end of the hustle
in the morning i meet Jorge at the park. he takes me to this building where there are tons of people playing chess and he plays a couple of games with one of them. dude, this guys is fast. the other guy sits and deliberates each move for ages, but Jorge makes each move when the other guys piece barely touches the board. he plays wildly, quickly, and arrogantly, and yet still wins one of the games and almost wins the second.
we set off towards the bus station, stopping many times for Jorge to talk to people. seems he knows just about everyone in town. i had been wondering what the catch was going to be, and now i got to find out. we were in a bike taxi going to the bus station, when all of a sudden, instead of taking the cheapo bus to the river and drinking peso beers all day like he said the day before, he suggests we take the bicycle taxi around the city to check out the sights. hrm, doesn’t sound bad. i ask how much. Jorge stalls and keeps saying that we shouldn’t talk about money etc etc, it’s vacation, blah blah. we keep going back and forth until i finally say that unless he tells me the price now, i want to get out immediately. i’ve seen this scam a million times. you don’t agree on a price in advance, and then at the end, surprise surprise, you end up paying 20 or 30 bucks for something that should have cost 5. Jorge tries to insist, but i say no, and he pretends to look hurt.
so, we decide to get some beer instead. we go to this totally random rural area and the bicycle taxi man runs out and knocks on someone’s door. we buy a huge 2 liter of beer (my tab, as usual). i guess the guy in the house lives near the beer factory and gets (steals?) beer from there, selling it out of his house in 2 liter bottles. we kick back, drinking beer till it’s all gone. Jorge says we should buy more beer, but hanging out w/ him is starting to get a bit expensive so i decline. he tries to invent some excuses as to why we *must* buy beer, but i decide to leave. “no!! why you leave! my amigo!! we frens!”.
so, overall it was a pretty interesting experience. on one hand, Jorge definitely benefited from me buying everything, but on the flip side, whatever, the beers, cigarettes, and rum didn’t really cost much and i definitely got to see an interesting side of Cuba that i probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
the non-touristy side of town
i needed to get bus tickets to leave town, and as usual, the train station was hellza far away from the center of town. i decided to walk it, just to see what was out there. it was a tough walk in the blazing sun. as i got farther and farther from the center of town, everything looked very different. the buildings out here were crumbling a bit more, the iron gates a bit more rusted, and the paint peeling all over. peeking inside the houses, as i always do, the insides were looking a lot shabbier than usual as well.
as i walked past one house, the guy inside called me over. i was fully prepared for the usual script and for him to ask for money or sell me cigars or whatnot, but surprisingly, he just wanted to say hi. i was invited into his house where i hung out in rocking chairs with him and his brother. in my broken Spanish, we tried to carry on a conversation as bets we could. later, some neighbors dropped by and i talked to them as well. hmmm, looks like the people outside the center of town are a bit different that the hustlers.
at the train station, they had no train tickets (“come back later!”), so i caught a bike taxi to the bus station. as we rode, people would look out from the porches and wave to me, or yell out hola. it was really nice to experience this more genuine side of Cuba for an afternoon.
food is never easy
fried chicken. i’ve eaten a ton of it. everyday i eat fried chicken. it seems like pretty much the only food in all of Cuba is fried chicken or fried pork. the lack of variety here is stunning. today, i decide to try something different and head to a Chinese restaurant mentioned in the book. it’s a long walk, and the sun is blazing. by the time i arrive at Restaurant Peking, i’m dying. but iÂ´m so happy to get some new food. there’s a woman sitting on the doorstep of the restaurant, who looks up at me. “abierto?” i ask (open?). she says yes, but doesn’t move to let me in. i look down at her. she looks up at me. silence. finally she says that they have fried chicken and rice. what?! i ask about the Chinese food. we don’t have any, she says. ARRGGHHH.
i go back to the center of town disappointed. near my hotel though, there is another Chinese restaurant. the waiter hands me a two page menu with a ton of Chinese food. i look it over. he comes back and tells me that they have very good fried chicken or pork tonight. i ask about the Chinese food. he points to the one and a half pages of Chinese food items, “oh, we don’t have any of that”. unbelievable. ditto with Italian places in town too.
as i was glumly deciding to get the chicken or pork, someone from another table called me over. there was a group of travelers, one guy from America, a few dutch, and a few Swiss. we hung out for a while. man, i haven’t been able to talk to anyone in English since that one day in Havana when i met those Irish people. the other American guy said that he had experienced pretty much the same thing… virtually no American or British travelers in Cuba. we all kicked back, had beers, smoked cigars, and then eventually split up planning to meet again later that night.
i was still starving, and on the way back to my hotel, i found this tiny cafeteria with just a long counter that you sit at and order food in the cheap pesos. this is the cheapest of the cheap Cuban places where only locals go, and everyone there got really excited to see me ordering food. itÂ´s funny, there are certain things that you can do in each country, that the locals never expect you to do, and when you do them, people get really stoked. everyone started asking me where i was from, whether i liked Cuban food, etc etc. people recommended i try this orange drink that they were serving, so i got one and it was pretty damn good. in the end, yeah, i had fried chicken again, but it only cost 1$ and it was a cool experience to do it locals style.
later that night, i went to the casa de las trovas, which is a live music venue in town. that night the music wasn’t live, but i hung out w/ the people who i had met earlier at the “Chinese” restaurant. had a few beers, and called it a night…