Day 12 - Late, Lady and Lost
A busy morning benefited from an early start wherein Matt and I knocked back a spartan breakfast, organised details of the casa with Madeline and settled the very reasonable bill for the casa which included five nights stay and breakfast and evening meals. We were then picked up by Matt's preferred taxi driver, the one who ferried him to and from Cassilda the past few nights who had the added benefit of being remarkably punctual. During the journey to the beach I continued to wrestle with the decision on whether to dive or not: whether to push and give it one last try or to simply resign it to the list of activities I had tried and disliked. I wished for divine intervention to relieve me of having to make the decision but it was to no avail and we arrived at the beach and the dive hut in plenty of time.
Finally biting the bullet and deciding not to dive, I was about to assume the position on one of the sun loungers when the early morning cool caught my fancy and I decided to do a full exploration of the peninsular I had burned my legs the previous day partially exploring. With no tourists or other denizens of the beach to impede me I made good time, only to find the crest of the peninsula barren and uninteresting, only dried seaweed and abandoned buildings were present; I took the opportunity to capture some photos and sauntered back to the area around the dive hut.
Once again settling in to read and listen to music, I was blissfully ignored by the roaming security guards, and before I knew it the dive boat had come back and departed again, meaning my parting with the dive team was enforced rather than chosen. Before the downcast Matt could join me I noticed by legs had developed a slightly worrying selection of bubbles beneath the skin, a lovely byproduct of my intense sunburn, most telling because my skin had not turned the familiar pinkish red yet...
Picked up by our previous taxi driver, once again on time and affable as ever, we took a brief detour into the nearby Cassilda for Matt to make one last attempt at hooking up with his girl he had met before. I watched the scene unfold from within the taxi as the driver attempted to translate into fractured English what the girl's sister was saying while Matt tried to grasp the situation; mutterings of still being in Sancti Spiritus or Havana were mentioned as they exchanged addresses and/or phone numbers. Disappointed by upbeat, we were dropped off at our casa and said muted goodbyes to the casa owner, his wife and daughter as well as the taxi driver who departed shortly before the Havana taxi rolled up outside.
The eight seater mini-van had a spare set of seats for Matt and I but also housed a couple of Canadians who we had met on the beach a number of days prior as well as two other middle-aged people we were unsure spoke English or not. The mini-van quickly took us out of Trinidad and into the beautiful rolling countryside of Cuba; while bumpy at first, the majority of the initial part of the journey seemed to be overtaking vehicles who were slower than us. A couple of hours in we stopped at a pleasant rest-station for toilet breaks and refreshments, after which we were straight onto the Autopiste.
While the Autopiste has all the hallmarks of a major road, it is in fact just a larger area of asphalt than the other roads in Cuba, it has sporadic, worn road markings which are duly ignored by all involved and is just as pocked and cracked as any other road only more noticeably as you're now hurtling down the road at whatever top speed the vehicle will do. The central reservation is little more than patches of shrubbery but thankfully other vehicles seemed to keep to their own side of the road. As the sun began to set on the horizon, a pure white cadillac pulled up alongside us containing what looked like four musicians, replete with instrument cases and sharp suits. What ensued was a pseudo race as both our driver and theirs gradually increased their speed until I'm fairly sure the minivan would have overheated had the musicians not thoroughly overtaken us with no hope of catching them.
Pulling into Havana a short while before sunset, the first overbearing feeling I got was that of a large city. Over a third of Cuba's population is located within Havana and it is the largest conurbation in the country and I could instantly notice that "big city" vibe. Matt and I were the first to be deposited outside a convent, our casa was supposedly located somewhere in the area, unfortunately Havana has buildings over two stories tall which meant locating our casa was a trial in itself. Surrounded by locals and standing out with our huge rucksacks, we were helped by a local boy who took us to what he thought was our casa, however it turned out it was simply the only casa paticulares he knew. The high ceilings and almost tasteful decor was a far cry from the other places we had stayed in and the kindly lady phoned around and finally caught the gist of what Matt was trying to convey with the address he had clutched in his hand.
The old lady's casa was occupied by a selection of young ladies who looked European in origin, as well as a computer nestled near the seating area, the first computer I had seen since arriving in the country. After a brief respite and some crossed wires we were back outside and managed to find our casa which was at the top of 6 storey building after the owner had dropped a set of keys for us to gain access. The building had a locked outer door as well as a security gate before getting access to the roof and an inner door so the set of keys was certainly necessary to get anywhere within.
The casa owner was a slim, young man who had an excellent grasp of English but had the unfortunate notion that Matt and I were gay when he presented our room with only a solitary double bed. By this time I was happy simply to have a space to collapse in, whether that was the floor or otherwise, however Matt insisted we have another bed, to which the owner apologised then set about retrieving one. As we both vegetated on the spectacular balcony, taking in a more or less bird's eye view of Havana, the owner seemed to pull a bed out of a cupboard no bigger than a shed followed by a mattress and other parts, Matt and I mused that there were probably gnomes within the cupboard helping him out.
It transpires that our original casa was to be on the fourth floor with a rugged looking gentleman, however it turns out that he's in the process of decorating which meant we were moved upstairs which, given the view, didn't seem such a bad thing to me. I took the opportunity to gather my bearings and finally put to use my map of Havana while Matt tried to orchestrate his cosmopolitan love life by conjugating verbs and eventually going down to see if he could make use of the phone. Our "original" casa owner was absent which meant that we were short of a meal and despite my apprehension at being in a large, foreign city at night, we set off in search of sustenance.
Unfortunately due to some bad map reading on my part (my point of origin was, to put it mildly, "skewed") we were instantly lost and wandered through some highly dodgy areas which earned more than a few untoward glances from passers by, were thankfully free from being hustled by the local populace and eventually returned to the casa and made do with a survival bar each in lieu of a proper meal.
As Matt and I sat on the balcony drinking some rum and talking about nothing in particular, the other occupants of the casa appeared, two friendly Hungarian blokes who spoke excellent English and were more than likely the reason the casa owner had assumed Matt and I were gay. Chatting with them for a spell, I eventually excused myself sometime after midnight and finally headed to bed.