Cuba journal - Wednesday
About ready to go to bed after my first (partial) day in Cuba.
I woke up this morning to the sound of my phone's alarm in Mexico City (Ciudad Mexico) with a goal of leaving my hotel by 8:00 to make it to my 11:15 departure - mostly because Simon and his girlfriend were adamant about the need to leave early. Decided that I had had enough adventure last night on the metro with all of that luggage and asked the hotel to call me a cab; got an Uber driver who spoke less English than the Spanish that I speak, which isn't much. But we managed some conversation on the way to the airport.
I had plenty of time at the airport - enough to forget that I had to buy a Cuban tourist visa before checking in for my flight, but still had over an hour after security before boarding my plane. I flew Mexico's Interjet airline on a really nice, new Airbus 320 with a camera showing the view from the front of the plane so that we could watch the takeoff and landing. I had never seen that before and got a huge kick out of it, despite my stressing over the fact that it seemed as though we were a bit to the left for our approach.
Immigration at Havana's airport seemed to take forever but finally I was at the front of the line. The young woman asked me if I wanted her not to stamp my passport and through my horrible Spanish I communicated that yes, I would like her not to, so she didn't. I grabbed my two large duffel bags (one full of gear to give away to Cuban triathletes) and headed out of the secure area.
I had prearranged a ride through the same fellow who found my guest house; he told me not to find a taxi, because someone would be there holding a sign up with my name on it. This of course brought me flashbacks to the 1990s' Bud Light commercial in which the very young man asked the limo driver if he had Bud Light in his cab, then proceeded to impersonate "Doctor Galakowitz" so that he could drink the beer.
It took some considerable restraint on my part but I did not insist that the driver hold up a sign for Galakowitz.
We were on our way to the cab when my driver asked if I needed to change some money (oops! yes please) so I made a stop at the money changing place and off we went.
His was a reasonably recent Toyota, but on our way to my guest house we passed many of the old American beauties for which Cuba is famous.
I'm staying at a newly renovated place not far East of the Capitol. The owner - who speaks a good bit of English - told me that he bought the place for about $25,000 (their money is about even with our own; they call their CUC's "kooks") and so far he has put $27,000 into improving it. I have no idea how that works with the communist government but it's a nice place despite the absence of safes in the room (passport? macbook? all of my money? I'll just have to trust here, which runs counter to my nature).
I quickly changed into some running gear and headed out for a late afternoon run on the Malecon - the big street along the coast. I went to the west and turned around just past the U.S. Interests building (we don't have an embassy here, now); got back and showered and left as quickly as I could to go meet Gerardo Goldberger, one of the people from our group who is staying nearby.
Sadly I got turned around quickly and realized when I was 10 minutes late to meet Gerardo that I had no idea where I was, so I got in a bike taxi and headed toward the Hotel Nacional, where others in our group are staying.
My bike cabbie wasted no time in trying to find out if I wanted female companionship for the night; he was quite persistent. I told him that no, I was not married and no, my girlfriend is not with me on this trip but nevertheless I'm not really looking for that kind of trip. He left the subject open, telling me at which bar he works after hours in case I changed my mind.
The Hotel Nacional is on a really beautiful piece of real estate on a hill overlooking the coast; it has at least one huge cannon still in place from The Old Days though now of course it's just for show. I bought a cervesa and began walking around with my glaring red Ironman backpack on, trolling for members of our group.
Before long I stopped so as not to ruin the shot that a man was taking with his camera; when he motioned me forward I continued my stroll, beer in hand. He came up to me and asked about my Ironman backpack (it worked!) and I found that he was Mark Bare, one of our group (from Richmond, VA).
We had a couple of mojitos ($4 each, for the curious - and that's at Hotel Nacional prices) with my backpack conspicuously placed to attract the attention of others from our group - but nobody approached us, so eventually we left to find dinner elsewhere.
We rode in a 1950-something Chevy convertible (of course; they park by the Nacional to take tourists for rides) and paid too much for a ride to a restaurant that was not Nacional expensive but we still ended up shelling out $40 apiece for a kind of so-so dinner, compared to last night's tacos. But Mark had been up since 3:30 this morning and wasn't up for a new dinner search, so we stayed.
As we left were were given the White Guy price for a cab to get to our respective hotels ($25! screw that) so we decided to walk. We were wondering in which direction we should walk but agreed that Away was the right way to go - just so that the next cabbie woulnd't know which overpriced touristy restaurant we had just left. Sure enough about three blocks later we found someone who told us it would cost $15 (still probably $5 more than necessary - and when he found out that we had two locations, he tried for $20 but we held firm).
So now I am in my guest house. I washed my socks from this afternoon's run and they're going to be ready for tomorrow; I filled my Ironman bottle with water from their big water dispenser in the kitchen (filter? what filter? please God no GI trouble) and headed upstairs.
LET ME TELL YOU the shower this morning in Cd. MEX was incredible. That's not a bad hotel at all, though it's a bit off the beaten path. Their front desk is behind security glass, but the room was modern and clean and the shower torrential.
When I arrived there last night I realized that to get the lights to turn on, one had to insert the key card from the front door into a little thingie under the front light switch - so I inserted it and pulled it out, ATM-style. Walked through the room and turned on the lights that I needed and suddenly found myself in the dark again. I repeated this cycle a couple of times until I realized that one had to LEAVE THE CARD IN THE THINGIE to keep the lights on. Kind of a big AHA moment for me when I figured that out.
And it took me a few minutes to get my Macbook to play nicely with the hotel's wifi, but eventually it did.
Tonight, on the other hand, my phone and computer find nary a wifi twinkle in sight. That's really unusual for me - usually there's some kind of network nearby, if only a wireless printer. But here: nada.
Tomorrow I'm going to sleep in a bit, breakfast here in the guest house and hopefully go on a tour, guided by a friend of the proprietor's. I want to take lots of pictures and get a little history of the revolucion. Honestly right now I'm seriously jonesing a Che t-shirt.
Someone should make a Che-on-a-tri-bike t-shirt. Maybe that's me.