the small town

Aug 1st/2nd

Camaguay is a small town in the middle of Cuba. It’s not very touristy which is really nice. The streets are lined with quaint one story colonial buildings. It has cobblestone streets that wind in every which way. The layout is pretty confusing with parallel streets ending u being diagonal or even perpendicular later, so it’s a great place to just wander about and get lost in. The city has a really chill relaxed atmosphere and is a huge change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Havana. People around here ride bikes everywhere and often times the streets are more packed w/ bikes than they are w/ cars. Also, most of the taxis that ride around town are bicycle taxis. This is a great town to just hang out and take it all in.

Because of the heat, people here almost always have a lot of their windows and doors open. I like to walk down the streets and sneak peeks into people’s houses to see what it’s like inside. People here definitely aren’t rich, but they’re not terribly bad off either. Compared to the barren one room cement buildings I’ve seen in many countries, the Cubans live like kings. Almost everyone here has a TV, old but decent furniture, multiple rooms, and a fridge. The thing that I did notice was that the two Casa Particulars that I saw here were definitely more nicely furnished and fancier than the rest of the houses I peeked into.

I’m starting to get the hang of being in Cuba and a lot of my confusion about things is starting to dissipate. I’m getting used to the two different currencies and now usually know what things are sold in one and which in the other. Paying in CUC is expensive, but I’ve found out that there are certain restaurants here that are “peso restaurants” meaning they take the small CUP bills. If you can find one of these places, you can usually eat for really cheap… just 2$ or so, and they sometimes have “peso beers” which run for under 50 cents. Also, there are little local street stalls where you can usually pay in CUP as well for small snacks. All over the place they sell these small thick crust pizzas for like 20 cents… they’re not really a full meal, but a nice thing to tide you over and I’ve been eating them daily. One night I decided to try a Chinese restaurant to see what the Cuban interpretation of Chinese food was. Wow, it was nothing like it is in the states. I have no idea what I ordered, but it ended up being a ton of sauce with little pieces of something or other in it (chicken??) with a little bit of a celery like vegetable. Not spicy whatsoever either.

My Spanish has also been improving a little bit. I’ve been doing some studying here and there and I’m slowly remembering all the Spanish I knew last year from south America. I still don’t know very much, but if the people here talk pretty slowly, I can usually at least get the gist of what they are saying. It’s really cool being able to at least somewhat communicate in a foreign language. I had a really hard time one day trying to find out where to buy a lighter. I know how to ask for a light, “tienne fuego” which literally means “do you have fire”, but I’m sure asking someone “where is the fire?” would be a bit wrong. So I went from person to person and shop to shop, each time miming using a lighter to light a cigarette. Oddly enough, it was near impossible to find one, with each shopkeeper sending me somewhere else. Finally I found one though.

I settled down in one of the many plazas to smoke my cigar. Eventually, I started talking to this Cuban girl who was a student at the nearby university and a marathon runner. Her English was pretty much nonexistent, yet we somehow managed to maintain a conversation about all sorts of stuff: her family in a nearby town, the differences between random Cuban cities, and other stuff. It was cool to be able to just talk to someone without being hustled for something… or so I thought. After several hours of this of course, as always there was a catch and she started into “lets have sexo”, “give me pesos”, etc etc. UGH. Really is it possible to talk to anyone here without it ending like this?!

That night it started pouring like crazy and I ended up being drenched in the rain. I finally made it to the restaurant I was walking to and staggered in, dripping wet. 90% of the place was filled with a HUGE tour group… maybe 25-30 people or so. They pretty much dominated this whole place and it really struck me as weird how these huge package tour groups can completely take over the atmosphere in any place they go to. Also, it never ceases to surprise me that Cuba is such a popular destination for huge tour groups looking for fun in the sun. I’ve always thought of Cuba as more of a place to explore a culture and not a place where people come looking for all-inclusive resorts. Yet it turns out that Cuba has more resorts than any other Caribbean country.

After eating my food (Fried chicken on the bone (surprise surprise) with a thin slice of ham on top and then a slice of cheese on top), set out back to the hotel. Unlike Havana, where at night you would hear constant music from all the buildings around, here people were mostly watching TV. As I walked by house after house, I saw almost always the same show on and the soundtrack drifted through the streets coming from all directions. It’s odd to see such a sight, coming from America where there are a million channels and everyone has a satellite… while everyone here watches the same thing…

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