Written last night:
So it´s my first Sabado in Cuba and I´ve come down with a case of traveler´s diarrhea. I win the prize for the first in the house to have such a fabulous experience, but I didn´t doubt it would happen. I suspect the day in the hot sun is behind it, but I didn´t burn myself! So I´m going to write a bit before I hit up the Imodium and get some rest.
Today we spend the morning and afternoon in Havana Vieja, or Old Havana - where the colony was first established. I was in my element because much of what we talked about had to do with history...so I had a lot to say, though that´s not abnormal. Remember Puerto Rico, family? That´s what I thought Havana would look like, but it turns out that only Havana Vieja is like that, with brightly colored buildings and cobblestone streets. In fact, the oldest streets are made of wood here, that have been replaced as they wear down. In this area there are art museums, restaurants, shops, historical museums, a craft/artisan fair (where people sell LOTS of tourist crap), historical buildings, etc. There´s also an awesome used book outdoor area. I´m going to go back soon. It´s a regular tourist trap, with prices well beyond necessary for those gringos that I´m proud not to be a part of. But we were wiser.
Geraldo is a professor in Cuba, and he works at the Casa de las Americas (where we study). Today he was the one who showed us around and he is simply wonderful. His wife, Amarylis, was also there - I hope I get to take pictures with them eventually, because we all get along great. For lunch, we taken to the cheapest place in the area - El Jardin del Oriente- (Cuban food, not Chinese), which came out to about $102 for 25 people. You do the math! We had drinks and desert too! He doesn´t like to speak English (it embaresses him) so we have students rotate translating for students who are just beginning to learn the language. I´m happy to report that I took over translating for a few seconds - the only non-native speaker to do so! Somehow I feel no fear with Spanish here, even if I´m not brilliant yet. I´m going to teach Amarylis how to make pie.
One interesting thing about Cuba is that there aren´t people everywhere trying to sell you bracelets and key chains and everything. People who sell things, especially in a popular place, have to have a government liscence because of course, private enterprise is forbidden. I saw women crocheting dresses (I´m going to buy one eventually, maybe also for Kiera!) who had government ID cards on stating their occupation. Police are everywhere where tourists might be especially, so since Big Brother is watching, you can´t get away with a lot. Kind of scary, but...no disturbances yet!
Mommy is posting my pictures for me, since dial-up and this ancient PC have a hard time publishing them. A few notes:
The photos of the ocean and buildings: that is the view from our room balcony on the 12th floor. Our room is also all windows on the ocean side so we an see all the time. It´s one of the most amazing things I´ve ever had constant access to.
The money: Apparently a $3 Convertible Peso has a picture of revolutionaries fighting tanks with grenades and guns. There is also a train burning. Look carefully - it´s really interesting!
The man with the thing you might not recognize: We visited the only legal cigar shop in Havana today. I´m going to buy a lot to bring them home - if they dont have labels, I can tell the customs officers I got them in Mexico! The man making them has had cigar making in his family for 3 generations. You may not know that the first union in Cuba was for cigar makers, and it was very influential in the forming of the colonial society. He made one for us and we got to all try it. Cohiba is just lovely. It´s heaven to smokers and non-smokers alike, being in the store.
The Bodega: That is where Cubans get their rations. For a month, rations of coffee, rice, beans, sugar, soap, chickpeas...and a few other things...comes to about $2. I´ll tell you more about this labor. If socialism does anything, it certainly keeps people from starving.
The Sexy Computer: is the one I´m using right now. Windows 2000, all the way.
The Sunset: right outside our building yesterday, on the Malecon. We were going to the hotel down the street to exchange some money. The attendant looked like Barack Obama.
Love to all. It´s not the same without everyone here,