Sunday, 17 February 2019

Trying to post now I am back in Havana.

Back in Havana, let’s see if this wifi lets me post.

On Thursday, which incidentally was Valentine’s day, a fact which is important in a later post, we left Havana. Havana is an amazing city of contrasts: smart hotels with all mod cons and just down the road buildings in such a state of disrepair that you wonder how anyone lives in them. Yet live in them they do. And we saw only one person sleeping on the streets - and I am still not sure if he was just having an early evening rest. I did see one chap having a good wash in the water rushing down the gutter during Wednesday’s rainstorm.

We walked the back streets of Havana with no fear of being run over by cars or other vehicles. The lovingly polished, well-preserved Cadillacs and Buicks in their bright pinks and greens and blues only drove on the wider boulevards, taking sucker-tourists on tours of the city sights. (Pictures when I am back in the UK.)

The other roads were not fit for anything to drive at any speed at all and so there was really no danger. In many doorways in these back streets people set up small businesses: shoe repair using ancient stitching machines, handicrafts and art galleries. Stalls selling fruit and veg - strings of onions a yard long - are pushed into place, waiting for customers. In between are would-be smart cafes selling drinks and tapas to tourists, such as the Lampadilla, on Lampadilla street, the area outside decorated with umbrellas from which were suspended lightbulbs - lampadillas. See a photo some time soon!

Buildings being restored, and quite a lot was going on, had scaffolding made from wood. When there are embargoes on what can come into the country you make use of whatever you have. Horse drawn carriages and bicycle taxis passed us constantly always asking, “You want a taxi, lady?” or offering “Tour the city, lady, good rate.” We ignored them and carried on walking. So on Thursday we set off in a yellow state-taxi, after some confusion as the driver tried to identify us, something made difficult by his holding up the wrong room number. But set off we did, eventually. Driving through the outskirts of Havana we saw a fair amount of run down places but gradually came into more well-preserved areas, some of which seems to be diplomatic residences of some kind. Who still has embassies here? Further out we drove through an area which the driver told us was where Fidel Castro’s family lived. Not too many years ago this district was out of bounds, access strictly limited, but now cars can drive through. Just a little further along was Raul’s estate! An even greater contrast than in the city centre.

Then we were on the open road, not bad roads at that. We saw a good number of the smart Cadillacs but mostly the vehicles were less well-preserved than the tourist trap taxis. There were also horse drawn vehicles, mostly coming in off side roads, often piles with hay with a driver perched on top. And there were trucks with workers standing in the back, presumably in their way to work somewhere. A step back in time!

We passed barn-like buildings which our driver told us were drying sheds for tobacco. The roofs appeared to be thatched. We later discovered the thatch was made from palm leaves.

When we stopped at what might almost be a service station - cafe, expensive and rather insalubrious loos with a lady selling loo-roll before letting you in, souvenir shop, and a joker carving wooden hearts out of palm wood - we saw a number of completed roofs, presumably waiting for someone to collect them.

We arrived at the hotel, set in the amazingly beautiful Valle de Viñales, and discovered we could not check in until 4.00pm. It was now about 12.30. But we could go to the bar or restaurant, look at the pool, not hard to find as the place consists of a reception area with offices and a little shop, a row of about twenty little chalets, a restaurant, the pool and the poolside bar. We also found that, contrary to what the holiday company had implied, this hotel would not change money for us. Neither did they have wifi for guests. For those things you had to to the little town of Viñales.

Customer service at reception was slow, making Fawlty Towers look amazingly efficient.

We still, however, had cash to buy lunch - good, imaginative and cheap - so one problem was solved. After lunch we managed to wheedle information about the route to Viñales town - clearly not far away but we did not plan on getting lost - and about the chances of changing money there.

Viñales is definitely not a one-horse town. There are loads of horses. Most of the houses are small and brightly painted. Some are made of wood and look remarkably like the shed my grandfather built in his garden. On the whole, though, they looked like a better place to live than the tumbledown city buildings.

The Cadeca, casa de cambio, in Viñales, where you could change money, was an interesting little place. We arrived at 3.50 pm. The opening hours were supposed to be 8.30am to 4.00pm but the notice on the door said CERRADO CLOSED. There was clearly someone working inside. There was also a queue of people outside. At 3.55 someone told us to wait 5 minutes. Five minutes later a grumpy female employee appeared and growled, “No hay conexión”. Without internet she could not work out exchange rates. Everyone must return the next morning.

Such was our introduction to Viñales!

No comments:

Post a Comment