15.05.2009 - 19.05.2009 32 °C
Wow... I just had an interesting lunch experience. 'Pizza Celina'- a roof-top pizza-place near the University. From the streets, you shout up to the chef what you want (the menu's on his door) and after he's made it (about 5-10 minutes) he lowers down a basket with your pizza in it! You then pay into the basket (pizza's are only about 10 Cuban pesos (i.e. 40 euro cents) and enjoy! :-) Pretty creative way to make money I say!
After my last entry, David, Hayon (the Korean girl whose name I kept forgetting), Sarah and I decided to check out the student night-life in Havana (this was Thursday night). David and Sarah had met a Canadian girl earlier at Hotel Nacional who told them that the Havana University student Union was a good place to go for cheap Mojitos (in Cuban pesos). On our way there, 2 Cuban guys started talking to us- it was all a little strange as i had a weird feeling about them from the start (so did the others i found out later)- they were obviously jinateros (hustlers) and it was obvious that once we got to the student bar, we'd be paying for their drinks. It quite common here, but as we weren't really after their company and didn't really want to be followed by them, it was a bit annoying.
Sure enough, once we got to the student bar, one of the guys went up to the bar-tender and said something (i.e. telling the bartender he had brought us to the bar so that he would get a cut of the profit he would make by charging us in CUCs). Our drinks were served and our bill (including the drinks of the 2 Cubans) came to 28CUC. David got a bit annoyed at them and told them it wasn't right to use us like that and that they should stop pretending to want to get to know us if all they were after was our money... the guy acted all oblivious, saying he had no idea what was going on and that sometimes bar's just don't accept pesos (completely not true)... so we eventually told them we wanted to go home and left them in town.
It really made the evening sour, as up till that point, all the Cuban's we'd met had been really nice/genuine. I completely understand why, when tourists go out drinking with Cubans, that the tourist will pay for the drinks (considering the differences in finances) and generally, considering how expensive drinks are, its really not a problem... but these guys were purely after getting something out of us. They had no interest in actually spending time with us or getting to know us, it was purely about getting as much out of us as possible, so it made us all feel a bit bitter. After a while of being in Havana, you do notice this pattern repeating a lot though- all conversations seem to start off in the same way, and...like this, end up the same way too. I guess the whole situation is just a bit frustrating for tourists, but then again, we have no idea, and probably will never understand, how frustrating the situation is for them too. The longer I'm here, the more obvious the divide between tourist and Cuban seems to become- its all a bit awkward- feels so segregated. I feel guilty for having so much- yet, at the same time, I know its not my fault and that its just the system/situation here... I guess its just weird being in a country where people are not allowed to leave and will never (or at least not at this point in time) see what our lives are really like (other than the wealth and luxury we portray here).
Anyway- the next day (Friday) we all met up in the University square at 10am to get a bus to the rum museum. The University had organised a tour for us there and... (not that) surprisingly, it was all in Spanish. My Spanish really isn't that good yet- especially with reference to any rum-making processes, so I pretty much didn't understand any of it, haha... and in all fairness, the museum was pretty small and the tour wasn't that great, but a bonus was that we got a free shot of rum at the end :-) (though drinking that at 11am was a bit too early for me).
Instead of heading back to Uni in the bus, I decided to stay in town and walk to the 'Fabrica de Tobacos Partagas' (one of the 2 main cigar factory's in Havana Central). I followed the English tour this time (45 minutes, 10CUC!) but it was really worth it! Its really amazing how much time and effort goes into making cigars- i had no idea the selection process was so precise! Apparently it takes about 16 people to make 1 cigar!!!!
Walking through the factory (3 floors), the whole process was shown from start to finish: the selection of the leaves, bundling them, removing the mid-rif (is that what its called?), drying, rolling, casing, glueing, the quality-control checks, sorting them by colour/thickness/strength, labelling, boxing (including the labelling on the boxes)... I was really impressed. The workers are expected to produce between 80 - 250 cigars per day (depending on the size and type of cigar they're making)- but there has been a decrease in demand for cigars (economic crisis/cancer) so workers now leave for home once their quota has been reached (or they produce more to make up for days missed/for the future).
At the time of my tour, I missed the guy that sits and reads to the workers through a microphone (from a newspaper during the morning, and from a book in the afternoons) which was a shame, as that would have been amazing to see. Surprisingly (or not, here in Cuba), people working in the factory earn more than doctors/lecturers/lawyers (!!!)- as their wages are paid out half in Cuban pesos and half in CUCs. Oh, and the factory also has a school for people learning to make cigars :-) -After 9 months, people can graduate from it and join the rest of the workers/be promoted to work on different processes/types of cigar. The tour was really facinating, but unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take photos there- which is a shame as I could have taken some really interesting ones there. Anyway- it was a worthwhile trip & I would recommend it to anyone coming to Havana :-)
That evening, I went out to Hotel Habana Libre- we had lots of stereotypical cocktails (daiquiri's, Mojito's, Cuba Libre's, Pinacoladas) and then went to a 'disco' upstairs. It was actually really fun- danced a lot and we met a Cuban who was showing us his magic tricks- they were amazing! We got home at 5am!
I spent the next day being lazy with Sarah by the pool at Hotel Nacional. That's what Saturday's are for, right? :-)
In the evening, Sarah had planned to go visit 2 friends at Hotel Sevilla (they were staying there) and on the way, someone behind her grabbed her bag and ran off with it!!! Hayon and I were with her when it happened (David has literally left 5 minutes before to go meet up with the guys beforehand) but we couldn't stop him. Sarah did chase him for about 15 minutes though- we lost her, so went to the hotel where the guys were and told them. They eventually found her- she hadn't been able to catch him, as she'd lost him in a crowd. It was really crappy for her though, as she has her phone, keys, camera, visa and wallet in it- luckily she had left her passport at home. Sarah dealt with it all pretty well though- her attitude was that in the end, its only stuff but that she was just gutted that she'd lost the photos she'd taken and her phone numbers.
After getting a taxi to Hotel Sevilla and letting her friends know what happened, she went online to cancel her cards/phone. Once that was all sorted, we went to Cafe Cantante (a club the 'magician' had recommended to us the night before)- a live band was playing there (the singer was apparently quite famous)- but I forgot her name :-( It was alright, but I didn't love the place. We had ordered a bottle of rum and some cans of coke- *bad idea* -its crazy how cheap the rum is here! - and spent the night salsa-ing. Got home late, so I spent the next day feeling really tired & only leaving the house to quickly skype and go for some 'BimBom' ice-cream with David and Sarah.
Yesterday (Monday) classes started up again- the woman teacher is back, so we're all happy as she's so much better than the male teacher. After finding out how little he's taught us, she got very frustrated (I'm guessing this is not the first time this has happened) but I feel that in the last 2 days, I've learnt more from her than the whole week that he taught us. So I'm glad she's back :-)
So, that's the update for now...
Tomorrow, I'll be taking my first salsa class!!! I'll be learning from a teacher recommended by David & I really can't wait :-) Apparently he's a really friendly guy and an amazing dancer. Yay! Also still planning to go on the road-trip this weekend (hopefully it won't rain too much, as there was a massive thunderstorm here last night), so the next update will probably be in about a week. So, till then: have a good weekend! x