Archive | June, 2012

Namaste, amigo

30 Jun

The Cuban Richard Simmons of yoga

June 17, 2012

Our group of students with Eduardo.

As a good self-respecting white girl, I love me some coconut water and yoga. Naturally, I found both of these things in Cuba. Hello, electrolytes and inner peace are indispensable, and can’t be overlooked just because you’re in what’s considered a third world country.

Finding the coconut water was just a lucky chance. My friend Virginia and I were walking around our neighborhood, running whatever errands we needed to that day. Note that by “errand” I mean a trip to La Casa de Fatima and by “need” I mean our need to pound a batido or two. On our way to Fatima’s, we noticed a tipo across the street, a wiry sun-browned man (think a raisin that was trying to masquerade as a pretzel stick), hauling a huge, yellowed burlap sack of something lumpy. Our first guess was that he was carrying coconuts, but we immediately dismissed that idea because there was no way a man that tiny could be carrying three times his body weight in coconuts. Was it full of dead cats? Beer cans? Mangoes?

We gave up on trying to guess what that asere was up to and went on our merry way. On the return, we saw the same raisin wannabe moseying along a few feet in front of us towards the bus stop. I politely tapped him on the shoulder, and inquired in my best Spanish what he was carrying. Yes, they were coconuts. And they were 10 national pesos each (so approximately $0.40). I handed him the cash and he pulled out a rusty machete the size of his torso, plopped the coconut on the middle of the side walk, and hacked a hole in it so we could get our fill of the nourishing innards.

Virginia and I had a tendency to find (what we consider) adventure at all turns. One of our earliest adventures was finding Cuba’s most prominent yoga teacher and organizing a semi-private class with him for most of the members of our group in Cuba. Before leaving for Cuba, I had looked up yoga in Havana and found Eduardo Pimentel Vasquez, who has a studio in Cuba and is largely responsible for spreading yoga in Cuba thanks to his former national T.V. program. I was intimidated—would he be the Richard Simmons of Cuban yoga?—but e-mailed him and got his phone number and address.

Virginia, an avid yogi like myself, was excited that we might have a place to regularly keep up our practice (since the floor in our tiny shared bedroom was not exactly adequate).  We found the studio, met Eduardo and promised we’d call to set up a class as soon as we knew our school schedule. A week or two later, we called back, arranged a time and date, saying it’d probably be the two of us and just one or two others taking the class.

We invited everyone in our 12-person group and had six more takers. Eight people strong, we piled into maquinas one afternoon, a tangle of pale skin and spandex, and took our crew to Eduardo’s.  The yoga studio was not a yoga studio, but the large tiled foyer of a house in the Vedado neighborhood, a beautiful, but slightly decrepit, large white home that Eduardo and his wife, Elsa, had traded their old apartment for.

Eduardo warmly welcomed us, barefoot and bespectacled, wearing a t-shirt from a yoga studio in San Francisco and with his shaggy gray hair fanning out around his face. He raised his eyebrows at the whole crew, a little surprised that we had twice as many people as we had told him, but like a good guru, took a deep breath and kept it all in stride. We grabbed dusty mats from a basket in the corner of the room and laid them out on the checkered floor, wondering if Clorox wipes were a thing in Cuba and praying that MRSA isn’t spread through yoga mats.

A few people in our group had never done yoga, others, only once or twice, and still others, dozens of times. Eduardo kept the class simple, leading us through a few standing poses and a few seated poses, nothing too loco. But Eduardo was damned if he wasn’t going to make us do every single pose perfectly.

He was like a slightly less megalomanic yoga teacher version of my ballet teacher Daniel (though I later learned that Daniel took classes with Eduardo fairly regularly). Cubans have absolutely no concept of personal space or boundaries, and this naturally extends to yoga class. At one point Eduardo was leading us through triangle pose, and he borrowed one of the guys, Levi, to demonstrate how to do it. Eduardo ran his hand all the way up Levi’s inner thigh, demonstrating where the flow of energy should go while Levi got progressively redder and redder.

What’s different between this picture and the one at that top…?

For every pose, Eduardo came around and corrected each one of us, pushing us into the right position. I think as Americans we’re too used to everyone being so appropriate and tiptoeing around lawsuits that when people actually touch us we don’t know what to think. Eduardo was making sure that we didn’t get lazy and complacent in our poses, which I realized I had been when I was doing a seated twist. He came up to me, told me to use my stomach, and pushed my whole body into the best twist I’ve ever done (and the hardest, but my liver and kidneys thanked me I’m sure).

Unfortunately, that day was the only time we took Eduardo’s class, but not because we didn’t want to go back (Levi in particular was dying to get back to see Eduardo). Life, as it inevitably does, gets in the way of your best plans, and we found ourselves busy with excursions and explorations. But hey, at least I can say I took a class with the Cuban Richard Simmons of yoga…

*Again, the pictures don’t really match up with the content. It’s a two-for-one: a story AND unrelated pictures of Cuba!

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ATTACK OF THE TWO-HEADED SHARK!

30 Jun

May 18, 2012

My sister bought my brother an inflatable, remote-controlled flying shark for his birthday, and when sharing this little tidbit with one of my best friends, Claire, I was reminded of possibly my most absurd experience in Cuba. When I told Claire the story of said absurd experience, she begged me to turn this tail into a blog post, so here it goes.

Going to the movies seems like a pretty straightforward and harmless activity, until you go to the Cine Payret in Havana. It’s across the street from the Capitol and the Gran Teatro, bordering Havana’s Central Park, and from the outside, looks like a charming, vintage-y movie theater with lots of character. A group of my friends and I decided to go one Friday night because we thought it was showing the Martin Scorcese Hugo movie, which we wanted to see. When we arrived and walked up to the box office, we discovered that Hugo had shown earlier and that the 8:30 showing was another flick, Ataque del tiburon con dos cabezas. I translated it: Attack of the Two-Headed Shark. Hm. Weird. I’ve never heard of that. Is that the Spanish name for some other movie that I have heard of? After all, in Spanish, The Sound of Music is La novicia rebelde (the rebel novice), so it wasn’t an unreasonable thought.
Despite being unable to figure out exactly what we were getting ourselves into, we decided to give it a whirl and stepped up to buy our tickets. The Cuban Typhoid Mary was standing by the ticket counter, coughing into a handkerchief and asking us, in Spanish, what the word (in Spanish) is for the little pieces of paper they give you when you pay them money. I’m thinking, “Oh my god, is this what comes from free socialized education? Not knowing what a ticket is?” and also wondering if her phlegmy coughs are carrying some communicable disease that I might catch (after all, my friend had already contracted a parasite in Cuba). I tell her that the word is boleto, grab mine, and let whoever is behind me buy their ticket and field any more of her questions.
While waiting for everyone to get their tickets, I venture over to what is functioning as the concession stand at this theater: A lady with a handcart selling plastic bags of popcorn and paper cones of peanuts. Since I probably already caught the worst of the diseases from Typhoid Mary, (or Tifoidea Maria, en espanol) I decide to risk it and buy popcorn. The woman selling it holds out a one-pound bag of salt, which I can only assume dozens of other clients have pinched salt out of. I decide to keep my sodium-intake down for the day and pass on the salt.
Armed with boletos and bags of popcorn, our little crew opens the door to the theater, which has a hand-scrawled sign on a jagged piece of cardboard announcing that the A.C. is broken. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but walking in to the Payret, I can see that the lack of A.C. is going to be a problem. The theater is musty and an unpleasantly sticky and humid. The lights are low and there are creepy statues of angels leering at me and the rows of sparsely populated creaky chairs. Now I’m thinking “Oh god, this is a jack-off theater. I thought porn was illegal in Cuba,” and wondering if I can just turn and flee now.
We find some seats in the middle of a row, and my friend and I make the mistake of going to use the bathroom. It’s not like I choose to have to go to the bathroom in inconvenient locations- it just happens (possibly because I drink between four and 10 liters of water a day). I’ve found the bathroom in many memorable locations- the Smithsonian Air and Space Musuem, Golden Gate Park, all of Disney World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, just to name a few, and I was able to add the Payret to that extensive list. The bathroom was in a subterranean hallway off the main “lobby” and the best adjectives to describe it are “dank” and “terrifying.”
When we walked in, a hag shuffled up to us, the top of her head barely reaching my chest. I’m five-two. She rasped “Papel?” and extended a claw clenching some two-ply toilet paper. I guess the upside is that at least she gave me toilet paper, instead of the piece of notebook paper I got from the bathroom attendant at the baseball stadium. I gingerly held the toilet paper between my index finger and thumb, held my breath against the smell, and went into one of the stalls, squinting in the bad lighting. Like most bathrooms in Cuba, this one was lacking a toilet seat and running water, so I did my business without thinking of thousands of microbes tangoing around the toilet.
Cuba travel tip: Always carry hand sanitizer if you like to wash your hands. The old lady shuffled up to me again, her uneven gait making me suspect that she might have been missing a limb or a bone or something. This time she was brandishing a bucket of questionable water and a bar of soap and wheezed out “Jabon?”. I squeaked out a “No gracias,” and ran out of the bathroom, heart racing but bladder relieved.
I took my seat just as the movie was beginning. It looked like it had been downloaded off of the worst of bootleg movie sites, with grainy pictures, bad audio and a little emblem in the corner the entire time. It was in English, but with Spanish subtitles. I don’t think whoever wrote the subtitles was a native speaker though- I’m not fluent by any means but I saw more grammar mistakes in those subtitles than a middle-school yearbook.
The movie, “2-Headed Shark Attack” was, not surprisingly, terrible. It was produced by the same studio that brought us those classics, “Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid,” and “MILF.”  Carmen Electra was in it (need I say more?) and it followed a group of semester-at-sea students whose boat gets stranded on an island terrorized by a two-headed shark. The shark looked like it was made in a Windows 97 animation program that never made it past the beta stage. All of the actors were probably “adult film stars” trying to make it in legitimate cinema. After about 45 minutes of watching the tiburon pick off student by student in a series of badly-animated attacks, we decided that we’d had enough of this unique experience and called it quits.
I didn’t get a souvenir from the Payret trip. Luckily, I didn’t contract any diseases from it and I’ve long since lost the ticket stub. But when I see my little brother’s inflatable Air Swimmer gliding around my house, I’ll always remember the attack of the two-headed shark.

*photo courtesy of Levi Vonk, of Viva La Vonk fame. I guess I was too scarred by the Payret to take a picture of it.

em-BARD-0

30 Jun

May 13, 2012

For never was there a tale of more woe,

Than a pair separated by the embargo

 

Two countries,both alike in dignity

In fair Havana, where we lay our scene

From ancient grudge entrenched in policy,

Creates for this pair some difficulty

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,

A pair of star-crossed lovers met by fate,

But now are separated by an embargo,

Which makes it hard to go on a date.

The international relations make talking tough,

Though Cuba is just off U.S. coast,

The going for them is going to be rough,

But that’s not the traffic of this post.

This post, if you with patient eyes will read,

Is a self-indulgent nod to someone very special to me.

All Shakespeare-inspired drama aside, I’m dedicating this post to a special University of Havana philosophy student who, with his crew of hipster friends, introduced me to some of my favorite places in Havana, shared some of the best music in the world with me, and, most importantly, taught me to swear like a sailor in Cuban slang. Meet Camilo Miranda, one of the good few men in Cuba not sporting a jonky (though he did once have an emo haircut. If that had lasted past 12th grade, he wouldn’t have had an ice cube’s chance in hell with me).

Despite his excellent mastery of the English language, almost fanatical loyalty to Converse sneakers and high consumption of American pop culture, Cami is Cuban cien por ciento (100 %).

When I asked him what qualities about himself he thought were most Cuban, he only had to pause for a second before responding. Cami, like most Cubans, prides himself on his resourcefulness and creativity. He brags that he can go out with three bucks in his pocket and make a night of it (true story, I’ve seen it in action. He knows places you can get it for less than most happy-hour drink specials in the U.S.). He’s definitely a product of a country where the only thing you’re allowed to waste is time (if you don’t reuse a plastic bag as many times as possible in Cuba, you’re looking at potential exile).

 

This was fun. And free. We sat on a little piece of coast and watched the sun set over our little slice of Havana.

He also says the way he interacts with other people is one of his very Cuban characteristics. Maybe since the buses are more crowded than a Best Buy on Black Friday, Cubans don’t really have a concept of awkwardness. Everyone is friends, happy to offer a lighter or directions. If a hustler tried to offer us a taxi, Camilo always politely declined with a “No gracias hermano.” Because of the above-mentioned lack of rigidity regarding personal space, Cubans are very touchy-feely. Usually if my significant other kissed another guy, I would be concerned, but Camilo kisses and hugs his guy friends and it’s not weird at all.

Camilo is named for one of the heroes of the Cuban Revolution, Camilo Cienfuegos. Obviously, Cami didn’t choose his name, but he shares the same pride in Cuba as his namesake. Though Camilo wants to travel the world, he doesn’t ever want to give up his country. Most Cubans are intensely patriotic, and Camilo is no exception. He has a Che poster hanging over his bed and laments friends who have left the country for good.

In Revolutionary Square, an image of Cami’s namesake, Camilo Cienfuegos

    Desmeserado is a Spanish word that means “excessive” and I’ve heard it used to describe many Cubans, as they trend towards being over-the-top at times. Camilo is no different, with a definite flair for the dramatic and a tendency to, like me, speak exclusively in hyperboles. That Qva Libre concert we went to? The best concert…EVER. That Bucanero we had after our weekly pilgrimage to hear Frank Delgado play? The coldest beer…EVER. That performance of the Ballet Nacional doing a mixed rep program? The most amazing ballet performance….EVER. You get where I’m going with this.

Our cultural exchange has been a little imbalanced. He showed me around his beautiful city, shared the best of Cuban music with me, helped me with my Spanish, expanded my world view about politics and philosophy and lent me an incredible book of Argentine poetry and prose. I taught him the meaning of buying tickets to the gun show, why weave needs to be patted and certain less-than-polite monickers for some cultural groups. Clearly I got the short end of the stick.

I’m not going to say Camilo is a typical Cuban just like I wouldn’t say I’m a typical American. I can’t make sweeping generalizations about a people based on my experiences with just one, but I think that really getting to know and care for a person who comes from a completely different background than me has been eye-opening and well, fun. Though Skype doesn’t work to call Cuba, Camilo and his family only get 40 hours of internet a month and the cheapest phone calls to Cuba are 80 cents a minute, we’ll be able to keep in touch (I’m thinking of training a fleet of carrier pigeons or maybe going old school and doing a message in a bottle). Dale.

When a trend goes bad…

30 Jun

April 26, 2012

Young kids with jonkies

Worse than a mullet. Worse than a rattail. Worse than a balding bowl cut.

Yes, I bring you the jonky, (pronounced YON-kee), an absolutely awful haircut that is embraced by a large sector of Cuban males (and a few outlying ladies).

There are differing theories on the origins of the jonky. Some say it’s a style that came from Italian junkies, others blame widespread lobotomies. It’s really gained popularity because of a reggaeton star who made a song, and accompanying music video, all about this hairstyle.

One of my friends in Cuba is a hairstylist, and he says that, once the hair has been properly cut, the look is achieved by a combination of flat-irons and hair wax, leading me to wonder if the jonkies have to sleep in a geisha-like headrest to protect the look.

Regardless of how the look is maintained, according to my friend, there are even competitions, where all of the jonkies congregate and try and out-do each other with the highest jonky or most creative expression of it.

I’ve been provided endless hours of free entertainment scourging Havana as a jonk-arazzi, snapping pictures of every manifestation of this completely outrageous style. Let’s take a look at a few.

The Fronky: The Frosted Jonky.

Forget cupcakes. This two-toned confection is for that jonky that wants a little bit of California-cool in his look. Don’t mistake this with the blonky (blonde jonky).

Jonky in Uniform.

Jonkies are actually extremely equalizing. Men and women, black and white, young-professionals and just youngsters: practically everyone has caught jonky fever.

The Ponky: Papa Jonky.

I’ve seen a decent amount of men sporting jonkies while out with their children. I guess it really is parents’ jobs to completely mortify their children.

The Mis-tonky: The mistaken jonky.

This can apply to any jonky who thinks he looks cool. However, I once saw a very mis-tonky when I was in La Casa de la Musica, listening to a fantastic Argentinean folk trio. The jonky came in, sat down, realized that he was severely out of place, and quickly left.

The jonk-ito.

Throwing a Spanish diminutive on the end of jonky is the best way to describe anyone under the age of 16 whose mother is letting him try out this look. Kids have to learn from their mistakes.

The jonky in another lifetime.

Perhaps in his heyday he was able to rock the jonky, but thinning hair and lack of Rogane in Cuba made his look impossible to maintain.

The jon-KING.

This jonky goes above and beyond, crowned in a corona of hair wax and glory. His loyal subjects bow to the power of his incredibly ridiculous hair.

The donky: the designed jonky.

Not just because he looks like an ass, the donky is named thus because he’s also using his hairstyle to show off a work of art. See also the stronky, who’s eschewed a design for some zebra stripes.

Thanks again to Virginia Green for chasing down this picture. She said she followed him for half a block to get this photo.

Food, glorious food

30 Jun

April 17, 2012

See how bad my hand-writing is? I guess I was sick that day in kindergarten.


(This one started out as a letter I was writing to my best friend Tommy, who was studying in Argentina. My handwriting is atrocious and mail service in Cuba is notoriously bad, so I decided he’d have a better chance of reading it if it were published as a blog post)

Dear Tommy-

I have owed you a letter for quite some time. I’m not sure when or how this letter will get to you, but let it be known that I’m writing it from Cuba con todo mi amor. I want you to be here so badly- I found one of the 3 pictures that exist of us together and keep thinking how you would love the insanely cheap and delicious street food.

I’m still going through my existential life crisis but I think if I don’t get a real job we need to open some sort of Argentenian/Cuba/Southern fusion bed and breakfast. Let that sink in for a minute.

Remember how we had to make the “stop talking about food” rule? I’m going to shoot that to hell. Let’s talk food. I’m going to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Cuban cuisine.

The first thing about food is that it’s a pain in the ass to get. Humberto, our program director, says that Cubans biggest problems are breakfast, lunch and dinner. Grocery stores aren’t grocery stores- they’re a badly stocked bastard child of a Dollar Tree and a gas station convenience store. You might be able to buy a few dry goods there, a carton of milk and box of soap. To get the fresh stuff, you gotta go underground.

Around the corner from our apartment in a literal hole in the wall in the middle of a sketchy-ass hood is a fruit and veggie stall. You can buy guavas, cabbage, cukes, pineapple, strange native tubers (malanga e yucca) and (ew) papaya. It’s cheap as a Vietnamese hooker- usually about $3 for several pounds of produce. And this is good produce too. None of that creepy bloated genetically modified and tasteless stuff we get at home. Tiny peppers absolutely pop with flavor and the bananas actually taste like bananas, not like banana-flavored cardboard.

Let’s move on though. Next to the fruit stand is a small window with bloody pieces of butchered pig hanging from hooks. Think Sweeny Todd. Pork is the national meat—it’s ubiquitous (but strangely there isn’t any bacon). Our housekeeper brings in chickens sometimes that I think (read: know) were freshly strangled in someone’s backyard.

 

 

Speaking of chickens, around the corner from the meat’n’fruit stands is the egg lady. You go to her house, holler that China (our housekeeper) sent you and, if you pass the test, she’ll sell you eggs, usually at least three dozen at a time.

But my friend, I know how much you love street food and that is the real highlight of my gastronomical adventures. On the street where we live is a quaint stand where you can buy ropa vieja, an ample portion of beans, rice, salad and a creamy banana batido for less than $3. The stand is attached to someone’s house and the food is served on their china. You can always opt to get it to go, but if you don’t bring your own plate or container it will literally be dumped in a plastic bag. Usually we stand at the counter, listening to the workers blaring Madonna mix with the reggaeton seeping out of the neighbor’s house.

When we’re up for a slightly longer walk, we traipse down the street 8 minutes to a stand that would probably get a single digit rating from the Department of Health. The stand has bars on the windows. Though no amount of iron can keep the bacteria from escaping, I give them an “A” for effort. You can get pizza or a ham and cheese sandwich from there but their specialty is (surprise) a pork dish called lomo ahumado. It’s a tender, juicy smoked piece of pork that comes with at least a half pound of greasy black bean and rice congri, cabbage and cucumbers dressed in vinegar and a banana, all for less than $2. You eat it at a free-standing table or take it to go in a cardboard box or old Styrofoam meat tray. Sure you’re risking dysentery, a parasite or worse eating at these kinds of places but the food is absolutely incredible and for the price, I really can’t complain.

 

There’s not a whole lot of variety. Most places sell the same combination of pizza, spaghetti, burgers, and some variation of pork, rice and beans. Even when we ate at el Aljibe, a place that Anthony Bourdain visited and made famous, the meal was extremely simple: chicken, rice, beans and salad. I think it’s the simplicity that makes it so delicious and the fact that most of the ingredients are so incredibly fresh. Sure, there are no balsamic reductions dressing the pork or peach curries for the rice but the food here really isn’t bad.

I can’t wait for our reunion (and to give you one of your gifts- just let it be known Cuban hip-hop is the theme). Te mando un abrazo fuerte.

-XO

G

 

Photo credits to the lovely Virginia Green.

 

The Gospel According to Ballet

30 Jun

April 10, 2o12

Bienvenidos al Infierno. Aquellos que Cruzan este Puerto dejan todos sus esperanzas.”

Welcome to hell. Those that cross these doors leave all hope behind.”

Daniel, my Cuban commie ballet drill sergeant, greeted me with these cheery and welcoming words one morning before class started. I’m not sure what his religious affiliation is but I can’t help but wonder if he was raised extremely Catholic or possibly Seventh Day Adventist because his classes are always peppered with colorful religious imagery.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is no air-conditioning in the ballet studio, so Daniel welcoming us to hell wasn’t too far off the mark. But I think he also fancies himself as some sort of gatekeeper of hell or distributor of infernal justice.

“You know I wanted to be a demon,” he told me conspiratorially after one class, “But the position was already full so I had to settle for a being a ballet teacher.”

Daniel once told me that he and his wife were yogis but somehow I don’t think the entire philosophy has really sunk in with him. He definitely doesn’t believe in karma.

“Why do people do ballet?” he asked me, “They think that if they suffer a lot in ballet class then they won’t suffer in the rest of their life. But they’re wrong. They suffer a lot in both.”

He always delivers these lines after staring upward and to the left, maybe looking for divine inspiration. After sharing his little sound bites, he grins mischievously, cackles and then makes us do a complicated six-part combination that makes me think I’m atoning for some serious sin (sis, I’m sorry I put a lollipop in your hair when I was nine).

More likely I’m atoning for committing one of the sins of Daniel’s class. In his class, there aren’t seven deadly sins, only three: Don’t stop, don’t be lazy and don’t change the combinations.

I’m certainly guilty of the last, but it’s nearly impossible to do his combinations perfectly because he changes them a dozen times while he’s teaching them. Luckily, he has a few set combinations that we do every class he refers to as “our daily bread.”

Oh Daniel, forgive us our bad passés as we forgive those who chasse and run into us. Leap us not into exhaustion and deliver us from turned in feet. For thine is the class of sweat, blood and tears forever.

Amen.

 

 

Please note: I really love Daniel and my ballet classes. Besides having the pleasure of spending so many hours a week with Daniel, I’m really improving my ballet technique and believe it or not, having the time of my life.

Are we there yet?

30 Jun

April 2, 2012

Let’s go on a road trip. Pack your backpack with clothes for eight days—bring only what is absolutely necessary. We’re leaving Havana in a Mercedez-Benz van with 12 college students, a professor and a chain-smoking driver. We’re going to the Bay of Pigs, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos and about a million bathrooms in between.

First stop (after a bathroom break of course) is the Bay of Pigs.

Our final destination for day one was the city of Santa Clara, about four hours outside of Havana. Normally when I’m making a trip of that distance, I just hop on the interstate and go. Not so in Cuba. We stopped at the Bay of Pigs for an hour and a half and took a nice little dip. I can safely say that I’ve never gone swimming while on a road trip, but it is actually surprisingly refreshing and something I definitely recommend.

With soggy pants and salty skin, we continued for about 20 minutes and stopped for lunch and a tour of the Bay of Pigs museum, learning the Cuban side of the story and seeing different artifacts from the invasion, including handwritten orders from Fidel.

 

Inundated with history and baked chicken, we packed up and continued the drive, listening to one of the three CDs that our driver had that would be constantly replayed as the soundtrack to our journey. About eight hours after our departure, we arrived in Santa Clara, which believe it or not, was not even close to the end of our road trip. As I’ve mentioned before, nothing in Cuba is straightforward or easy and this extends to taking a road trip.

 

Next morning, next stop: the quaint (read: boring) town of Trinidad. Remember the “not straightforward” thing? Instead of going directly to Trinidad, we took a laborious and winding path through the mountains of Escambray, yielding these amazing views.

 

I think Che hid out in these mountains during his guerilla campaigns. Now I have something in common with Che- we both peed in these mountains.

I won’t bore you with the details of Trinidad because there weren’t any (except for eating an amazing meal of my favorite Cuban food, barbecue’s criolla cousin, ropa vieja).

 

 

Let’s keep going. On to hipster heaven, a mausoleum dedicated to the man who is a revolutionary hero and graces millions of t-shirts.

 

 

The mausoleum and museum dedicated to Che Guevara and some of his guerilla fighters is sort of like our Arlington. It’s very serious and somber and respect is demanded- no hats allowed in the memorial.

 

Our trip to Santa Clara also included day excursions to an experimental soil station where we shoveled cow manure into a plantain field and a jaunt out to Cayo Brujo, a little key with with crystal clear water. Eight of our 12 were sick by the day we were supposed to leave for Cienfuegos, probably thanks to a busted pipeline in Santa Clara that made all the waterworks backed up. Imagine a zombie apocalypse movie plus the anthrax scare plus a Confederate hospital during the burning of Atlanta. It was bad. Let’s get out of there.

We packed up the Benz, our wiry driver Armando calmly carting a van-ful of mildly hysterical college students to Cienfuegos.

The minute we arrived in Cienfuegos, peace descended on the group. I attribute it to the sea breezes in this bayside town, but I suspect that our director, Humberto (on the right, with Armando), might have drugged our juice boxes.

 

 

Humberto and Armando. Don’t they look devious?

 

Let’s stay in Cienfuegos for a while. Cienfuegos is every retirement-aged person’s wet dream. It’s tranquilly situated on the Bahia de Jagua bordered by a malecon (sea wall). Along the malecon there are open-air bars and restaurants that seem calm even when they’re full of people and blasting reggaeton.

 

 

We stayed in casas particulares– homes that families rent out to visitors and can include delicious home-cooked Cuban breakfasts and dinners, which luckily ours did. I think heaven is luxuriously drinking morning coffee out of antique china on a porch by the water. I was in paradise for a few days.

 

 

 

 

Even though Cienfuegos is a Cuban Eden, let’s take a little mountainous jaunt to the Nicho waterfalls. It was almost baptismal for the group- the numbingly cold falls was the invigorating kick in the pants that made almost all of our sick compatriots feel marginally better.

 

 

It’s been quite a week. Let’s get back home to Havana.

Despite the waterfalls, we still had some fallen comrades (later we learned that my best friend on the trip had contracted a parasite-that’s another story though). We cut our trip short and returned to Havana a day early.

Let’s stop one more time for a bathroom break. The bathroom attendant was sitting outside, strumming a guitar and serenading everyone who stopped to pee. I’ve never been serenaded while going to the bathroom but can happily check that off my bucket list. Maybe the next road trip will have dancing bathroom attendants…