Medio, Havana|
|around the corner from Romeo y Julieta cigar factory, Havana|
|shoes and socks and music of Trinidad|
|Tobacco farm, Pinar del Rio|
|"which way's the beach?" Cayo Jutías|
|Coconuts of Cayo Jutías|
|Trinidad; photograph by Morgan Moller|