Monday, November 23, 2015

Our Woman in Havana

I was undecided about what to do with my final day in Havana. Obviously there would be walking, but i wanted some sort of loose destination. Musing over my morning cigar, i discovered that every Sunday afternoon there is an area with live rumba music. Good enough. Little did i then know that the destination would be even better than live music. I set off through Havana Vieja, past Parque Central, down Calle San Rafael for many blocks, until tourists thinned out and were replaced with local residents doing their daily activities. I tried not to be too obvious as i snapped photos.

I found my way to my destination - Callejon de Hamel - wondering where the live music would be and whether i would even be able to find it. It wan't hard. The short street, closed to cars, is lined, crammed, and towered by art. Graffiti, sculpture. Benches made from painted, repurposed bathtubs, courtyards filled with scrap metal totems, the sides of buildings covered with murals...even some art studios, open for visiting. 

There were a couple of cafes/studios which were filled with an acceptable mix of locals and visitors. Most of the locals were afrocuban and spoke good english and were happy to tell me about this neighborhood, the artists, and the free programs for autistic and disabled children provided there. I had the local drink - a Negro (like a mojito but with basil instead of mint) - bought a couple of cds of rumba music and took in the sights.

At noon the bands started to play. All percussionists, singers, and dancers. All but one were women and they played the most infectious music. The crown pressed in and climbed up the sides of the buildings to get a prime view. I stayed until the rains started and then headed back to old Havana for an early dinner.
I did of course, stop off for a final cigar at the Partagas Factory vip room.
What glory! Back in old Havana i found a restaurant that served pizza! Not the barely warm white bread covered with a whisper of sauce and tasteless white cheese that is ubiquitous in Havana, but actual crispy, chewy pizza with tasty sauce and four vegetables. It was great. I celebrated by having a glass of wine and pair of Ramon Allones robustos. I enjoyed a chat with a couple of local travellers from Germany and listened to some decent jazz from the band on the corner. 

I have to say, the food has been better than i expected in Havana. Everyone told me that as a non-egg-eating vegetarian i would have nothing to eat, so i packed granola bars, almonds, and cranberries. True, there is not a great variety for vegetarians and the food is bland, but there is lots to eat.

When the evening came i went to the Hotel Inglaterra where, despite its gorgeous appearance has dismal service and drinks, i met with Stripes' friend Rosalita. Rosalita had mentioned the other night some no-longer-in-production Limited Edition Cohibas she had a line on. Stripes was leaving but i agreed to meet up and get the coveted cigars. I felt like a drug buyer as a sat on the patio, trying to look casual as i stirred the sugar at the bottom of my watery mojito and eyed the crowd for Rosalita's  face, looking at my watch occasionally. The covert nature of the transaction was entirely necessary as Rosalita could spend years in prison for selling us the cigars, as could the person she bought them from.  I smoked a comically large cigar, which did nothing to help the invisibility i was seeking. Finally she showed up, sat down, and ordered a beer. We chatted for a bit about tattoos and the availability of American music in Cuba before i asked, "Do you have the cigars?" She nodded and, just below table height, opened a satchel just enough for me to look in and take a deep whiff of the leathery, barn-yardy smelling cigars. I slid an envelope of money to her across the table. She passed me the satchel of cigars under the table. We finished our drinks, i declined a drive, and i made my final way home, finishing my cigar just as i put the key into the lock.

Havana has been a good trip. Not particularly different or exciting, but enjoyable and relaxing. The best part was the cigar culture and cigar experiences and having some friends there to share that with and to open doors to experiences that i would not otherwise have had. Oh, i decided to keep count of the cigars (not counting cigarillos) i smoked and coffees i drank - for no particular reason other than curiosity. 9 days, 31 coffees, 40 cigars. That adds up to a good trip.


Betty-Lou said...

Thank you for the tour of Cuba. I loved your stories and your photos.

farfel54 said...

All the best. Smoke 'em for me. By Rama, Hera and Kali would luv to join ye north by northwest.