Monday, 21 December 2009

No room at the Inn!

And how careful was I the other night meeting Andreis for a pre-arranged supper with his family? I went out with virtually no money and nothing of value, and it was an unnecessary caution. He turned up as promised, took me to his Chica’s family home and had a great meal, con carne, with the whole family. It was lovely and almost made me ashamed of any suspicion. OK, so the fact he’d served 6yrs for armed robbery did enhance my paranoia; but hey, caste the first stone and all that! They lived in a large but very rudimentary home, bare breeze block walls not even reaching the ceiling. But it was spacious, with all the amenities needed, and they were tight knit and obviously making the most of things. I was open and honest about my doubts, he was sincere about not wanting to scrounge off me. I didn’t care about buying a few beers for him, just wouldn’t tolerate being hustled; which I was careful not to accuse him of. We spoke of matters closer to the heart and formed closer bonds, I even admitted my own legal infractions and consequential incarceration. That isn’t something I’ve done often, so I was opening up. Actually turns out to be a good understanding between us. To be honest, my own opinions of tourists isn’t that different from the locals. If they’re that friggin’ blind and stupid then do they really deserve anything else but being taken advantage of? Wouldn’t the world be a fine place if this wasn’t necessary, if the huge cultural differences and financial imbalances didn’t make it an unavoidable reality. Isn’t it only redistribution of wealth? Until it’s my wealth their trying to redistribute, I’ll decide how that pans out, no-one else! Typical hypercrit eh?

So, about the pros and cons of Cuba. The medical system is free, a big plus, especially in a third world country, which to be absolutely honest Cuba is. There is a catch here though, which I agree with entirely! If you earn above a certain amount you must pay for it, so for the wealthier members of society it isn’t free. For folk like Federico (the new patron, who’s a lawyer) some of the cost must be meet by them. Of course they are not too happy about that, so slag off the Castros and the system over that. In my mind so they fucking should, Viva La Revolution! Isn’t always the same, those who have more are the ones who complain most. It sticks in the craw! A woman I got talking to had a really hard labour and ended up with an emergency caesarean, her daughter has asthmatic problems and has needed some emergency treatment a number of times. For her the free medicine has been a massive help, how can we question that. Screw the more wealthy, screw the professional classes, why should they deserve more than anyone else? Because they have had better opportunities? Surely not. More often they work fewer hours for lots more money, sorry folks I really can’t agree with the imbalances which dominate our world. Hey, I’ve even given money to a few people who I’ve judged might actually be poor and needy. One guy with buggered legs, there’s a surprise hey; I think not!

Education is another biggy! Where in the world does the population not benefit from education? Originating in a country that used to offer free higher education to all, who had the mental capacity for it, I’m all in favour of maximising the educational potential of the general population. If university students came from wealthier homes their contribution towards study increased, otherwise fees and maintenance were sponsored by the government. OK, the system of calculating financial means had it’s problems, but now students leave owing the equivalent of a mortgage and spend years paying back the huge debt. Great for Wales, they’ve bucked the system and grant fee-less places for students coming from, and going to universities in, Wales! Where-ever you go will be found a social class which does not appreciate the benefits of education, from observations it would appear that in itself is a product of a defunct society. Without social pressures to eat and provide shelter who would not improve the possible outcome of their lives, at least not with an official positive attitude and credible financial inducements. So Cuba isn’t perfect here, there are a lot of poverty stricken people who obviously do not value education. Unfortunately there is not enough money in the coffers to provide for all, tourism brings in a lot but to get it off the ground free enterprise had to be initiated to some extent. And there lays the problem, profit for the wealthy investors, piss poor wages for the workers. So even in Cuba, one of the last bastions of socialism, the rich get richer whilst the poor scrounge what they can.

I’m still trying to come to grips with losing Cai and almost becoming a quadriplegic. There’s little recognition of the body I inhabit, few thoughts that remind me of the person I once thought I knew so well. My current journey is one of rediscovery; who is this person who has twice risen from the ashes? What value can there be for life, a life that is beyond previous imagination? Losing Cai seemed the end of all ends, losing my mobility could easily have been the final straw. Instead it gave me renewed strength to fight back, a stubborn refusal to give in to hands of fate. I was determined to remain in control! Now even simple decisions prove a burden, it’s easier to allow whatever to happen to me. Is it really necessary to create a whole new persona? The physical and emotional aspects of my old life are totally different, obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t be a new life, DOH!

Another wonder is the extent of reconstruction in progress. UNESCO have ploughed huge amounts of money into the project of restoring Cuba’s historical heritage. I doubt if the tide will ever be significantly turned, many public buildings are ringed by scaffolding, even vast numbers of tenement buildings are earmarked for restoration. Meanwhile the city crumbles! Buildings with nary an intact wall are still lived in, blackened ruins hiding hardy residents, the gradual disintegration of 400 yr old slums now speedens towards its final resting place, as piles of rubble encroaching onto the sidewalk. The antiquity of the city adds to the vibe, but it can surely never regain the majesty it must once have displayed. Spending hours wandering the old city, I’m under no illusion as to the extent of degradation. Whole edifices shored up by huge timbers, defying the laws of gravity, even they give the impression of originating from the Kings of Spain’s navy. I find it enthralling, yet appalling! Look beneath centuries of grim and the slums show a rare quality, one of perseverance. Combined with a plethora of vehicles half a century old you’re left feeling you’ve entered a forgotten world which is struggling to catch up with itself, let alone the rest of the world!

Rap and Hip-hop reach the streets of Havana, not quite with the severity of American Ghettoes, but the signs are emerging. As a few youths lurch down the middle of the road, one proudly leading with his Pit-bull cross, NINA shaved into its flanks. Gangster Rap finds its mark in Cuba. Throughout the rest of the city no signs of swaggering youths have been seen, but ghettoes are special places. No openly friendly advances, no happy hustles, not even curious interest. The open streets are used for ferocious games of football, with little in the way of happy participation the ball is kicked with as much force as possible, oblivious to passersby. I moved accommodation to one of the most run down areas to be seen in the city, suspicion can be seen in most people’s eyes, distrust of the unfamiliar. There seems little clearly shown hostility, but people are guarded, helpful if approached, yet short and to the point. A nod in the required direction, a wave of the arm for indication, yet no more than required, no extra information on offer. My immediate feelings are uncertainty, why have I chosen this area, did I have my eyes closed when coming to view this apartment? Probably, desperate for more space and privacy I jumped at the chance.It was not the hub of tourist Havana, off the main roads there is no sign of other tourists. Isn’t this what seeing the real life of a foreign place is all about? Of typical Latino layout the whole of Havana is on a grid system, on first contact each street looks no different than its neighbour. Once over the initial sense of disorientation it isn’t so bad to navigate, all you need is a basic sense of direction. Unlike the main tourist area there is room for vehicles and people to share the roads. Being Cuba there is a distinct lack of vehicles in comparison to most countries, it isn’t devoid of them by any means, the main highways around the city sport a constant stream of smoke belching monsters. Between the common thoroughfares in this part cars are as often parked up on blocks. The most common form of transport lining the road are Bici-taxis. Those wonderful variations of bicycle, frame adapted to hold heavier duty, double rear wheels, generally with a couple of old plastic school chairs for two passengers, covered by a ratty canopy. They’re illegal to take tourists in, and few do, I’ve been in a few and only seen one other tourist in one; well, my bigotry keeps telling me white skin denotes a tourist.

At last I arrived at Maria La Gorda (literally Maria the fatso), renowned for its excellent diving. So the story goes Maria was stranded by pirates on the coast here and had to make ends meet by prostitution, so an honourable Cuban eh? Having meet the waitress here I think she must be a direct descendant, the quantities are correct, but I didn’t ask her name. It was the smile and wink she gave as she popped my cork, and I do mean for my bottle of wine! Yeah well, I think I’ll give that a miss. Whatever, Fat Maria’s legacy has done me no favours, on reaching the resort there was no room at the Inn. Not for long enough to make it worthwhile anyway. I so very nearly turned straight around and returned to Pinar del Rio, that was too defeatist though. The receptionist promised to do what she could, I can’t see the point, there is no way I want to leave my Christmas accommodation to chance. Not in such a hit and miss way, not hanging around each day to see if there might be space once expected guests have booked in. Two nights is the lot then, my decision has been made, for better or for worse. Ever onwards; with only a little back tracking to get to Vinales; otherwise it’s across the sea to Jamaica and I don’t really want to go there. Spanish lessons and horse riding is the hope, with a deeper desire to keep writing.

The drive from Pinar del Rio was over 100km and took well over an hour, I could see why the cost seemed so high. The journey was a really nice one, albeit hot. Rural Cuba seems the place for me, how could I have thought it would have been different. A profusion of well tended fields sporting a variety of crops, I recognised rice, maize and beans. From prior research this is known to be tobacco country, having no idea of the type of plant there was no way I could identify the crop itself. This is a rustic part of Cuba, many ox driven carts were in use and ploughs seemed their forte rather than that of tractors. Horses were everywhere, most in good robust health with the occasional example of a poorly kept beast left grazing on barren soil. Generally, they seem well cared for, respected and adept at providing both personal transport and a means of income. A fairly common form of cart were trailers fitted with canopies and bench seats, sitting as many as 20 or more people. With such fierce heat it was little wonder to see some bathed in sweat, still giving it their best without complaint. It was a far cry from the tourist traps to be found in Havana, they faced relatively easy lives in comparison. It wasn’t all fun and games there either; one night as I crossed a turning point at the roadside a driver came into the area much too fast and nearly fucked up. He had to turn too sharp, the horses hooves couldn’t fine the purchase on the tarmac and it was sliding sideways, almost losing it with me in the way. I didn’t know which way to go; to the curb meant the risk of it going over and taking me with it, back out into the road being knocked down when it recovered, if it did. I got the distinct impression the driver had been giving it loads to show off to his mate in the carriage, borne out by their rather inebriated behaviour. A similar situation to a guy at home putting his foot down with a mate, howling with laughter and nearly coming to grief by losing control.

How strange, writing the date in English doesn’t look right; I must be going mad! In another Casa now, in Vinales, a really quiet, tranquil town in the western most province of Cuba. It’s little more than a village, hardly bigger than Tregarth. The hustle appears directly proportional to the size, basically there is none; only those arriving by bus are greeted by a mass of Casa owners vying for custom. They form an impenetrable wall waving placards or simple hand written plaques displaying the names of their Villas, in the same way the Thai’s bombard new arrivals as the disembark. Walk down the street with a pack or travel case and hopeful patrons hail you from their porches, trying to entice you to stay with them. I think they are all comparable, some make a good job of promoting themselves, all will offer to show an alternative if you don’t want a place with them. English is widely spoken here, a prominent selling point at many places, as is any mention in the Lonely Planet guide. Take your pick, you’ll not be too disappointed. The food is delightful and plentiful, what more can a man ask for? I went straight to the pick of the guide book, true to form they were booked but showed an alternative across the road. Not wanting to be hustled into anywhere else I insisted on looking elsewhere first, it was much the same without being separate to the owner’s home. Explaining my preference for the first place I was asked which other one, it was her niece’s home. I returned chuckling to myself, Vinales is indeed a small place!

Second night out dancing last night, again the music was excellent. Being too self conscious to try and salsa I took to the side lines, not for long. An extremely hot and horny young lass lead me to the dance floor and preceded to grind her crutch into me, in the most delightful way. Compared to a Dutch guy (meet him earlier) I could at least keep the pace and respond in equal style to the dancing. I felt embarrassed for him, he could not dance at all, barely capable of lifting his feet or moving in any way connected to the music. Not that he cared, his woman had gotten his attention and he was game on, so played the fool rather than continued any attempt to actually dance. Needless to say he left arm in arm with her, happily on their way for a financial transgression. This was certainly not the case for me, after a few tracks of dirty dancing she requested we sleep together, I apologised and declined. It rather took her by surprise and wanted to know why, initially I used the excuse that I had a woman in Havana, “she isn’t here, so what’s the problem?” With little else to say I praised her beauty and claimed to be much too old for her, she couldn’t have been older than twenty. Such temptation is not for the feeble hearted; I must be mad, she was simply gorgeous and if we responded as well in bed together it would have been a night of intense pleasure. And it didn’t stop there, another, then another, and another asked me to dance. I refused all other offers and finally left, alone, fed up with the consistent and persistent hassle. No, “sucky, fucky, fifty bucks,” for me!

And this morning my legs ache like buggery again, quite conclusive really, much as I love a good hip gyrating groove with hot, horny chicks it costs me dearly. At least it was only in my own discomfort, my wallet and morals stayed intact. I didn’t suffer this extent of hassle in the Havana night club, even outside three women were offering me the choice between them. Claims of having a woman didn’t perturb them, even persisting that I was a one woman man meant nothing, concluding with my dismissal. Money is the name of the game here, morals mean nothing, sentiments have no bearing. I’m happy to maintain my stance, there is more to life and love than sticking your dick in someone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At last your writers block has gone, so good to read your words again,Iam looking forward to the book.....x