Daily Routines

[ 29 July 2016 - Friday ]

I’ve made it through the first week!  Today: switch to Prado Colonial casa, think more about exhibition and what I need to specifically look for, visit Plaza de Armas, write blog post, edit other posts.


This morning I relocated from the Hostal del Ángel to the Casa Prado Colonial, they are only a few blocks from one another and owned by the same family.  I’ll be staying here for tonight and tomorrow night and then it’s on to the Hostal la Gárgola, which I am looking forward to because it’s set up more like a hostel than a room in a private house.  My room last night was extremely comfortable despite me sleeping like shit.  I certainly don’t want to jinx it but having a hotel reservation confirmation is a "first world" reassurance I didn't even realize that I’ve gotten used to.  I was so worried, and continue to be worried, that I’ll show up at my casa particular and they’ll look at me like, “You thought you had a room here tonight?”  Cue PANIC!  

When I left the Hostal del Angel and made my way a few blocks over to the other house, Prado Colonial, there wasn’t electricity at either place and my room wasn’t ready until 1:00 so I left my bags and went walking to the Plaza de Armas.  There were sellers surrounding the plaza with old books, posters, and trinkets for sale, also a female dog getting "gang-banged" by five male dogs, a handful of men were watching and laughing.  The poor thing was screeching like Ralphie does and it was all I could do not to risk being bit to shoo them all away.  

One seller in the Plaza de Armas was showing me the movie posters that she had for sale which were pretty cool although a lot of the other sellers had the same ones.  I did like though that they were made through printmaking techniques.  What I ended up buying for 4 CUCs was an old booklet that they used to keep track of your food rations.  I also, since finding 5 CUPs on the ground (why do I always find money on the ground?!) bought a newspaper/editorial with the Obamas on the front and a number of other US-Cuban comics for 2 CUPs.  After lunch I walked around some more eventually finding myself along the waterfront (with a view of the fireball! aka oil refinery) and then in the neighborhood south of Havana Vieja.  I went into the gardens of the Basilica Manor de San Francsco de Assisi, which were really pleasant and nice…or I guess after looking at a map, it was actually the Jardin Teresa de Calcuta.

I also walked up Obispo again, which is incredibly crowded and by that time it was 3:00 and I was sweaty and ready to chill.  Now back at my hotel and a mini-nap later, I’m starting to feel hungry and wishing that I didn’t have to leave the house for every meal (including water) besides breakfast.  I was also wondering when the cravings would hit for foods like sushi...now I know. (:

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

...where the streets are paved in…wood!  I think the story goes that some rich guy's wife thought the cobbles were too loud so he ripped them all up and had the street paved in wood which was quieter.  So pretty!!

Outside of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales which houses the Museo de la Ciudad.

Old cameras and jewelry for sale in the Plaza de Armas.

Plaza de Armas

Jardin Teresa de Calcuta

A lot of the street art I have seen has been by this artist.

Peacocks in the Casa de los Árabes

Casa de los Árabes

Casa de los Árabes

Plaza Veija

Plaza Veija

Revolution trinkets for tourists

A courtyard off the Plaza Veija and on the way to the restaurant where I ate lunch.

Playing card museum

Motorcycle trailer conversion

ATMs

On the corner of Calle Cuba

I spied through the open doors...

In the Restaurar Arquitectura y Urbanismo, "Restorer of Architecture and Urbanism."  Which sounded way cooler than I what I was able to find inside.  There was a pretty courtyard with an old elevator car but most the active presumably happens behind all the closed doors.  

A painting spotted in an art gallery off Obispo street.  Times Square on the left, near Prado in Havana on the right.  Capitalism vs. Communism / Socialism 

 

20:29

I just got back from dinner which was nice mostly because I stumbled upon the courtyard of Hotel Sevilla.  At first it was quiet and peaceful and the waiter told me my Spanish was good.  Ha!  Hahahaha.  Then a band started playing! It was so endearing, they were all wearing the same striped polo shirt.  I’m not sure why but the small things like that always get me.  On my way back to the casa particular I stopped and sat along the Prado for a little while when a Cuban woman came up to me to talk.  Asking where I was from, how long I was staying, where my novio was.  I told her Estatos Undios, tres semana pero two semana mas, y tengo un esposo.  She, I’m fairly positive, was telling me that I was very pretty and that I should find someone handsome while in Cuba to give me massages.  She then called over this young guy from her group of friends across the Prado.  He was cute but was probably 21 and kept giving me the pouty "Heeeeey" look complete with shoulder shrug of "Why not me?"  Crazy I know, but I didn't come to Cuba for the massages....  The three of us talked for a while longer but then it began to feel that instead of laughing with me that I was being laughed at.  I'm sure it was harmless teasing but I was starting to feel awkward, so I made a graceful exit and departed to my casa particular.  Making my night, the resident cat decided I was alright and followed me to my room,  meowing and purring the whole way.  I’m sure by allowing him…her…to hang out on my bed that I’m teaching bad habits, future guests might not welcome nosy fur friends.  But I can’t help it, I miss my animal companions!  Or any companion for that matter...wah.

Cat reads?


My days typically follow this routine: wake up and eat breakfast, then figure out a general plan of what to see and do, then spend the next 4 to 5 hours walking and taking photographs, when I get back to my room in the late afternoon the first thing I do is shower (because I'm drenched in sweat), then I usually read, download photos, and write until 6:30 or 7:00 when I’ll wander out again to find dinner.  Dinner never lasts as long as I would like since it’s just me so I’m usually back around 8 or 9, them more reading (or when I was at Eddy’s watching one hour of American tv!!) and then bed.  

To be perfectly honest I’ve felt more isolated here than anywhere ever before (and I can still remember those lonely days as a new college undergraduate...haha).  For someone who can spend loads of time occupying myself alone at home, being in my own here 24/7 has me counting down the days until I’m back in the States. (As shameful as that makes me feel to admit).  Being alone, not being able to speak Spanish fluently, and not having the internet has been a devastating trifecta.  I really thought “being alone” would be the last thing to bother me and I really think that if I were able to connect to the dang internet for more than 5 minutes from somewhere other than the street corner that I’d feel 99% differently.  We always talk about how much time we waste on the internet and how we don’t interact with one another anymore face to face but not having that ability to connect in any fashion with people is really hard.  It’s ridiculous but I kept imagining the people who sailed to the “new world” and how they couldn’t talk to anyone from home for months and then only via letters, if they could do it so can I!  Totally not the same scale of "misery" but hey, it's where my thoughts went.

 

23:10

My room reeks of paint thinner or something.  Other than sleep with the door open, which would be weird because it opens up to the dining room, which is attached to the kitchen, I don’t know what to do about it.  I’m afraid I’m going to pass out in my sleep, there’s no circulation in these rooms.  Martin would probably, himself half-asleep already, tell that I’m being crazy and that it’s nothing to worry about.  el olor / el disolvente 

 

(P.S. I survived the night. Obviously.)

The Great Casa Particular QUEST

[ 24 July 2016 - Sunday ]

Continued....

Usually when Martin and I travel we show up, walk around, visit a few hostels, and eventually find a place to stay.  Although this ranges in difficulty depending on the location we've always been successful (read: found a place to rest our heads and backpacks), in fact this approach has been our m.o. for YEARS.  So I figured it would be about the same in Cuba.  I booked two nights at the nice hotel, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and figured I’d set out on my second day to find a casa particular or a few casa particulars for the remainder of my trip.  Easy peasy, no problema! When I told Tom and Carmen my plan they asked if they could join as they always wanted to spend a day looking at different casa particulars just to see what the other lodging options were for their next trip to Cuba.  Tom years ago rented a room from a guy with an art gallery near Habana Vieja so we started there.  No one answered our knocking at his door so we rung next door just to see if those folks knew anything.  As they too had the casa particular sign on their door.  

The sign indicating a Casa Particular (room for rent in private home)

The sign indicating a Casa Particular (room for rent in private home)

The two women said they didn’t have any vacancy but Carmen asked if we could just see the place for future reference.  Good God.  Dios mio!  This place was gorgeous!  And might make me change my mind about parts of Cuba being stuck in time.  It was a stunningly restored old mansion with tiled floors, 15+ foot ceilings, antiques from the early 1900s, and so many tiny beautiful details.  We asked how much it was a night and the women told us 65.00 CUCs which included breakfast.  Carmen and I told each other we thought it was expensive. LOL!!! If only we didn’t see the absolute best casa particular on our very first try, because after a day of hunting 65.00 was a steal, we just didn't know it yet... 

The family owns two other houses and while those were nice too neither could match the first place.  Anyways, we spent the next couple hours knocking on doors where the little blue and white sign hung.  We saw the casa particular that I found online and was considering even though it was whooping 100.00 - 150.00 CUCs a night (Casa Vitrales) - it was nice, with contemporary “hipster” decor, very clean and comfortable, though we find the older gentleman who was showing us around to be a bit crotchety, maybe he was finally cracking under the unrelenting heat and humidity??  After stopping for lunch and ice cream we saw two other places, one was for 30.00 CUCs a night but it was very small, musty, and not at all pleasant.  The last place we visited, La Gárgola Hostal, was also a little hipster feeling, well lit, clean, comfortable and for 45.00 CUCs a night including breakfast,  couldn't have been more suitable.  Carmen asked the guy at the desk (Hola Orlando!) to call me at the Hotel Nacional once his manager got back to him about what space they had available.  As Tom, Carmen, and Isabel all headed back to the Hotel Nacional, I ventured out on my own - I still didn’t have ANYTHING lined up for the 20+ days I had left in Havana!  (Panic! Panic!)  The above makes the situation sound not so scary, but almost all of the other random casa particulars we asked and even the ones we visited had very limited or NO availability.  Neither were there rooms available at any of the hotels that I had been able to contact before arriving.  I was seriously freaking out, I had 20 days looming ahead of where I needed a bed to sleep in!  I (maybe) managed to find a room without the help of Carmen and her fluent Spanish but it was an debacle of me trying to speak broken Spanish to three guys who didn’t speak any English.  I (think) I had a room at the end of it but I couldn’t look at the room because it was being cleaned (…maybe) and there wasn’t the official casa particular sign on the door which made me a little nervous.  What I told Martin was that I wasn’t totally uncomfortable with the situation but I also wasn’t really willing to go that far out of my comfort zone.

The hardest part is that all these casa particulars are literally just advertised as signs on the door so you have to knock or ring the doorbell and then explain to the head that pops out what you are looking for.  I was able to say, “Tiene una habitacíon por 28 Julio?” and when they said “No” I’d be out of Spanish to ask them what days they did have available or if they could recommend anywhere else with vacancies.  

When I returned to the Hotel Nacional with my “sort of, maybe room” I was near panicked-tears and told Carmen and Tom that I wanted to use their travel agent because there’s no way I could do this casa particular search every two to three days.  One, I’d never get any work done and two, I’d literally have an anxiety attack.  The thought crossed my mind to book an early ticket home to do better planning and come back at a later date.  Yes it was that bad.  (In retrospect of course it wasn't that bad....)  What made the situation even more dismaying was that I couldn’t just get online and find something, anything, that was available and book it.  Airbnb Cuba which worked while I was in the US somehow "figured out" that I was in Cuba last night and wouldn’t let me even email the places!  I have not great internet, now no internet, no phone, and no way to use a credit card or ATM card.  Oh and I don’t speak Spanish very well either.

So thank God a hundred times over for Carmen and Tom.  I can’t even imagine what I would have done without them, Carmen especially.  Because of them here I was able to book Hostal Gárgola from the 31 of July to the 12th of August because miraculously they had all those dates available and Orlando actually really did leave a message for me at the Hotel Nacional and I was able to call back to confirm with him in mutual Spanglish that I wanted to book ALL THE DATES!!!  Because of Carmen and Tom I am staying in Vedado at Eddy’s casa particular which is clean, safe, comfortable, and Eddy speaks just enough English so when I’m running late for dinner and just about to give up, he gives me directions and a hand drawn map.  Also because of Carmen and Tom, for the four lingering days that I still didn’t have any lodging lined up, we visited the third house owned by the family of the most beautiful house and I now get to stay there for three nights and even in the most beautiful casa particular for one night!!  Whoop!!