Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cycling Cuba 2018 -- Part 5

Friday February 9, 2018 – Playa Larga to Havana

Those of us in the hostal rejoined the group for breakfast at the hotel. There will be no biking today as we are shuttling the long distance to Havana. We did have a major P2P stop at the beginning of our trip, at the Korimacao Community Project, dedicated to providing residents from the surrounding communities an opportunity to develop and improve their performing skills such as singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. The students do not need to have any prior art background. They need only be young and have talent. We enjoyed brief performances by a dance group and a band.

On the bus ride to Havana, Alex provided an interesting commentary on the “Special Period,” that time of great hardship for the Cuban people after the sudden withdrawal of their Soviet benefactor due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Special Period began around 1989 and lasted several years. With essentially no imported oil, Cubans had to abandon their cars, tractors, etc., and begin the development of sustainable agriculture without oil. We watched a documentary, “Surviving Peak Oil,” after Alex’s talk.

We entered Havana and passed by Parque Central and the hotel of the same name where Kathleen and I had stayed in 2003.  Many landmarks were instantly familiar to me. A big surprise to me was that the “camelos” [camels] were gone. These were huge buses (more like cattle cars) pulled by giant trucks and carrying up to 300 people. Today, there is a good network of more standard size buses, although we saw lines waiting to board them in many places.

We had a good lunch at a paladar, El Jardín de los Milagros, which included an example of the rooftop garden which was a development during the Special Period. This one was particularly whimsical, with plants in toilets, shoes, and hard hats, and compost filling an old bathtub. They were growing a wide variety of herbs and vegetables. This private restaurant is a good illustration of the inverted economic pyramid – the owners had been in the construction business [salaried engineers, I am assuming] but left their professions because they could make more money operating a restaurant.

Friday evening had a big surprise for us. We had a fleet of five of the convertibles from the 1950s, immaculate in appearance, take us on a 45-minute tour of the city before stopping at the Plaza de la Revolución (where Castro made his long speeches to huge crowds). In addition to the tall monument tower, there are three important buildings here. One had a sculpture (in relief) of Che Guevarra and another of Cienfuegos, each covering most of the façade of the respective buildings. The last building was the Biblioteca Nacional [National Library], which, I believe, is where my relative Jorge Aguayo worked until his emigration to Canada and then the US, circa 1960.
Carolyn and Alex in Havana

Lee and Guy

Carolyn and Eduardo, owner/driver

Che Guevarra

After about ten minutes we transferred to our bus and then to our private restaurant, the paladar Decameron. It was a pleasant restaurant, to which several of us returned on our own a week later. However, once again, I made the wrong choice – my shrimp, served over rice, were small and tasteless. Others appeared to have made better selections. After dinner, several of us walked back to the Hotel Presidente, where we are staying for two nights, and where we will also stay for two nights at the end of our tour.

Before dinner, I had inquired whether I could get laundry done since we would be here for two days. I was told that I would have to work that out with my chambermaid, and the receptionist called the chambermaid who, along with her supervisor, met me in my room. I showed them my bag of laundry and asked how much it would cost. They indicated that they would take the laundry and let me know in the morning what the price would be. Reluctantly, I let them take the laundry not having any idea what this would cost me. [The front desk insisted that there was a laundry price list in each room, but I was unable to find anyone in our group that had one, and my chambermaid could not provide one.]

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