Day 3 - Car, Castle and Closed

After a good nights sleep I woke up around 7am, showered and tidied the room before having breakfast. Our casa, like a lot of buildings within a Cuban city, is very vertical; while only two rooms wide, our casa was four stories high including the balcony and a cornucopia of side corridors and hidden rooms folding in on themselves. Our breakfast was on the first floor kitchen which housed an immense sink and cooker along with sturdy, tiled surfaces. Once breakfast was finished and Matt had showered, we were introduced to a man called Alfredo who looked like his skin had been spray-waxed directly onto his skeleton; angular without being dessicated. Alfredo spoke a wide variety of basic English and informed us that he could organise a trip outside of Santiago for us.

Our original plan was to go to the Castillo del Morro which was a number of miles outside of the city and down a coastal road; however it was May 1st, Worker's Day, which meant that more than likely the castle would be closed. We were assured by Alfredo that it was open, adding that if it was closed we would pay nothing for the journey. After some discussion it transpired that Alfredo was not the one who would be taking us to the castle, but a mechanic friend of his would be.

We were introduced to a young, well built local with only a smattering of English at best. Led out into the street, we were shown what could only very loosely be called a car: a rust-red coloured Lada of indeterminate age whose upholstery had long since given up clinging to the car and was from a time when seatbelts were obviously considered a luxury. At this point, the distinct smell of petrol that lingered inside it didn't worry me as much as the structural integrity of the vehicle as a whole. Setting off, the mechanic threw the glorified go-kart down narrow side-streets, dodging people and bicycle-taxis with reckless abandon until we left the city and began to weave in and out of what were once pot-holes but were now just regular holes. The road was cracked and uneven in the best places and torn and non-existent in the worst.

We stopped first at a Cathedral which was roughly on the way to the Castillo del Morro and was promised by Alfredo to be an interesting sight. He was not wrong, and a picturesque colonial cathedral greeted us next to a traditional looking hacienda. Parking beneath a tree, it was an inauspicious start to the sightseeing with a withered and more-than-likely dying dog seeking shade near the cathedral. The building was past a small village on a raised hill in the centre of a beautiful valley, unfortunately the tranquillity was broken when two gargantuan tour buses pulled up and spewed out camera-toting tourists.

The cathedral itself was, for want of a better description, a cathedral. Like all Christian orientated buildings of worship it made the place feel appreciably holy within the confined space and was lined with stained glass windows and a variety of deified icons. After being suitably humbled we got back into the death-mobile and began to head for the Castillo del Morro. Along the way we were stopped by a young, skinny man in plain clothes who we eventually managed to glean was a policeman; the mechanic and the policeman spoke heatedly in staccato Spanish for a number of minutes before the police officer “won” whatever argument it was that they were having. Piecing together the Spanish in the aftermath, we came to the conclusion that he was probably being chastised for taxiing two tourists without being a state-run taxi.

Heading towards the castle we passed through what could only be described as a police checkpoint where he was questioned again, this time out of earshot of his two passengers... The remainder of the journey to the castle was uneventful, and we arrived in the baking noonday sun and left our mechanic driver to his own devices. The system in Cuba for admittance isn't exactly complex, however they do charge extra for cameras which seemed a little stingy to me at the time, and given my camera bag doubles as a convincing backpack, I was sometimes less than honest about my ownership of a camera, the Castillo del Morro included.

As visually imposing and impressive as the castle was, unless you were willing to decipher the Spanish for the exhibits, there was little to do apart from wander the multi-level fort and admire the sea views. To get to the castle you had to walk through a polished tourist allotment which sold tat and kitsch in equal measure. After wandering the castle for an hour, avoiding the glances of the staff as I snapped photos and manoeuvring around the plethora of French tourists, I headed for the nearest shop and purchased some overpriced but excessively refreshing bottles of water and waited for Matt to finish touring. The journey back to the casa was without incident and upon arrival, we paid the extortionate price of $25 for the privilege of now smelling like petrol.

With the rest of the afternoon to use up, Matt decided to wash some of his clothes in our shower. To give you some background to this, the most popular shower unit in Cuba seems to be an all-in-one shower head which simply attaches to the end of a water pipe and, ostensibly, heats the water and provides some water pressure. In most cases, they did neither. As Matt washed his clothes he hung them over the water pipe which led to the shower. I was scrutinising the pop-up guide when the desk fan stuttered slightly then resumed. Matt stumbled out of the bathroom having just electrocuted himself by trying to remove his clothing from water pipe which we had foolishly assumed was insulated. This was to form the first of the Mattastrophes, and one which I assigned six points (on a ten point scale).

Matt seemed no worse for wear so we avoided the shower completely and headed out to forage. Along the way, a familiar looking jinetero glommed onto us, going as far as to look forlornly through the window of the restaurant we decided to eat at. Thankfully, the efficient and congenial waiter quickly shooed him away. The food was chicken covered in chip-shop style batter with rice and beans; that combined with two beers each came out to the very respectable $16 which made it cheaper and less likely to induce death than the previous taxi journey. After lunch, we walked the streets looking for something to do, unfortunately being Worker's day meant that everything was closed. The jineterismo began to grate when a young teen offered us weed without blinking an eye.

Resigning ourselves to the casa for the rest of the day, we sat on the balcony and hammered out a firmer plan on where we were going to go and what we were going to do after Santiago. The weather held out for the evening and the sunset over the bay was glorious to behold and I spent the majority of time snapping photo after photo, hoping that at least one of them would produce a decent shot. This continued even when our host brought our tea up to the balcony, probably glad to get us out of the house or just noticing how much we appreciated the view.

Tea was polished off and Matt decided to head out and sample some of the famed Santiago night-life, hopefully given a boost by being Worker's day. I showered and listened to my iPod only to see Matt return after only an hour and a half, claiming the night-life was less than spectacular. With the constant jineterismo and so little to do, both of us were becoming further disenamoured with Santiago by the day.

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