Cuba Dos

Day 4

The following day was Thursday, meaning we’d lunch with Angelita and Silvino. We got off to a rough start when again we were aprovechar-ed. Our driver charged us double the amount to get to Vedado, never telling us his fare when we got in. Meanwhile, he told a man getting in at our stop the higher price. At least he wasn’t charging us more just because we’re not Cuban.

We went to our favorite juice place and bought three frappuccinos, a smoothie, two fruit cocktails, and two bags of juice, all for $5. Juguera is absolutely amazing with its fresh ingredients. One bag of juice was mango ginger for Angelita and Silvino, while the other was tamarind and cinnamon for Evyn and Mitra’s summer neighbor, Alida.

We stopped at Alida’s briefly so Evyn could say hello and we could drop the juice off. A short, sweet old woman, Alida welcomed us excitedly and sat us down to catch up for just a few minutes.

Evyn and I made our way south, up the large hill to Angelita’s. We were ready for Ring Pizza, but to our dismay, Angelita decided to order it when we arrived. Waiting for a delivery pizza is 30 minutes tops in the US, but who knows how long in Cuba. However, we pushed aside our hunger to chat more extensively with the couple and give them an interview.

Angelita looked sober as she lamented that the number of tourists that pass through is decreasing (though oddly, she’s currently hosting two French guys, one of whom is the owner of France’s chapter of Cuba Tobacco?) but her interactions have always been positive with tourists. She claims that her guests have always left with a wider perspective Cuba — I think perhaps by being outside of tourist land, most staying at her house are seeing more. The proof is that tourists that stay with her keep in touch and come back. They find Cuba safe and a rich culture to visit. Admittedly, many of her visitors don’t speak Spanish, but “gracias a Dios” they are always able to communicate some way.

Evyn asked her if she thinks there’s a difference between those who stay in hotels versus those who stay in a place like hers, a casa particular. Casas particulares are essentially bread and breakfasts; you rent a room, and the Cubans hosting you will provide as many meals as you’d like, even do your laundry. Staying in a casa is a far richer experience because you actually get to live with a Cuban family, eat traditional food, and get the best recommendations for what to see and do. Angelita thinks that people who stay in hotels are simply ignorant to the existence of casas particulares. She really can’t say anything negative of tourists, can she?

The pizza at last arrived and of course, she expected us to each half a full pizza (4 slices), and was sassy when we did not meet this expectation. She at least calmed a little when we finished all of our strawberry ice cream. We continued catching up and sharing future plans. Angelita now has a Facebook, so it’s easier to stay connected. She also can now pay to have internet in her house, though she only gets up to one hour a day.

The cutest photo possibly ever taken.

We lingered as long as we could, dreading the goodbye. At last, we had one of the Frenchmen take our photo and we all held back tears as we hugged and promised to be back in the near future. I don’t feel as close to crying when I just keep telling myself there’s nothing to cry about — I will see them again, no matter what.

The Cuban family.

We walked to the street corner to our neighbor Heidi (Hay-dee) and looked up at the balcony. As usual, she and her husband and father were peering down. We waved and shouted at them, getting equally excited shouts in return. Heidi buzzed us up.

It was as if we were back in our semester program, gossiping one afternoon. We immediately got into discussing our week and what we’d been up to. Without even really prompting her to interview, Heidi kind of just spoke about tourism of her own volition. Like Angelita, she’s struggling to get tourists to come and stay. There are no more study abroad programs, really, since the US has tightened restrictions and Trump’s anti-Cuba rhetoric has spread fear. The period we came, winter of 2017, was a golden age. So many people were arriving. And now, like Mitra said, Cuba appears to entering another Special Period.

American tourists are few, but Latin American tourists are on the rise, particularly those from Mexico and Argentina. She gets Europeans mostly from Spain; they’re her favorite, because they’re the easiest to converse with. That said, American tourists tend to at least give conversing a shot and have a genuine curiosity and courtesy that she appreciates. She doesn’t like cruise ship tourists because they don’t spend any time really getting to know Havana — a shopkeeper the day before had said they tend to stick to ship programming, rather than interacting directly with Cubans.

Cuba may be facing dark times, but Heidi says they’ll just have to remain tough and not get worked up about the things they can’t control. And with that, she snapped at her small chihuahua to behave herself for about the billionth time, and gave us a hug.

The heat had increased and the sun felt extra hot as we struggled to get a màquina, several drivers trying to charge us ridiculous prices. Finally, one pulled up and asked if we’d pay him double, which was the best we could do. I was disinclined to like him, given the overcharge, but my cynical exterior softened once he started conversing with us in Spanish, acknowledging we weren’t the average gringas. At some point, a driver was dilly-dallying in front of us, and he griped, “Ugh, women can’t drive.” Playfully, but with sincerity, I commanded, “No digas eso! Es sexista!” He chuckled. “OK, OK.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring exhibits of the Bienal and trying not to sweat too much. Then we danced the night away in the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a cultural arts space featuring sculpture, paintings, photography, live music, and plays.

From left to right: our friend Raimón, Aldenis, Evyn, Mitra, me.

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Day 5

April 21, 2019

Day 3

April 21, 2019

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