Well, here we are, as they say. this time it's Cuba. We had about 10 days in Habana, where it's hot as h*ll, and now we're in a pueblito outside of Trinidad on the south coast, where it's hot as h*ll.
Habana started frustratingly with run-ins with jineteros, ie, hustlers or touts, who fairly batter tourists with offers for restaurants, cigars, music, taxis, etc. This happened a bit in Guatemala, too, but the difference we feel is that the folks there just tried to sell us things and walked away when we politely said no. Here, the jineteros pretend to be friendly and engaging, asking us questions about ourselves such as what country we are from and if this is our first time in Cuba (questions we now realize are used to assess our gullibility). Eventually they get around to their real agenda, a request for a bottle of milk for their kid or whatever. For example, one woman at the concert hall, when we were looking at their schedule, was fascinated to hear we're from the US, her mother is there, she isn't sure where, hasn't seen her for 26 years. She was moved to tears when we agreed to take a letter to her mother back with us. we chat with her for a half hour, we go down the street to have a mojito with her and then oh, surprise, we're buying, because they're in CUC, the currency that locals can't afford. lovely.
Anyway, so we are having to make a concerted effort to find lovely places and avoid the scammers. It's not even the money - it's the feeling that we want to drink it in here, we want to talk to people and learn about their life here, the systems, the government, the culture, but instead we can't trust people. We feel guarded. But of course we have found wonderful things in Cuba, so we'll stop complaining and tell you about some of them:
---a number of family and friends here of our friend Rene in Seattle. We stayed with his friends in a treelined neighb in Habana which was lovely, where we ate like kings. We had a couple days with Aunt Helga and Uncle Oscar (see photo), and went to a kid's birthday party with clown and pinata!! delightful. really delightful.
---And the music of course is fab. In the touristy areas there's a range of live music, from desultory stuff in bars to wonderful boleros and son. And we found a club called Casa de la Trova (think 'troubador'), where we heard great singers and small groups. We hope to go back when we're back in Habana for the weekend. We went four times over two weekends, and I think we passed from being tourists who just came to take in what they could to tourists who really enjoyed the music, the musicians, and the community that has grown up around the Trova.
---And rumba! There's a street a ways from the main old city with walls painted in a kind of santeria mural, where sunday afternoons there's rumba. a couple hours of great singing and drumming and dancing, all free, all in the unbelievable heat. it's almost transcendental, standing there with a crowd, dripping sweat, with the heavy beat drumming.
---The fruit in Cuba is wonderful. Fresh guava, pineapple, mango, fruta bomba (don't say papaya, that's most naughty!), and avocadoes. our vegetarian diet has led us to lunch of a 2-pound avocado and a 3-pound mango, directly from the shell. The sight was so astonishing to a Habanero, especially that I then walked across the street to throw the peel away instead of throwing it behind me, that he walked over and talked to us for a while. Our vegetarian diet has also so far included, besides the staple beans n rice, called congrí, the national food of cuba, lobster, pork and fish twice. rock on. thanks so much, this is great.
---Trinidad is an old cobblestone colonial town in the south that's so overtouristed that there's no there there. or, there's no here here. actually, aside from the internet place, we aren't here, we're down the road a few km in La Boca, where a little river flows into the Caribbean. it's lovely and feels genuine. A young couple has a casa particular, which is the cuban system of rooms for rent, on the beach. mind you, it's not a powdery white sand beach, but sunset is still spectacular. This morning, when we woke up, there were three tiny frogs in our bathroom and one more on the windowsill.
---Yesterday we walked a dirt road till we came upon a little house in the country. The woman there called us over and invited us in. She and her husb had the previous day offered us a ride home---in their horse-drawn cart--- when we were caught in a driving rain, the outermost reaches of Hurricane Rita. We sat in her place with her and chatted for about 4 hrs, with their chickens and kittens and ducks and pigs and a dove and goats and hens and dogs coming and going. She has a name for all the birds, meaning one name that they all get named, and man do they know their name when she calls them. her dad cut a watermelon and we all dug in. they saved the (red) seeds for replanting. She said they can grow all their own food - yucca, melons, etc., except rice. she likes living in the country, but the trouble is her 2 daughters both have medical trouble and aren't at home these days, and the cost of medicine is impossible. like everyone here, she praised the free education and health care systems, but said that medicine is just not available or affordable. (see photo)
----Speaking of that, the gov't propaganda billboards are great. "Vamos bien!" with Fidel's profile, and "in cada barrio, revolucion!" and so on. some are quite pointed political cartoons with fidel and bush. there's police everywhere, even in La Boca, which is a long way from Old Habana. some people have told us it's a bit of repression, with police asking to see identification cards rather randomly.
----Anyway, after talking with Idolidia at her house yesterday, we headed back into town, had good custard ice cream on the street for super cheap, and then in the late afternoon i was invited to join the local beisbol game on the beach. One for three, with an rbi and a run scored. not too shabby, i say. and my best hit was a long fly to what would be left-center field, but it plopped in the sea and that's an automatic out. in sum, un fly, un hee, un fly oww. and after we sat out front and chatted with our hosts about the arduous paperwork for having a casa particular, what will happen after Fidel, the hurricanes that have hit both the US and Cuba this year and now Rita, etc. how great.
10 more days in Cuba, more or less, and then we're off to Turkey to meet up with Em (sis) and Elayne (aunt). woohoo! i think we'll head to the west part of the island, though with the recent close passing of Rita, maybe not.
talk to you soon, love,
jer and whitney
ps - no photos this time, sorry. no way could we upload from here.
pps - still no visa for Iran, but the agent says be patient. With the change of govm't in August, visa systems changed. But we were heartened to learn that another American our agent is working with was granted a visa...his trip is in Sept so his was processed before ours.
ppps - Tikal was great. actually the ruins themselves were good but not overawing, but the trip there and our place on the lake, and the ruins and the birds, all together, were great. The birds, OMG...go to Google images and look up "Keel-billed toucan".....