Monday, August 31, 2009

No Return, part IV

  1. Having settled in to the hotel, now it was time to attend an introductory meeting and decide what optional side-tours were available. The sales spiel was in Spanish, but I could follow along enough to know the options and prices. I declined the "Lido Show" at $40.00, but decided on a walking tour of Old Havana and a day trip to Veredero Beach some miles to the north. I really only wanted to ride somewhere out of the city to see the countryside.

    The walking tour gathered in the lobby and we were a small group. Once outside we were immediately surrounded by a knot of youngsters. They appeared to be in the 10 to 15 age range and were at once pestering us for gifts and money. After the tour guide admonished them, the band dropped back a ways, but followed us wherever we went. It became apparent the last one of our group, the slowest one, the one in awe of old buildings, the one who wanted to go slower, was the weakest of the pack. This is the one prayed upon like the crippled zebra with a sign "take me, I'm the weak one". It so happened I was this the lackadaisical wonder-eyed straggler and I soon was approached by a small lad younger than the rest who couldn't have been more than 7 who told me I had already lost a pencil from my back pocket and if I didn't put my camera away, it would soon be gone too. So I snapped-to and regained a better position within the group.

    The cigar factory we entered reminded me of what one might call a sweat shop. With a rather boring exterior, on the inside was row after row of tables with cigar rollers, mostly women, each one busily wrapping, cutting and forming perfectly uniform stogies. The aroma of fresh tobacco was not unpleasant, like a very pungent herb.

    Hemingway's bar was a narrow long room with long bar and stools and just room enough for a few tiny tables. Of course the walls were plastered with pictures of "Papa" and the covers of books he had written. It was a pleasant enough place for anyone who likes bars, this one just more touristy then most.

    Our tour had us wandering a circuitous route through the oldest part of the port city. I've seen period architecture like this in many cities in Europe, but nothing like these buildings that have been in a time-warp for 50 years. They hold up well without maintenance, but appear as though you've discovered a lost city. The absence of freshly painted surfaces, signs feels more like a science fiction movie where the actors are sent back in time to a city without inhabitants, the only difference is that there are people on the streets here.

    Our last stop was to the required tourist gift shop. There were hand-crafts made of wood and reed woven baskets and lots of trinkets. I bought a couple Cuban posters I figured I could claim I bought in Mexico if my luggage were to be inspected on landing in Los Angeles.

    Tour over and back in the hotel, I needed to figure out how to explore on my own without being mobbed on the hotel's front steps. As it turned out, a young fellow, 17 years old he told me later, introduced himself in the lobby. He explained, in Spanish, how he could show me around and what Havana had to offer a traveler. We made no formal agreement for his services, but I thought the details could be worked out as we went along. I was right, but....

1 comment:

  1. Daniel, I can't wait for the next installment; I'm enthralled. BTW, did the cigar factory have a story-teller to entertain the cigar rollers? I understand that is traditional. I have much to share, will send you an e-mail when time allows (sigh).