Mom and I slept in until almost 9:00, but I did a lot of tossing and turning the whole night because I don’t usually sleep well in a new bed for the first night. By 3:00 am, the chickens are cocka-doodle-doo-ing, and by 5:00 am, the horns are honking, the music is streaming out of houses, people are talking and laughing and arguing on the streets and off their balconies. I also attribute my rough night of sleep to the fact that all of the beds in Yolanda’s house have plastic on them. She keeps plastic on the beds, the wrapping on her computer and tv when they’re not in use, and the remote for her tv in a bag. She does all of this to protect those things because when something breaks here, we can go out and buy a new one, but there, that isn’t always possible. Also, if something breaks or doesn’t work properly, you can’t call the company and have them send someone out and you can’t take it to the store to be looked at. There is none of that. It is very difficult to find a lot of items that we take for granted here, and when they are found, they are often at ridiculously high prices. For example, an old tv, with the huge backs that they used to have (before flat screen televisions), costs over $600.00 there. A plastic container to hold leftover food costs $4.00-that’s for ONE container. Keep in mind that the average salary is basically equivalent to $14.00 a month! So, back to my original point, she works hard to keep her things in the best shape possible.
Here are a few pictures from the inside of the house that I took:
The dining room.
And a view from the balcony (I have plenty more where that came from)…
Moving on to what we did the second day! The morning started with breakfast of bread and peanut butter. Pepe and Yolanda like their bread “duro” (hard). I thought it was stale, but that’s how they like it!
I really tried to capture the “crispiness” in the picture. We brought the peanut butter as our saving grace when we needed something to snack on. We finished the jar in about a week…
After the bread with peanut butter, I took my first bath of our trip! Yolanda’s showers don’t work, so she heats up a bucket of water, which we then pour over ourselves with a smaller cup. Things like that really put my life into perspective. Being able to turn on a hot shower and be under the water in less than ten seconds is a luxury and shouldn’t be taken for granted. After the bath, I had breakfast part II-oatmeal with leftover flan. I’ll spare you the picture of the oatmeal because we ate that exact same thing every single morning. I’m not complaining though, I love oatmeal! (We also brought the oatmeal from the U.S, because to purchase it there is very expensive).
After my first carb-o-thon of our trip, I headed out to Yolanda’s balcony to watch the street life and read the NY Times Magazine. The street life in Cuba very well may be the best thing about it. They have something there that we have lost here in the United States. People are ALWAYS on the street walking places, talking with friends, carrying bread in their hands for the next day, riding their bikes, waiting for a cab. In U.S culture, we ride in cars, we look the other way when someone is walking towards us. Sometimes, we pretend not to notice when someone we know is walking towards us. In Cuba, however, people have their doors open, their windows open. They hang out on the street and talk to their friends and family. There were multiple occasions in which we saw one person on a balcony and one person on the street having a conversation, or people who stop on the street to see how a neighbor is. In a world without internet, very few television channels, they only have each other for entertainment. They also listen to music nonstop, at all hours of the day. I loved the way that music can be heard coming out of houses on any street, at any time. While I do love the internet and being able to relax in front of the tv, I wish our culture had a little bit more interaction and connection with those around us.
Every day, when I watched the people walking on the streets at all hours of the day and night, I found myself asking, “Where are all of those people going?” In the U.S, we know that between 6:00 am and 9:00 am, the roads are busy because people go to work, and from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, the roads are busy because they come home from work. Some of those people on the streets of Cuba are going to work, but many of them don’t work, so where are they going?! I eventually asked Pepe and he told me the obvious answer, they’re going to buy food, to see friends, to work, to buy things they need. I guess just seeing a street culture was so new to me. They are going to do many of the same things we do here, just they walk to those places.
After an hour or so of soaking in the street life, Yolanda, Mom and I went “shoping” (pronounced Chopping) to buy some groceries for our stay.
Now, Cuba does not have anything close to what we have here in terms of their grocery stores. The selection is quite small and some of the prices are ridiculously high. For example, a box of Barilla gnocchi was 5.80 CUC, which is over $6.00. Items can also be purchased at the peso store, in which Cuban currency is used and the prices are much, much lower. CUC is hard currency and seems to really only be used by people who have money being sent in from out of the country, or work in the tourist areas. They have small stores, about the size of convenience stores, in which you wait in line to get the groceries you need (many things are behind the counter) and then you wait in one line to pay for certain things, and another line to pay for others. Cuba is all about the lines!
That’s a meat case. Compare that to meat cases in major grocery stores in the U.S. What a difference!
We bought a few things- some banana yogurt, soy yogurt, beer, chicken, and juice. After getting home, we dropped our things off and then took “La Gua Gua” (the bus) to el Hotel Habana Libre. Let me tell you, taking the bus in Cuba is quite the special experience. Have you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a sardine in a can of sardines? If so, ride the bus in Cuba. People are waiting in a big huddle for the bus to come, and when it does, everyone pushes to get on the bus, pays (one peso-less than five cents) and then everyone squeezes as tightly as possible into the bus. It’s hot, it’s jammed packed, there are people hanging out of the doors and windows. I even saw two kids hanging onto the back of the bus. That being said, the Cuban people, for the most part, seem to be respectful of the elderly and help them on and off of the bus and allow them to take the seats.
That’s a view from outside of the bus. This is what it looks like INSIDE the bus…
Oh and here is the first “Only In Cuba”
That, my friends, although hard to see, is a hole in the bottom of the bus in which you are able to see the ground rolling below. Fun, right?
Eventually, we arrived at La Habana Libre where we exchange some money and booked a couple of excursions that would allow us to see a bit of Cuba while also visiting Pepe. The hotel was very pretty, but if you go to Cuba and stay there (or any of the other hotels) you don’t see Cuba for what it really is.
A few pictures of the locals. I took so many pictures of people in Cuba…
After exchanging money twice (because they wouldn’t take any ripped or old looking bills), it was almost 2:00 and we were starving! We walked a few blocks to Cafe TV, a restaurant under a big building. It was quite dark in the restaurant and the air conditioner was on very high, but the place got good reviews in our tourist book and Pepe and Yolanda chose it, so that is where we stayed! We all ordered some sort of tropical juice to start, which was refreshing and very tasty. We actually only ordered them under the impression that they came with our meals, but they know when you’re a tourist and can figure out ways to get a few extra dollars out of you. It worked. For my meal I ordered a pizza with cebolla y pimiento- onions and peppers. Cuba has peso pizza stalls on every single block, meaning a personal pizza costs less than five cents. I was hoping to get my fair share of pizza in Cuba and thought, “Why not start here?!”
Again, the restaurant was very dark, so these photos are less than flattering. The pizza was so, so big, but just what I needed. After about half, I scraped off the cheese because it started to become a bit much. The type of cheese that we had in Cuba is very pungent. I don’t have any idea what I would compare the flavor to, but it isn’t like any cheese that I have had in the Unites States. That pizza cost 2.10 CUC, which is around $2.50. That’s a steal in the U.S, but almost 25% of the average Cubans salary.
After our lunch/dinner, we paid the bill (leaving a nice CUC tip, resulting in a VERY happy waiter) and headed back to La Habana Libre wear we caught a “collectivo” home. A collectivo is what they refer to as a taxi that is shared with a bunch of other strangers. The taxi ride costs 10 pesos per person, which is less than $.50!
Once in Yolanda’s neighborhood, we stopped to pick up a couple of things before heading home. Talk about buying fresh and local foods! I promise you that those vegetables were grown 100% pesticide free and on Cuban land.
Back at Yolanda’s, we relaxed on the balcony where Pepe told us a horrifying story about an autopsy that he had to be a part of for our cousin, or the hospital wouldn’t be able to refrigerate the body. Can you imagine if the doctor said “I can’t do the autopsy alone, you need to come in with me.”? I can’t imagine.
After a while, we walked over to Pepe’s house where my mom told me stories of the few months she spent there before coming to the United States. We each had a little bit of vanilla ice cream that Pepe got from a friend, and then we headed home.
After a yogurt and some bread, I headed to bed, exhausted from my first full day in Cuba.
It was a long day and I fell asleep thinking about how exhausting life in Cuba is. There is no running to the supermarket to pick up everything you need. There is no taking the car to the mechanic when it breaks down. There is no relaxing and seeing a movie on your couch, or taking a hot shower after a long day. That is their lifestyle, but for someone who isn’t used to it, life is exhausting!
Day 3; Exploring La Habana Vieja!