Thursday, 15 May 2008

To the East

The internet costs 6 Cuban Convertible Pesos an hour - if you can find a town, an internet access card and a computer. (A convertible peso, cuc, is roughly $1. This is for tourists, but you can imagine that the average Cuban will be very keen to collect such purchasing power where an imported Chinese bicycle cost 300cuc and the average wage is the equivalent of $12 a month. The Cubans use local currency which is 1/26th of the cuc and good for basic food and transport. ) Sometimes you find an internet cafe, but they have run out of cards, sometimes you have a card, but the PC isn't working. Mostly you are in a place where the PC is a fabled creature. European sim cards don't work in Cuba thanks to the trade embargo, and hardly anyone is on the phone. Thus Merlin and I missed each other through a mixture of techno-loss and old fashioned madness.

Pedro and I moved on. From the prosperous town of Cienfuegos where 'paseo' (or strutting your stuff) happens every night along the elegant Malecon and the Chevys are gradually being replaced by Peugeot, Mercedes and Seat but nothing replaces the countless horsedrawn carts for everyday use. It is decreed here that vehicles must use lights at night, so a tin of gasoline is stuffed with a lighted rag and slung beneath the wooden cart. You can barely see the resulting flicker, but hey, job done.

Onwards to the east of the island and the exquisite valley of Vinares where nature has eroded the limestone cliffs and left a perfect and fertile valley amongst gigantic rock formations. Cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of ancient caves offer cool respite from the suffocating heat but the mangoes love it. They are swollen and sweet and we eat them greedily.

In every Cuban town there is a Casa de la Musica where old and young gather to drown in music and beer and rum. In Vinares the impossible has happenned and we have to resort to Russian Vodka! There seems to be no such thing as a shot - just buy by the bottle as usual. Walking home through the moonless unlit roads in a town where it is not necessary to show lights, where silent oxen and mules are tethered at the verges for night feeding, would be unthinkable without the aid of alchohol.

Finally it is La Havana again and we are forced to act like grown ups and eat in Chinatown and walk along the vast Malecon where mangoes do not drip from the trees and the fruit we have tasted will dry in our mouths as we part.

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