Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Deposit in the Bank of Life

April 4, 2010
Puerto de Vita, Cuba
Tomorrow we leave Vita headed for Hemingway Marina in Havana. We go there because we love big cities.
Well we love big cities that are not Toronto. Toronto, we hate. As do all right thinking people.
Today we visited Santiago de Cuba. It is located some 193 km from Holguin which would normally be less than a 3 hour drive. It took us well over 4 hours.
Now part of the time it took is inherent in the Cuban road system. To travel east from Vita you must first travel west to
Holguin. There are no traversible roads going directly east.
All went well until our driver, a fellow cruiser and friend, decided to ignore the sage advice of his navigator, me, and turn
left instead of right. Instead of a nice two lane highway we traversed an 11 km. pothole. This road was in such a state of
disrepair that the government was using it to store piles of rock. Piled right in the middle of it. Piled in the middle to avoid
the 4 foot potholes on either side. The road was so hazardous that mountain goats were walking around the entire 11 km.
stretch in lieu of crossing the road. The 11 km. roadtrip took a long, long time.
To compare the ride home, avoiding the Bataan death march section, took 2.5 hours. So, we spent 1.5 hours making 11 km.
You do the math.
None the less we got there. Turning to the trusty city street map we learned our first disappointing fact about Cuban cities.
They do not erect street signs. Almost none. You can imagine that this complicates the life of a navigator. You must get
around by counting intersections. Or sacrificing goats to your Santeria god of choice or something. You cannot find your
way by referencing a map with street names even after you have decyphered the Spanish.
We are getting pretty competent at Spanish. I have perfected a phrase that asks "where the hell am I and how do I get to
where I want to be instead". I have also perfected the look of comprehension to which the willing answerer of the question
is entitled as he hand gestures your car all the way to Havana for all I can bloody tell. A flood of useful Spanish is as much
benefit to me as a city street map without street names.
So somehow we got into the city on the wrong highway (Wade's fault). We immediately presented ourselves broadside to a
fully loaded dump truck in the middle of a 4 lane thoroughfare. Wade insists we would have been past the truck if Diane
had not yelled at him to stop. Diane maintains that as correct as this may be, had we not stopped the pedestrian
immediately in front of us, in the bright RED dress, would have been dead. Fortunately I had my head in the map book the
entire time trying to figure out just what bloody street we were committing our highway offences on and I missed the whole
thing. The Budget Committee invoked her right against self incrimination. Now if I can only get her to stop shaking
everything will be all right.
Thereafter everything was fine. Just fine. Until I discovered I had counted wrong and the street we on took us, not to the
harbour and the park but to the top of the hill beside the harbour and the park. Let's just say that we were in the wrong
This was obvious to any blind man. We were so out of place and so obviously lost that passersby were walking up to us as
we tried to negotiate potholes in our rental car and offering to help with directions.
Believe me, where we were in that town no one could mistake that we were lost. Two enterprising young guys on a
motorbike stopped and asked if we were lost. They said they liked Canada. We were to learn that that was one of only two
phrases in English they had learned. They asked if we were hungry. This was the other phrase. They led us to a private
home for a dinner you would not believe. Fresh fish, a piece as big as my dinner plate, fresh ensalada, arrozzo, fried
bananas, cafe cubano. Sorry, I sort of drifted there for a moment. It is a stirring memory.
Not the best part to be sure but important enough was that the private home the boys took us to was on a street which
terminated in a very important 3 story flight of stone stairs. I know this because the Budget Committee and Princess Diane
both yelled their recognition of this "famous" landmark of Santiago de Cuba. The best part of discovering this "lost"
treasure was that the women did not force Wade or I to climb them, something which would have challenged Lance
Armstrong after the meal we had finished.
Lunch complete we realized the two guys who showed us the way to our delightful resto private were still waiting. I guessed
that after taking an hour out of their Sunday of leisure these guys decided the 50 Pesos Nationale I had slipped them was
insufficient. They wanted to negotiate their gratuity. We laughed without reserve as we tried to buy our way into the good
graces of our friendly hustlers, them looking so sad and sorrowful as the pile of notes in front of them piled up. We had a
blast. It cost us $10.
These two hustlers then tried to sell me some cigars. Seems this is the street game in any big city in Cuba. Every two bit
hustler here wants to sell you cheap cigars. Each hustler has the same line: "If you buy right now I give you a very special
price". Every two bit hustler will tell you not to buy from the other hustlers because they will sell you banana leaves.
Apparently you can disguise banana leaves as cigars. Go figure. Each of the two guys today, who were putative friends and
partners, warned me about the other guy being dishonest. I chose to believe them both.
But only in the best possible way.
All this done we drove home on the good roads. Just another deposit...

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