Day 13 - Pipe, Pizza and Peel

I woke up this morning having dreamt about being stabbed in the mouth by a women with a maze tattooed on her face; suffice to say it took the fruit, bread and coffee breakfast before I was firmly back in normality and sure I wasn't dead. My designs for a device that shot flies with lasers was refined with Matt and I constantly barraged by the annoying insects. The shower in the casa was little more than a pipe extending from the wall in a wet-room, however it trumped all the other showers I had experienced in Cuba by actually spewing hot water rather than the tepid or at best, lukewarm the others had managed.

Matt had arranged for us to meet with someone he had met when he had come to Cuba before, a bicycle tour guide. Explaining some of the options for us while in Havana (including a bicycle tour of a flower show that would be happening on Sunday), we then recounted our abortive journey into the city the night before to which he told us unequivocally to never go the route we did which put a healthy amount of fear into me as to just exactly where we were. Bidding farewell and heading back up to the casa, I proceeded to empty my wallet of anything valuable and secrete it away within the room after which we set off for a rum museum, apparently a mere stone's throw from the casa.

After a short journey, which covered some streets we had blindly explored the night before, we were at the museum and after convincing Matt that I didn't speak a word of French which would make the French tour rather taxing, we were sitting in the spacious lobby waiting for the English tour to start. Around the three storey space were decorations of old rum bottles and barrels as well as assorted paraphernalia I would ordinarily associate with TGI Restaurants. A bell rung and the tour started with less then eight people in the group with Matt and myself the only native English speakers, the others seemed to have arrived from various parts of Europe; unfortunately our group consisted of males and the middle-aged which was disappointing given the German tour group which seemed to be stacked out (in all appropriate senses of the word) with young, nubile females.

Touring the museum we were given the full history of rum and its introduction to Cuba as well as the creation process which Matt and I were already familiar with after Santiago (and Holguin, and Sancti Spiritus) but this tour splashed out on a room-sized model, complete with working miniature train and lights. After various exhibits we were all deposited unceremoniously into a cosy, dark-wood bar where we were all given half a shot of 7-year old rum and encouraged to buy something from the adjoined gift shop. Having not expected to be done with the tour so soon, Matt and I lounged around in the distinctly chair free bar once again talking random nonsense until the next tour group appeared and failed to reveal anyone of interest (read: any one of the feminine persuasion). Looking around the gift shop at the suitably overpriced alcohol and accessories we were barely half-way through the morning which threw our afternoon plans out of synch; we headed back to the casa to reconnoitre.

Deciding to leave the afternoon free for exploring, we set off for the nearby cathedral which held some kind of significance in terms of age or seniority amongst cathedrals. On the way we grabbed a peso pizza from a glorified hole-in-the-wall which, while tasty for the money we paid, was intensely greasy and surprisingly hot. Finishing lunch in the cathedral plaza let us take in the surroundings which were dominated by a stage either being set up or being taken down, work was moving so slowly it was hard to tell without some kind of time-lapse photography. Around the edges of the plaza were garishly dressed entertainers and stall owners as well as several artists selling their completed wares while working on their next. Amongst all of this tourists swarmed dressed in uniform white or sky-blue t-shirt and khaki shorts adorned with the carbon black of cameras, cases and rucksacks.

Moving north past the cathedral we headed towards the Malecón and looked out across the bay towards the lighthouse and attached island, a place we would get to know a little better in a few days time. In the baking midday heat both Matt and I, hatless and hatted respectively, were running out of energy until we stumbled across the most serene and welcoming park that I had not only seen since entering Cuba, but in a long while. The grassed central area could be crossed in a thirty second walk, overhead it was surrounded by lush and leafy trees and populated by all manner of bird life. The fountain in the centre was joined by copious amounts of wrought iron benches and places to sit which were all flanked by a sedate, open-air market of books and sundries. After rejuvenating ourselves for a spell, Matt went to fetch an ice-cream while I watched some of the other park occupants. Parades of people wandered by: school children out on a trip, old people sporadically feeding the birds as well as a pair of musicians and a single guitar who played fractured, soulful melodies.

Suitably enamoured, we headed into the Palacio which was just off from the park and turned out to be a varied and massive museum. We declined the offer of an overpriced tour (I once again hid the existence of my camera) and both set off our separate ways to explore the museum, first spontaneously shown around by a wandering curator and then managing to catch up with an English speaking tour. Trying our best not to look like we were mooching off the tour-guide, the museum contained everything from black marble busts of various import to chandeliers and wholly reconstructed rooms with paintings and desks still in tact. Moving on from the tour group we kept bumping into two very attractive French ladies whom we then summarily lost in the labyrinthine building. After exploring what I assumed was the bulk of the museum I unearthed a lower set of floors containing all kinds of ancient weaponry and art works, sometimes both in the same room. As I wove through a set of sculptures, I scratched one of my shoulders only to realise that they were peeling from apparent sunburn, an oddity as I had always kept my shoulders under clothing while on the beaches of Trinidad. Of course once this was revealed to me, it was hard to keep my mind on the museum and more and more I tried to fathom why my shoulders were peeling, and surreptitiously try to get rid of the persistent shoulder sweat-itch that was probably mostly psychological rather than physical.

Heading out of the museum and over to Plaza San Francisco, we stopped at an al fresco café for a sugar-packed orangeade, the first unhealthy thing either of us had consumed since arriving in Cuba. Certainly Havana was a major city with all the trappings came with that: junk food, crime and inflated prices, far different from the country life we had indulged in the rest of the holiday. After getting our bearings we headed back to the casa, managing to stumble across an area we had "found" the night before in our directionless wandering. I snoozed while Matt filled in his diving log book then went for a run, training for a triathlon he was participating in when he returned to the UK. After this, he tried to phone his girl from Cassilda, only to be fobbed off yet again with news that she had gone to Santa Clara; by now he was beginning to get the picture that either she was a Cuban jet-setter or his time with her had been a one off and she was trying to keep it that way. He dejectedly decided to give up trying to contact her.

With no meal available at the casa, Matt and I went out during twilight to an Italian restaurant he had visited before and that apparently did stellar pizza. Eating outside in the cool evening the pizza was indeed excellent, and just as we were finishing up, Matt recognised a girl on the next table from Trinidad; I conjectured it was probably a time I wasn't around as she looked wholly unfamiliar to me. Striking up a conversation, the girl had a blonde friend and both of them were from the UK which made cultural differences minimal (even if they were from the south). We had plenty of time to chat as it seemed the waiters did not want either of us to pay for our meals and spent an age bringing the bill and then finally taking the money away. I was still unsure about going out in a strange city at night which meant while everyone else in the foursome wanted to go out, I was going to head back to the casa which gave us the perfect opportunity to use the line "You want to come see our balcony?". Suitably impressed by the view of Havana at night, I adjourned to bed while Matt chaperoned the two of them, eventually returning sometime around 3am.

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