Day 14 - King, Kidnap and Keen

With no death dreams that night I woke up refreshed and ready for the 9am breakfast in which the flies from yesterday had informed their kin which made it very tedious trying to eat. Showering and getting dressed, Matt was suffering from lack of sleep (possibly still catching up with him from Trinidad) so we hung about in the microclimate of the room while we planned out the day. Finding out that there was actually very little interesting to do in Havana, we decided to head towards the Plaza Vieja which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, had some neat curios hidden away.

The sun was already hot and with Matt not 100% we paid for some overpriced water before heading towards a deserted photography exhibition. Ostensibly it cost to get in despite what the adult guide had informed us, but it was more than worth it for the spectacular black and white photos of Cuba during the time of the revolution as well as the stunning photos of Che Guevara. Many of them had English captions and mentioned specific times during the coup when Castro and Guevara were making their push across the country. After being suitably educated we headed outside to the tranquil plaza and sat on some steps taking in the area.

Another part of the plaza had caught our eyes which seemed to house some very professional looking exhibits and being free only made us more curious. It turned out the setup was all about a place in Brussels which apparently held some kind of appeal but we were unable to grok precisely why there was an entire floor dedicated to this place as the descriptions were all in Spanish and French which was a bit of an odd combination, especially when the technical language bamboozled Matt's attempts at deciphering them.

Figuring that we had been baffled enough by the morning's events, we headed into the playing card museum which demanded a relatively expensive "donation" that was enforced by a coven of ladies chatting quietly behind one of the desks/counters. To call the place a museum would be a stretch given that the entire area was no bigger than an average sized living room and the majority of the sets were not on display, usually only the ace and picture cards were shown. Even then most of the cards were faded and yellowed by age and bright sunlight. All this made for a museum which could be wholly taken in within ten minutes and not even a gift shop available to buy a pack of cards so that jilted tourists could gamble away the time they thought they were going to spend in here. The saving grace was the trio of ladies who cooed over Matt, calling him "beautiful" and all but spiriting him away to a mysterious back room for an illicit encounter (or three). Matt seemed more shocked at this than I did and we quickly egressed and took stock back in the plaza.

Leaving from the casa later than usual meant the morning was drawing to a close so we decided to head to the Capitolio building which involved walking down the bustling O'Reilly street. The street seemed like a tourist twilight area, all the familiar ice cream parlours, trinket stalls and knicknack shops but still filled with more locals than foreigners, many on bicycles with little regard for those on foot. With such a steep drop between curb and road, navigation was sometimes a life or death situation, especially when a car felt the urge to plough down the street as fast as the crowd would let it.

While the Capitolio building again cost money to enter, it was apparent within the first few seconds that it was money well spent. The central foyer of the building was dominated by a statue that stretched over thirty metres towards the ornate dome ceiling, clad originally in gold leaf the statue reminded me of the figure usually associated with Britannia than it did Cuba. Based externally on the US Capitol building, it was as if the architect had got the proportions wrong and made the building immensely huge. The space available for exploration within was immense and with no tour guide or guide book to help, Matt and I wandered the halls taking in the bizarre assortment of displays. Some ranged from the room where Castro had asserted authority to an art store selling large paintings and tiny statuettes. At times we doubled back on ourselves, randomly finding ourselves on the opposite side of the building that we thought we were on, and other times we found almost hidden areas like the government area where laws were passed and meetings held. Thankfully nothing was being held that day otherwise I doubt two young, male tourists would have reached so far into the inner sanctum.

It took us a great deal of time to explore the building but it seemed to take equally long to leave it as we tried to find our way back to a suitable exit that didn't have us traipsing around the exterior of the building in the midday sun. The Capitolio building was on the cusp of the centre of Havana which housed a six lane speedway as well as a dirty, grimy feeling far apart from the obviously tourist friendly area Matt and I were staying in and had explored. We headed towards the familiar Cathedral Plaza, grabbing a peso pizza along the way as well as some drinks, a foolish order to do things in considering how hot the pizza was to hold. Little energy and even less to do dictated we head back to the casa for an afternoon siesta, saving our energy for the evening where Matt had organised to meet up with Chloe and Juliet, the two girls from the previous evening.

Matt more or less collapsed into one of the deck chairs on the balcony when we got back and fell right to sleep. I positioned some shade to keep the sun from cooking him while he snoozed and started on another book that Matt had brought along; the combination of my smaller rucksack and packing for preparedness meant books were unable to fit in my bag although Terry Pratchett was far from unwelcome holiday reading. A short time later and Matt made the journey to the bedroom for a more serious nap while I continued to wait for tea time to roll around.

Despite our early approach to the agreed meeting place, we more or less ran into Chloe and Juliet where we went to a restaurant and were early enough to bag a good table which let us wait out the sunset and listen to the lilt of far away live music. I had come to the conclusion by now that waiters in Cuba exist in a different time-zone to the rest of us, the restaurant was far from busy but it still took us almost an hour to get wine ordered and receive the first of our, thankfully delicious, meals.

The talk between us turned to our reasons for visiting Cuba and Chloe mentioned that she was visiting her boyfriend's parents; apparently he was a Cuban band member who had managed to escape the confines of Cuba to tour, however his papers had not been in order when she had booked the holiday and hence had to stay put (the expatriation laws in Cuba are apparently byzantine to the say the least). Of course this revelation made Matt's heart sink but he was characteristically upbeat about it. Being plied with suitable amounts of red-wine made me more malleable and so we adjourned to a nearby bar after finishing up at the restaurant.

The bar was a large room looking out onto the street and contained a good mix of tourists and locals as well as a live band and plenty of seating so it suited our purposes for further drinking and relaxation. I was getting progressively more squiffy as the evening wore on and before I knew it we were being shooed by the owner out of the bar and on to the street where an impromptu modern band session was taking place and had drawn a mesmerised crowd. This wrapped up fairly swiftly after which there was muttered talk of heading towards "El Morrow", apparently a music event that was held each week; of course when asking around we were shown to all manner of hotels and private restaurants that were certainly not what we were looking for. I was mid-way through my indecisiveness routine when Matt wisely shunted us all into a taxi which took us across the river to El Morrow which had all the hallmarks of a live festival but was apparently a regular occurrence.

The castle across the bay from the Malecon had been transformed into an event the like of which I hadn't seen. A stage with accompanying light show had been set up blaring out music and projecting the star's visage across the castle; amongst the throngs of people were bars and glowstick vendors dishing out their wares whenever new stock arrived. Matt attempted to go get us some booze while I stayed with Chloe and Juliet, stunned as to exactly where I was and trying to take everything in. Matt returned a significant time later with two cans of freezing-cold beer each which we took over to a quieter area that had imposing cannons and a view of the bay.

While I pined for my camera for a shot of the night-time city we all continued talking and tried our best not to look in the direction of the man who was getting a not-so-inconspicuous blow job. In my rapidly sobering state I came quickly to the conclusion that Juliet was wholly uninterested in me and seemed more enamoured with Matt; had we not been marooned on an island I would have made good on my disappearing party trick. The event ended abruptly sometime after midnight at which point a horde of people all tried to get into haphazardly parked cars and a limited number of awaiting taxis. In what can only be called a Mattastrophe, he managed to woo a girl and then be accosted by two others, the three of which then tried to drag him into nearby bushes for acts best left unsaid. Thankfully Chloe and Juliet were trying to flag down a taxi at this point so it was only me who stood, mouth agape at Matt being abducted by girls. He seemed to be enjoying it so I decided not to cock-block and stood around looking uninterested.

We finally managed to find a taxi with which we could hammer down a price for taking us back into town (a very advisable thing to do if you don't want to be left penniless by the drivers) and we were off, through the underground tunnel and into a neighbourhood I had not seen before to drop off the girls. By now I was needing to pee something fierce and the driving of the taxi was not helping matters so by the time we reached the casa, I bolted upstairs to use the toilet after which both Matt and I drank a substantial amount of water and fell asleep.

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