A Week in Cuba - Part 3

Ok day 3, starting to to just take the ching chonging in the arse now or else i will be angry and hate the whole trip.  So still not cool but am trying to just suck it up for the rest of the week.  Another thing I just remembered is that our casa particular lady Isel arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the airport.  We saw a sign made of cardboard with "Jackson and Jennifer" written on it in black pen.  People have a hard time with my name and it seems like Jackson is the path of least resistance for their minds and tongues.  Like all airport taxi situations in foreign countries I was weary of this guy, trying to suss out if he knew where we were going without telling him so I could verify if he was in fact our guy.  He finally passed my test and ended up speaking english and being very smart.  very very smart.  Turns out he is a professor of modern history (everything from WWI onward) at Havana University and does this taxi stint to make ends meet at the end of the month.  He's tenured too! (asked him if they have this system in cuba and explained it to him and he said yes he's tenured).  We met a seemingly street tout young guy by the Hotel Saratoga once and humored him as he walked us around a few blocks talking to us and showing us bars and clubs(to get a commission for him).  We said we have to go find wifi and parted ways.  He was studying for his medical degree and his dad was the former chief of police of Havana.  The next day we saw him by chance on our street pushing a baby stroller with his wife and he was happy to see us and said hi and went on his way.  Cuba, the land of contradictions

We ran through the Vedado neighborhood which is where the Hotel Nacional is.  We thought they could help us get bus tickets for the Viazul bus to Viñales the next day.  We asked at the other hotels in old havana that our casa lady said could help us get bus tickets and they said they couldn't help us, they could only sell one day tours (remember buying tix online is not a thing).  So no luck at the hotel nacional either.  We would have to take a $10 taxi ride to the actual bus station to buy tix.  Also the next day one of the street touts said he saw us running the day before.  I suppose the ching chonging died down a little because lots of the street hustlers knew us by then, as 2 of the few Asian peeps they've seen around town.

Thank goodness we planned to spend one night at a nice hotel.  I'm not a needy pampered traveller and I never do expensive hotels but it was a much needed oasis safe from street hawkers, taxi drivers, people trying to get you to eat at their restaurants or stay at their casa, etc...  All of this makes me sound like an overly sensitive self righteous racism advocate traveller pu$$y that can't deal with anything and is a pampered traveller.  I have many years of travel experience under my belt as you know if you read this blog and have 3rd world experience in parts of China but Cuba was a challenge for me.  Actually when we were at the edge of the property next to a railing overlooking the city, a guy and his gf walk up the bottom of the wall and shout up to us "Chino Chino"!  I said pointing at him, Dominicano! Puerto Riqueno! He didn't like that very much and then started asking where we're from and saying his brother lives in Rochester new york and its all usually small talk to get you to go to a restaurant or bar so they can get a commission.  This makes it almost impossible to know when someone is being genuine with you or they just want to make money somehow.  Anyway it was nice to be at the hotel nacional for a day/night drinking this Havana Club Maestro selection rum ($8 glass which is expensive for cuba!).  

had a few Cubanos in cuba, best one was at Art Pop bar.  Wasn't a fan going there and still not a fan although I understand that they could be awesome, i just haven't had an awesome one yet.  If it looked like the ones they make in that Jon Favreau movie "Chef" then I would be on board.

same eyes

overlooking the Malecon and old havana

The hotel nacional is where Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Winston Churchill, all the Mobsters and tons of other celebs stayed back in the 50s hayday.  Just like most things it looks like it hasn't been kept up since then.  When we got our room it was gross, like a best western with green tint on the wood and peeling carpet corners against the walls.  This is a super expensive hotel for cuba so as soon as I saw this i went downstairs and somehow got us a newly renovated corner suite overlooking the courtyard on one side and overlooking the ocean and the Malecon on the other side.  I'll never say how I got this room but we were so happy to get it.  And it looked like they were doing renovations from top down so this room was renovated.  The bathroom was the size of the first room

peacocks walking around, here's the females

one guidebook described this outdoor lounge as even if you're not staying at the hotel nacional you should enjoy drinks here and you'll never want to leave after being waited on and lounging around all day.

for dinner we took a cab to La Guarida, which was actually the best food we had in Cuba because its expensive gourmet cuisine in a fancy restaurant inside this old building. That's not fair and doesn't count so this is an anomaly. La Guarida was featured in the movie Fresa y Chocolate, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío's 1994 film Strawberry And Chocolate. The title refers to ice cream flavours - the pink strawberry is a metaphor for homosexuality and creativity, the brown chocolate the drudgery of life controlled by the state. (The Guardian UK). This movie is cuba's greatest international success.  The food was spectacular but we spent as much as a normal cuban makes in one month on the high end, in one meal.  Lonely planet guidbook I saw from 2011 said normal cubans make $30-80 a month.  Cubans working in the tourist industry or other industries where they get hard currency are considered rich.  Our casa particular was $30 a night for example

The Malecon, still going strong after midnight

C for Caliente and F for Frio?  Not C for Chaud and F for Froid?