Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America. #1: Cuba, da, da, da, da, da, Cuba.

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So this is ten years on from our family gap year. The kids have grown up, the nest abandoned, for now; The Boy is working/getting drunk, etc in Australia, The Girl is waiting to start Uni. We have planned to go to Cuba for a long time, we nearly went fifteen years ago when we came into a few grand – where there’s a claim, there’s certainly a blame! But I put my foot down which is a rarity in hours for ‘Pushover Pindar’ as the family unit call me, then laugh like psychopaths! Instead we had a new kitchen fitted in the dilapidated basic house which we had just moved into. When I say basic, it had a gas fire and a shower in the kitchen! Yes a shower in the kitchen with no door on it – the house had been a multiple social security tenant’s house. I only tell you this as a few people say we are always travelling, sometimes it’s a fine line between being assertive and relaxed.

It is planned, The Wife has sacked her job off, I’m working at an academic school that is so desperate for Science Teachers, they are letting me go early and come back late – two and a half months we will be away in total, hurrah.

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The first and only major hurdle is getting visas for the Republic of Cuba. There is nothing on the online website’s dropdown menu that says we are going for a holiday, or we are tourists. The box you have to tick is ‘supporting the Cuban people!’ This will become our motto whenever we are being ripped off, which when you’re a tourist – ‘supporting the Cuban people’ is quite frequent.

You know you are in underdeveloped country when you have to line up patiently to have a headshot taken with a digital camera from an operative inside the customs both. People get annoyed, but we take it in our stride, it’s all part of the experience, I pass the time thinking of famous people in mug shots, I decide on Steve McQueen.

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Everyone’s bags are re-x-rayed, when it looks like we’re through! Money is a hassle in Cuba; there are two currencies that run side by side. The Cuban convertible (CUC) – tourist money and money the rich Cubans use (there are some, they all work in tourism!) and the peso, or local money, in theory only Cuban nationals can use this, but once you get acclimatised, you can buy some things with it, like food, especially in out the way places. We have to queue to get our CUCs as you cannot buy them beforehand; this takes nearly an hour at twelve o’clock at night. Cubans say their greatest exports are: cigars, rum, music and dancing. Whenever a Cuban tells me this I add, ‘queuing’ to the list! It always raises a smile.

The Airbnb we are staying in have ordered us a taxi, but it has not turned up. We have the hassle of negotiating a new one. There are two types of cars in Cuba; new ones, Japanese and Chinese produced, and old ones from before the revolution (1959!) classic American cars. We jump in one of the later and the pollution it’s producing is like something from Wacky Races. Heading into central Havana in an American Studebaker – if that doesn’t make you feel alive, stop the world and get off.

By now it’s 1.30am in the morning and the narrow and on first impression, shady looking and crumbling streets are empty. I pass the taxi driver the address along with my pigeon Spanish and he goes out of his was to make sure someone is home. From the outside, the apartment (112 Villages) looks rough, but inside it is immaculate, large ceilings, colonial elegance, fantastic.

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The government stipulates that all rented tourist’s rooms must have; AC, a fridge, shower/bathroom. We are too wired to sleep, so we head out and find a bar (Monserrate) still open and sip cuba libres. The toilets in Cuba are not for the feint-hearted! This is my first experience, a tiled bathroom, one lone urinal in the corner and one sit-downer, surrounded by an enclosure a pony could easily look over, it has a plantation shuttered saloon door on, with an ironic bolt lock. Anyone that enters the bathroom looks down on you both physically and socially. This is one of the posher bars that tourists frequent! I find it quite amusing, but if you’re a public-toiletaphob, Cuba is not the ‘sanitised’ place for you!

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We wake late to discover we are in the heart of the old town not far from Parque Central. It feels vibrant and safe, we eat brunch in Café Paris, queue for more currency for an hour and a half!, in a beautiful colonial bank. Use a service till if you can, there is no rhyme or reason which ones work, but some do. We go on an open top bus tour with Cuclo, the commentary is rubbish, a half interested young woman that looks as though she has been out clubbing all night tells us the name of every hotel, when it was built and how many people it can accommodate, and little else – I know more about Havana than her, except the history of the hotels! We get our bearings and sunburn.

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That’s me under the tv.

We head to PA’s bar on Agromante for great cold beers, I get chatting to the owner. He has football shirts adorning one wall of the top teams from around the world, with the omission of Man City! After much discussions he reluctantly agrees he should get a City shirt. The Wife asks me in all honesty if I know him! “I do now,’ I reply. The beer, heat and jetlag send us to sleep, we reluctantly pull ourselves out to get in sync with a walk and food in Plaza Vieja. Havana is crumbling, there is little money for renovation except in Vieja and the important public buildings, which have been restored meticulously back to their original architectural splendour. It has been going on since the 1970’s, Eusebio Leal Spengler is the mastermind, and the Habaguanex holding company (WWW.Habaguanex.ohc.cu) a charity that splits the money from tourism equally between restoration and social projects. I read recently there will be as many as 110 direct flights from the USA this year alone – that’s a lot of US dollar! The upside of this is a beautiful decaying city will be brought back to life and lots of people in Cuba will be better off. Havana reminds me of Beunos Aires, a city that is starting to decay around the edges – The Paris of the South, but forty years on from their financial disaster, again precipitated by America!

Cuba already feels good, we are relaxing into it, the people are friendly, and despite reports to the contrary, appear happy and helpful.

 

Here’s my initial/landing top 4 tips for Cuba;

  1. Pay an agency to sort your visa out, it’s not expensive and will save you mucho hassleo.
  2. When you land get enough money for at least three days, if in doubt go for a higher, rather than a lower amount.
  3. Buy an internet card (you put a code in to the only government provider available!) and head to a plaza with everyone else. Expect the connection to be poor to awful! Don’t use one of the big hotels.
  4. Americans only. If you get money out using an American account the Cuban bank/government will charge you 10%, yes 10%! Change all the money you need into Euros and exchange them. Western Union was good option for Americans I met.

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Hasta la vista, habaneros.

Next time, #2: It would be rude not to talk politics and revolution in Cuba –- Out 18/8/17

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

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Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

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#18  From Manatee to Yucatan, Every Woman, Every Man.  Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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We could have spent longer on Caye Caulker, but we have sampled all it has to offer except Zika virus, the accommodation owners have both had it a few weeks back and we are keen to avoid it. The fast boat to Chetumal in Mexico leaves at 7am, stopping at San Pedro (last night I dreamt of San Pedro – there’s your earworm), so we can pay our tourist tax to Belizean government – B$38. A Dutch guy in the queue discovers he has left his passport back in Caulker, that’s a bad start to any day.

The same tourist taxation occurs in Mexico at the port – US$20, not Mexican pesos, but painfully slow, we are glad there are only 20 on the boat and not 200! We decide to get the bus to Tulum, along with bunch of insular young Israelis and a friendlier older travel companion in his thirties. All except him are very aggressive to the driver, whose job is to get us to Tulum asap, but says he will stop somewhere so they can eat. When he passes several potential eateries, they become even more aggressive. The older traveller has lived in San Francisco for the last seven years, working in IT, he has a more placid personality, until the driver stops at a roadside restaurant, probably taking commission on the passing trade. The older Israeli guy is now not happy with the menu and he’s now stomping his feet and threatening to cancel his bank payment. It is interesting to observe them, they should be happy-go-lucky laid-back travellers, but they are a far cry from that, all bar him have just finished their national service, before that, uni, maybe this is a factor? I honestly don’t know is the truth, but as a bunch they are unpleasant and bullying, and I know that may make me sound anti-sematic, which I’m not, but I am ant-Zionist, but they are two separate issues, even if the right-wing media melds them together, as a young female Israeli once told my wife years ago whilst fleeing her national service, ‘We Israelis have a siege mentality, it is part of our DNA, can you imagine not being able to go on holiday to any of the countries surrounding you because they hate us, welcome to the Israeli psyche!’ Luckily the driver is an ‘unpopular’ Mexican and not Palestinian!

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We jump out in Tulum, none of the Israelis say goodbye except the older guy. Hey, maybe they don’t want to chat to a middle-aged English couple, maybe they have each other for that, but I know if I was in in my mid-twenties and a middle-aged English couple that had just been on the road for two months in Central America, I would want to know more! Also sounding like an old fart, travel is so much easier these days, I have browsed a couple of sites and booked our low budget hotel literally on the road. Tulum has a fantastic coastal Mayan site which you can get around in over an hour without a guide, Iguanas abound, worth a night to see.

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After two nights we travel onwards to Valladolid, travel is easy in Mexico. Saying ‘Valladolid’ isn’t. The trick is to say it fast like you have a speech impediment and throw a cheerful ‘yeah’ in middle somewhere. We stay at a small boutique hotel with a plunge pool. Like most central and South American towns and cities, it is a variation on a theme, large church or cathedral, unless you are devoutly religious, there is only so many houses of God you can look at, and even if you are, there can only be so many times you can observe Jesus in excruciating pain nailed to a cross. Then there’s the square, surrounded by the restaurants and top end hotels. But Valladolid has something special, it has a cenote, a what?, I hear you say, a cenote is a beautiful deep sink hole fashioned within the sedimentary rock, and there are many in Mexico, but this one could not be more convenient. The morning we have a dip there, we only come across two other people using it, I’m told not many locals can swim, as they are not taught in school. Whenever there is a drowning, it is normally a local. Not sure the sign in English ‘If you cannot swim, avoid accidents’ helps? These ‘plunge holes’ are also a great place to escape the heat of summer.

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We are staying here so we can visit the best-preserved UNESCO protected Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Go early, as early as you can, this place gets rammed, and we are there out of season. It’s difficult not to overstate the tackiness the huge number of vendors within the complex detracts from the magnificence of the place. We are there quite early, we catch the public bus, and by the time we leave there must be over a hundred pitches trying to sell you tat. You can accept the people, after all they are coming for the same reason you are, but the tackiness of the place -Tacksville, with a capital, bold and underlined ‘T’! Saying that, you should see it, it is magnificent, the main temple is enormous and restored. The most interesting building is the ball court, two teams would complete to get a rubber ball through their opponents’ hoop, and the captain of the winning team would have their heart pulled out of their body and sacrificed to the Gods! This is the winner!! This was an honour, you got to dwell with the Gods. This is what Paul Pogba probably feared at Manchester United, this would explain why he played so badly when he was captain. Hire a guide, ours, Irvin, is incredibly knowledgeable and interesting.

 

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I get my haircut in Yeahadod by an old hand, Michello, confident in my Spanish and his experience. I think I have asked for cross between a Bowie 80’s cut and a Rupert Everett 90’s. A female hairdresser comes to my aid, “He thinks you want a long back and front.” I’m interested to find out what that might look like, but I suspect I might look like the lead singer of Kasabian after a heavy night out. When I was a student in the 80’s you could model for designer saloons, and I visited a posh one on King’s Street, Manchester, and after a wait, a man that was dressed like Roy Chubby Brown on a stag do appeared, he even had the goggles on his head (honestly), camper than a row of illuminated taffeta Christmas trees, he uninvitedly ran his fingers through my hair and exclaimed in a camp vibrato, “I’ll shave it aaalll offf, and leave a single thin whisp to flick across. That’s all I can offer you!” “No, you fucking won’t.” With that my hair modelling days were gone in the caress of an effete hairdresser’s moisturised fingers. I would have looked like I was emphasising with cancer patients. About this time, I had a number 3 all over, and thought it looked quite suave, picture a cross between Brad Pitt and Jude Law, my girlfriend at the time took one look and said, “You look like you’ve just come out a concentration camp!” – unkind, to say the least, apologies Brad and Jude.

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We go a day trip to Rio Lagratos, – Alligator River, there are no alligators, only crocodiles. It is a great place to see flamingos, eat fresh fish, and just to prove you are a proper tourist cover yourself in think grey mineral mud, which supposedly exfoliates the skin and makes you live for a thousand years, and also give you an opportunity to look (more) ridiculous on social media.

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We fully access all areas of another interesting Mayan ruin on the journey back, Ek Balam, our Guide, Roberto, knows everyone, this proves useful as an Archaeologist from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City is working on preserving, an already well-preserved freeze, because this particular chamber has been completely hermetically sealed for 1,000 years, not seen by another human eye. We are invited in like VIPs. I try to think what I was doing a 1,000 years ago? Catching the plague and dying.

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The roads on the Yucatan are straight, Romanesque, there are no meanders or deviations to keep you awake, you can see the vanishing distant point, clearly, like when you had to draw railway lines in junior school. The worry now is Roberta’s head is lightly lilting to the ‘eyes closed’ position, I offer to drive several times when I think he is going to give us a closer look at the adjacent roadside ditches – spoiler alert, we don’t crash, but our chances would have been greatly increased if I had fallen asleep as well.

 

Next time: This is the end, my beautiful friends.

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

blocklinecol3 (6)

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

BookCoverImage

 

 

#17 Literally swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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The bus across Belize to Belize City, not the capital, at one-point cuts through a quiet cemetery, not a deviation, the main route, like you might stop off on a sightseeing tour to observe the resting places of the dead. We have just missed the ferry out to Caye Caulker, this allows us to wander around the city centre, the people are friendly, there is a distinct Caribbean feel with New Zealand architecture. We sit on a restaurant veranda people watching. Talking to the manager, I’m still not up to speed with everyone speaking English. He tells us of the corruption at the top of the government and by several wealthy families, this is a familiar story.

I’ve always wanted to visit Belize, it has an amazing biodiversity. When I first started teaching I used to play an ecology board game with the pupils, based in Belize, but I will admit I had to look up where it was beforehand. The SAS do their jungle training here, but I never saw any – hey have been camouflaged? We’ve done enough jungles, so we are hurtling across the Caribbean Sea to Caye Caulker, the sun bouncing off everything, past the stilted wooden fishing huts.

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We have a westerly sea-front apartment, it’s quite magnificent, we’ve gone up market, this opulence was on the bucket list before we set off. The coffee machine is a delight, air conditioned, and you can see why the Canadian couple that run the place have semi-retired here. There is something here for everyone, we bump into many people we have befriended previously, that night, you can’t miss people on Caulker – both an advantage and a disadvantage! It also reminds you that as much as you think you are a cutting-edge independent traveller, you are only beating the track many thousands have already beaten. We meet David that night, you can party hard here, and he looks as though he has just come out of a hostage situation, followed by a festival, he wearily tells us he doesn’t think he can manage another night ‘on it’, and his Canadian friend, Marco has partied so hard, he has run out of the onward funds to get to his sister’s wedding in Ireland in a few weeks. The Split bar at the end of the island, with the fast-flowing tidal current is the place for the young to go and exchange travel stories and bodily fluids.

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The mini-supermarkets all appear to be run by Chinese, Caulker is a stepping stone for them, corruption revolves around getting a passport, and once you have one, you can move onto America more easily. The wife asks the young female assistant if they have any long-life milk and she returns with fly-catching paper! I pretend to be a self-milking cow and she returns with a police officer, only joking, two police officers!, only joking… long life milk – there are no cows on Caye Caulker, but there are plenty of mosquitoes and as we walk back in the semi-darkness, a lot of scuttling. The scuttling turns out be various species of quite large crabs, if you are afraid of crabs, especially ones you can’t see until you are upon them, avoid Caulker. Think of the yet unwritten Stephen King book, The Crabs. There is a very large stubborn one on our porch, which I have to shoo off, it looks at me as if to say, ‘I know where you live, and I have these nipping castanets!’

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One of the many joys of the tiny island is the bakery where the bread and sweet delights are baked daily. I pop out on a borrowed push bike every morning and sing, ‘Rain Drops keep falling on my Head’ in a jovial ironic out of tune way.

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Another reason we have come to Belize is for me to dive the Great Blue Hole, a beautiful dive site 70km off the coast, as the name aptly suggests it is a big blue hole, and divers hold it up there as a must dive. I’m chatting to a dive master about it, telling him about our previous travels and he advises, ‘It is just a deep blue hole on a reef, the dugongs have come in to breed, we have spotted them every day for almost a week, this side of the reef, that would be better for you, I think?’ I have seen most animals and fish in the sea, but the only animal I want to see are dugongs (manatees, sea-cows), I even considered going to the Gulf of California to observe them, but then the chances are slim. So instead of travelling to look at a 124m deep by 318m wide oubliette, we are now going looking for manatees. To say I’m excited is an understatement, when the dive master cautiously says there is never a 100% chance of a sighting, but I would say there’s  minimum of 80%.

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There are only seven passengers on the boat the next day, among them a newly-wed Scouse couple, Lianne and Simon – an ex-diving instructor. We spot the most beautiful of the turtles – a Hudson turtle, rays, dolphins and many species of shark, including nurse sharks, these ‘couch potatoes of the sea’ are usually solitary and nocturnal, but have changed their behaviour as they are constantly fed by tourists, this angers Lianne, a member of the Shark Conservation Trust.

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On the last snorkelling stop of the day, where he says we have the most chance of spotting the manatees, the captain points to the water and I think he’s saying, here is the best spot, but he is pointing to say he has seen one. I don’t believe him, as we can see nothing. I’m about to burst with excitement, along with Lianne and James, the wife is observing us, trying to make sense of it all, telling me not to get my hopes too high. Visibility is about 30m and we swim off as a group in the direction the captain is adamant they will be found. We search for about 15 minutes, then I spot a solitary one in the distance, I can feel the adrenalin making me smile under the water and I approach it guardedly. It laconically swims up to me, two feet from my face for a closer look – they have very poor eye-sight. I’m face to face with a male dugong, it casually turns and flippers off – mariners used to think they we mermaids due to their body shape and rear flipper (tail fluke). He dives towards a sleeping female on the sandy seabed. We float and watch from the surface; another female appears, and her and the male kiss. Simon has an underwater camera and is taking photos. We watch them until it is time to go, get back on the boat, unable to contain our excitement, this is the most amazing sea-spectacle I have ever witness in my life, and a toss-up with pink-river dolphins in the Amazon.

‘Is this better than seeing pumas in the wild?’ The Wife asks me aloud and the sharp look that Simon, Lianne and I give her is her answer.

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You decide?

We cruise past a mangrove swamp on the way home, but everything else that day will be anticlimactic. The wife has too much rocket-fuel rum punch and in her inebriated state tries to get $20,000 out of the service till. We meet up with Simon and Lianne later and I start to catch up the wife’s intoxicated state. To celebrate life, travels, and most of all magnificent creatures of the ocean, already knowing that the memories of three sea mammals in distant warm tropical waters will wash over us and warm us forever.

 

Next time: From Manatee to Yucatan, Every Woman, Every Man.

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

blocklinecol3 (3)

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

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#11  Oh look, there’s a jungle cat and its offspring: Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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Corcovado National Park is magical. I was hoping to see turtles nesting at night on the huge golden deserted beaches, but we are not in luck, neither are the young British volunteers, and they’ve been out every night for a week.

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The highlight is tracking and finding pumas, a mother and a juvenile. They often leave the thick cover of the forest at this time of year in search of the newly laid turtle eggs.

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This will be the wildlife highlight for The Wife, but will be secondary for me, as the photo at the start may indicate. I particularly like the tame band (I looked it up) of coatis, that carry on eating around you like animated characters from a Disney cartoon as you pass them in the jungle.

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The place we have stayed in, Finca Exotica Eco Lodge is fantastic, but a tad expensive, for example, a glass of wine is $7, I drink beer to help or finances, but the budget is shot, and we both have a spare kidney to sell when we get home. Our room has open sides and bats fly through at night – not scary, very exciting. All guests eat together, which adds to the community feel of the place, as like-minded people share stories and break bread. I would highly recommend it, especially if you are only away for a few weeks. You can actually fly in, as there is rudimentary airstrip, that was once part of the gold mining in the area a century back. ‘The plane, boss, the plane’, is what it feels like when a plane arrives.

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The only drawback of being slap bang in the middle of a rain forest is all your clothes get damp, even the ones in your case, it’s a small inconvenience. If you are going for the wildlife alone, I would make the journey to The Amazon, everywhere is secondary to there. The collective is just as invigorating on the way back to Puerto Jimenez. The young guy in charge of the tickets has laconically said he will sort us a small hire-car out at what seems like a ridiculously low price for the nine days we have left in the country, it is the low season, and he has.

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So, we have wheels, something we should have done a week before and cut out a lot of hassle. We drive back to the seafront where we meet Tim and Chloe yet again. They have adopted a stray ranch dog they have found on the street in San Miguel, that kept following them. They are paying for the vets bills and the air flight to get him back to Colorado, about a US$1,000. In a way it’s commendable, although, I wouldn’t do it – all paid for by marijuana growing, you can add your own moral to this story.

We are trying to get to Monteverde cloud forest, but we are lost in the dark on a Friday night, weekend nights in Costa Rica are notorious for drunk/drug drivers, and we are on route 1, The Trans Pan-American Highway, full of uncompromising trucks and cars that don’t always dip their beams as the hurtle towards you. I’ve been driving for four hours and need to get off the road. We end up in a town called Oronita, driving the wrong way down a main one-way street, this is a strong indication it is time to rest. The people are friendly, the food is good. Our Friday is spent with the locals, mainly men, in bar singing karaoke songs. It is an interesting night, a window on another world: same but different. When the same very pissed guy tries to focus hard on The Wife’s face, but his eyes seem to go in and out of vision on her breasts, and when they abate for a second, he asks her to dance again. Forgetting she has refused him the first time, it is probably time for bed, and The Wife chooses me!

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Next Time: #12 Crocodiles, Cloud Forests & Selfies: Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

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Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

BookCoverImage

 

#11 Celebrating the Rain. Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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It’s worth paying for a guide on the short walk through the San Miguel Antonio National Park, in our case the enthusiastic Nathan ­- enthusiasm has to be number one on the job spec for tour guides, it’s very rare to find a guide that is not enthusiastic, the hybrid teachers/custodians of the natural world. He points out many animals we would have missed, especially with the use of his telescope (not a euphemism!); bats, lizards, three species of monkey.

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Some people have told us they didn’t see much, but we saw more animals on this short walk than any other place in Costa Rica, or Central America, and all in less than an hour and a half. The end of the tour leads to a lovely sandy bay. Some parts around the river, the short cut back over a bridge were restricted due to the chance of being eaten by crocodiles. That would have eclipsed the previous days mishaps, they have partly evaporated now, (see last week’s blog).

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‘Getoutadda water!’

Back at the hotel that night a young Canadian is playing great music, he’s 21, moved here to escape the extreme cold of Quebec. He sings in French, Spanish and English. He casually tells us about the ubiquity of drugs. How he had friends in the drugs trade, one night they were all heading to a disco in nearby Quepos, just down the coast, and got pulled over by the police for speeding. When they got into Quepos, the driver casually quips, ‘Good job they didn’t search the trunk, there’s 3kg of coke in there.’ He says that was the wake-up call to cut them lose, we listen to the redemptive story, then he casually adds, ‘But I still carry a gun!’ It makes him feel safer he informs us! It makes us feel more European, as we don’t allow people easy access to guns so they can shot their school ‘friends’ and ex-teachers, spouses, neigbours, intruders, shoppers, concert attendees, add some of your own to the list.

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It is here we meet a Colorado couple, I’m going to call them Tim and Chloe, not their real names. Tim is a licenced marijuana growing in Boulder, difficult to think of there without thinking of ‘Mork and Mindy’. He works for a big company making US$50K per year and another US$100K growing it in his basement to sell – his ‘home-grown’ is putting his wife through medical school, ‘The American Dream’ in action! For my American hombres, in Britain marijuana is a class B drug, the scale only goes down to C! ‘One person’s cigarette is another’s prison sentence!’ He is a fascinating character, even though he holds me personally responsible for Brexit, and is adamant that there is no way Trump can win!! – add some more exclamations marks if you so wish. He, like many liberal-lefties have not yet worked out Donald is a genius, like, the biggest genius in the world! He has a degree in botany (not Trump, he has a degree in lobotomy, I think, that’s why he might be a genius?), and we discuss all things horticultural and economic. We will bump into Tim and Chloe a few times on our travels. The bar manager is also from Colorado, the Costa Rican barista is the singer’s girlfriend, so a few drinks in the bar ends up including; beer, local cocktails, plus tequila sunrises, and red wine – not the best options to operate heavy machinery the next day, luckily, we only have to operate ourselves.8df39a36f6e8739b3b2fcb3b4ae6-guns-dont-kill-people-people-kill-people

We are getting a shuttle bus to the southern end of Corcovado National Park, via Puerto Jimenez. When the bus pulls into Palme North, about half the way there, the driver jumps out and starts chatting to the driver of the public bus and tells us and three other people that this bigger coach will take us onwards. I ask the driver if he has sorted out the fare with the driver and he says, ‘yes, he has’, it transpires, he hasn’t and we have to pay the local fair of $8, this is on top of the $40 we have paid the driver. The reason he is keen to deposit us, he has to drive to Drake, where most of the younger travels are heading, saving him about 6 hours extra driving – the exact same thing has happened to several others we have met. This is another example of unscrupulous drivers. My advice yet again is to just hire a small cheap car.

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Puerto Jimenez is sleepy bewitching sort of place, we sit overlooking the bay drinking cold beers and watching out for dolphins. We are here to get a collectivo three hours down the coastal track to an ecolodge deep in the rain forest. We have a close friend that worked in Costa Rica, and he says his only regret was not staying deep in the Corcovado jungle, so we have gone upmarket. The collectivo truck looks like a supply truck from the second world war, it delivers everything down the track, people, letters and goods.

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I peer out from above the cab, this is brilliant, invigorating, but very basic, ‘hang onto your fillings’ travel. We are traveling into a tropical rain forest in the ‘Amazon’ of Central America, Scarlet and green Macaws flutter hither and tither, birds of prey dot the sky, I spot two eating snakes beside the roadside, the sun on your face – life can get better than this, but not much, believe me, the wind in your hair, we are alive, we are young once more.

 

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#10 They come in threes! Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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It is our first night in Coast Rica, we are both stood at a service till in a leafy suburban district of San Jose on a Sunday night looking at the receipt having taken the money, trying to work out the exchange rate, and the till swallows the card back in – it’s a preloaded card with the lowest conversation rate. We decide to go back the next day when the bank is open.

We have booked a shuttle bus to San Miguel on the coast with the Gray Line Bus Company the next day. The Wife has gone off to the bank to get the card back, the bus has turned up thirty minutes early. So, I pack the bags inside and tell the driver my wife is just around the corner at the bank, we drive to the bank. The Wife has been gone nearly an hour and getting the card back is proving harder than anticipated as the bank are ultra-cautious about its provenance. The driver has only been waiting a few minutes and is in moaning-overdrive. I reassure him, having popped into the bank she won’t be long. Another five minutes and she’s still not returned, he’s now threatening to drop me and the bags back at the hotel. The situation is not helped by the non-return of The Wife, then he loses patience and drives me back to the hotel, dumps me and our bags outside and The Wife confused as she leaves the bank (without the card – they have no access to the machine!) and I’m, and the shuttle bus are not there. Just phone her I hear you say, herein lies another problem. I have either lost my phone or had it stolen in Havana, the later me thinks, and I may be being unkind here after the positive things I have said about Cubans, minus Havanan taxi drivers. But when I have got to the airport, checked nothing has been left in the taxi, then realised at the check-in my phone is not in my shorts pocket. I suspect the cleaner has kicked it under the settee of the Airbnb. We had a generous tip to give her and at the last minute our friends wanted to meet for lunch, so we used most of the money to pay for the food, so the tip was not as large as she was expecting judging by her expression, the iphone was charging on the floor next to the settee, and I thought The Wife had picked it up with the charger. When I very tactfully contact the owner of the accommodation, a close friend of the cleaner, and suggest it may have been kicked by accident by one of us under the settee in the rush to leave, she replies: ‘Cubans are honourable people and what you are suggesting is unhonourable!’ Alarm bells start to ring, bells that could have been avoided by giving the cleaner a more generous tip! But ‘thin-slicing’ the initial psychological gut feeling that your first thought, is normally the right one, I think the cleaner did it!

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I cannot be 100% sure it was the cleaner, and I want to believe it isn’t, but I take the moral high ground and refuse to put a comment on their Airbnb homepage, rather than something negative and inflammatory – no one can get into the phone anyway, it’s just an ornament or more likely, spares only.

So, The Wife has walked back to the hotel for me to tell her that the shuttle bus has gone without us. The hotel travel agent rings the company and explains, we offer to pay half the fare tomorrow if they will meet us half way financially, they categorically refuse. It’s cost us US$150, then add the same fare again the next day if we are to go by bus. The Wife is fuming. I decide to ask a tour guide that is dropping people off if he is interested in taking us, he will do it for US$120. So, we end up in San Miguel that night, 2km out of the centre. They have come in threes;

  1. The iphone, which I was doing everything on in Cuba – for this reason, I feel devastated at its loss! And I come from a pre-mobile, meet you every hour on the hour behind the mixing desk generation. I can only get a small measure of what it must be like for addicted millennials that have them strapped to their wrists like an extra brain? If I was at home, I would just get another one. When I get home, I upgrade from a 5 to a 6, I can see the screen much better, (and millennials do not sneer at me as much), so something positive has come from the loss.

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2. Being ripped off at Mexico City airport, which has cost in the region of another £450 extra.

3. Ripped-off by the Gray Line Bus Company, and now no pre-loaded card, and the American card company cannot get a new one to us, as we have no fixed abode in the Americas. We have other cards.

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The bus shuttle hassle would have been negated if we had just hired a car from the start. They are cheap in Costa Rica, and it’s the best way to get around and see more.

We are sat in the room at the budget hotel, which is another US$200 for three nights. We don’t normally stay higher end, but have a rule when we fly into an unknown foreign country we stay in ‘nice’ accommodation until we have our bearings. The Wife starts to cry, this is very unlike her: “Let’s just go home. This would never have happened to us when we travelled when we were younger, or when we went around the world with the kids.” She goes through the last three recent mishaps and I start to reassure her. The phone is just a phone, it can be replaced, the airport was just one of those things, and the major one, the one she feels responsible for, as she has primarily in charge of finances – the massive overspend. I tell her we have savings, but we will not be able to take over two months off work and travel for many years to come. She is only partly relieved.

I have gone into detail about these three events, and they all happened within a four-day time-frame, as you will always encounter trials and tribulations if you are away for months travelling independently – let’s face it, shit can happen at home and sometimes without leaving our own dwellings. It’s about resilience, the old cliché, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ And if I’m being honest, having a few quid in your back pocket to travel though the occasional shit-storm helps. They came in a three like another staid cliché, but that was the worst of the time while we were away.

We are sat in the bar, a couple of drinks inside us, and The Wife agrees, we shouldn’t worry about the money, it’s annoying, but like I always tell her. ‘When we get to the end of our lives, we will have more money that we can spend, and we will be glad we lived a bit, while we had the health and the enthusiasm to do it’ – I’ll get back to you on my death-bed on that one.

I asked a famous economist once, I was in my mid-twenties and going out with his great niece at the time, what advice he would give someone my then age about money, he didn’t need to think, he replied without skipping a beat: “Enjoy yourself while you can, don’t worry about pensions and investments. I’ve got more money than I know what to do with, and that’s about it, you’re a long time old, have some fun.” – Somethings stay with you and travel through life with you, a touchstone.

A few moons ago I did a course on Conflict Resolution and one of the tenets that stuck with me was ‘positive peace’ –  out of something negative, something positive occurs. The relaxing of money worries, made for a better holiday… and a better outlook on life.

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Next Time: Celebrating the Rain.

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

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@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

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#9 Then the food changed into Technicolor! Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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Your world can only be viewed in black and white like you have been transported down a worm-hole to 1940’s Britain, rationing is still stalking the nation. You have been asked to cook a Michelin star meal for Winston Churchill with no alcohol, only three ingredients and a broken oven that uses marsh gas – You might kill yourself by accident, or on purpose. I’m painting a picture, an Alan Partridgesque picture for dramatic effect, but not with oil paints, sat a modern desktop computer. Then you are transported in the opposite direction through another worm-hole, what are the chances – ‘improbable’ would be a layman’s evaluation. You are now in a hotel in Mexico City, the capitol city of Mexico, that has all the internet in the world, you are tired after travelling, it’s late at night and you order a green ensalada tortilla, you put a spoonful in your mouth and you literally explode in ecstasy, fragments of you are stuck all over the walls, blood, sinew, brain and viscera drip everywhere, it’s that good (well, it is after a month in Cuba), you want to cry – happy tears, not sad ones, and the world turns from black and white into Technicolour.

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You’re in your own heavenly scene from the Wizard of Oz, but not being attacked by deranged monkeys and the nasty witches are all dead – Ding! Dong”!

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That’s what it felt like, an epicurean delight. A friend once told me that he went for a posh meal on a significant birthday, and the sticky toffee pudding was so good he cried. If I had not received an Alan Partridge book for Christmas, that’s how I might have explained it! Another friend told me that when her grandma came over from India in the 1970’s she looked behind the tele to try and see the little men inside. This is how having the internet for the first two days felt like, the last two times in Havana, where you have to go to a public space to use the internet, it had either not worked or been so slow, you just gave in.

Mexico City is great place to visit, we are only here for three nights, mainly as it is the cheapest way to fly out of Cuba. The only thing that is disconcerting about the centre is the groups of armed riot police. On our meanderings we spot three lots of about twenty police-officers. Normally bored, playing on their phones. I ask many people why? I get variations on a theme, to protect the people, protect property, for reassurance, it has the opposite effect on me – It all adds up to the same thing, Mexico can be a dangerous place! Although we never saw any trouble, between 15,000 to 25,000 people die every year in the drug war related deaths. Take the average of those figures, and it’s a fifth of a million people in ten years!! This is the reason we will be flying over El Salvador, which is even worse than Mexico. What is worrying and quite eerie is how fast the centre of the heavily protected Mexico City shuts down on an early evening, by nine it’s dead. One instant all the shops are open, crowds of people throng the streets, and then virtually nothing, a few convenience stores and a smattering of restaurants. It is so spooky we decide to eat in the hotel the second evening, we are just behind the main cathedral –  The Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven – if she’s not got in, there is little chance for anyone else! The reason I suspect there is such a large visible police presence on the streets is to protect tourists. A dead foreign tourist is bound to make the news back home, another dead Mexican is very unlikely!

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Due to time restrictions we take two bus tours. The place you have to visit is the Anthropological Museum, always in the top ten of world museums. It’s a spectacular building, filled with the most amazing Mayan, Incan and Aztec collections. The Sun Stone (The Stone of the Five Eras) at 24 tons and 3.5m in diameter is a must-see. Due to time constraints it is the only museum we actually visit – less is definitely more in this case.

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The Wife has been here before. Towards the end of our visit to the anthropological museum she casually says. ‘Yeah, I’ve been to this museum before with the Chicas.’ ‘The Chicas’ are set of her female friends that go away most years to drink cocktails in hot countries. ‘You leave it until now to casually tell me this?’ ‘Yeah, if I’d have told you earlier, you would have expected me to know a lot more, and where things are.’

I am glad we have visited Mexico City, it was much more invigorating and exciting than I envisaged. We are flying to San Jose in Costa Rica. The rich-coast country is top of my list for the two and half months we are away, simply for the wildlife. It’s early in the morning at the airport, we have our outbound tickets out with Interjet, but they are scamming us, and many others. Telling us we need some proof of leaving Costa Rica, The Costa Ricans don’t care and don’t enforce this, but it is an easy way of Mexican airlines making a lot of money. We have to change our tickets from 9am to 8pm to sort out what to do – a full day in an airport. When I ask where we change our ticket with their airline, the attendant casually points to the terminal next to him, ‘This is our travel agent!’ This is very annoying curveball and in retrospect, quite easily avoidable, happens in other South and Central American countries regularly, so, beware. Two options are either to buy a cheap bus ticket over the boarder out of the country you are flying to, even if you don’t use it, or another great alternative is FlyOnward.com. This company basically lets you rent an onward ticket for US$9.99. They purchase it in your name, send you the confirmation via e-mail, and you can show / print to convince the airline. (Fly Onward cancels the ticket after two days – you can’t actually use the ticket.) It is quick to do, and great if you are actually undecided where to go next. The beauty is you don’t spend hours trying to get a refund for a ticket you don’t actually use.

Like I’ve said, Mexico is the cheapest way to get out of Cuba, and if you’ve never been to Mexico City – go, it’s wonderful. We went before Mr Trump was elected and the talk of an enormous pantomime wall to be paid for by the Mexicans themselves was not an imagined reality. If you are an American at the airport pretend to be a democrat, even if you’re not, and when they look suspiciously at your passport and then accusingly back up at you, get in first blow with ‘The wall is fake news!’ (Don’t do the accent, or sex-pest any women, or call Mexico a shit-hole, nothing good will come of that,) if that fails, pretend to be Canadian!

 

Next Time: They come in threes.

 

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

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Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

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#7 THE bus toilet incident (The walk of shame!) Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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There are two reasons we are making the six-hour journey to the farthest end of Cuba to Baracoa, firstly we have not been bowled over by Santiago, and secondly, I’m adamant that ‘there must be’ some tasty food somewhere on this island of 11.5 million people, and Baracoa is renowned for its ‘special’ Caribbean spicy sauce.

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We pass through Guantánamo, famous for two things to the outside world, Guantanamera (there’s only one Guantananera-a-a), the patriotic song about the girl from Guantanamo (Guantanamera is the Spanish for Guantanamo), and,

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the American sponsored Muslim holiday camp, in no way illegal and a breach of any human rights, this for me is like Trump getting elected, an illegal interrogation (Interrogation is American-English for torture!) centre, by a prozy country that hates you, and the people in power in the country you are detained in now have the other Castro brother in charge, that have both survived dozens of assignation attempts (although Fidel was the decoy for Raul), that would quite happily torture, the torturers happily torturing! (Wheels within wheels, outside wheels! – You can’t make this stuff up!) For this reason and many more I crane my neck as we get somewhere near the GITMO naval base, home to nearly ten-thousand American service personnel, allegedly protecting the Panama Canal – I wonder if the Chinese will set up a naval base to protect their investment in the Guatemala ship canal they are building to rival the Panama one? – We all know the answer already! All I can make out from the distance is a watch-tower and defiant stars and stripes flying aloft in the breeze.

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Apparently, inmates, both captives and interrogators were subjected to thirty-hours of the same song on a loop; Queens, We are the Champions of the World, Take Your Best Shot by Dope and Fuck You God, by Deicide, I understand the irony of the first two, but the last one is sending out very some mixed messages to monotheistic religions with the big fella at the pyramid! Saturday Night Fever is a strange choice, surely, Stayin Alive would have worked much better?

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But there is one, that baffles me, and it’s one of my very favourite tunes of all time, David Gray’s, Babylon. Chosen because of its biblical connotations, eh up, surely after a day of listening to this on a loop very loud, you realise there is not much ‘religious connotation’ in it, unless love and ecstasy are a new religion?

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I could quite easily listen to this on a loop interspersed with being force feed through a tube and waterboarded – total disclosure, I have never tried it! If you’re as baffled as me by all this, read more here: https://mic.com/articles/87851/11-popular-songs-the-cia-used-to-torture-prisoners-in-the-war-on-terror#.63IUyMIGw

 

Baracoa is a strange but enchanting place, sometimes as a traveller/tourist you step outside your body and observe yourself observing the new environment/culture/people. Here feels like that to me, the people going about their everyday business and you watching them in a Truman Showesque way. Baseball is the national sport of Cuba, at the end of pretty much the only sandy beach in the town is a baseball stadium, it is an impressive structure, especially from a distance, enormous in relation to all around – pretty much only a few low-level houses, a bit of sand and a flat sea, it rises up incongruously, white and spectacular.

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It draws you in, but as you get closer and up to it, it’s fighting a constant battle against the briny sea air, and looks like it’s coming off second best, inside it’s just as impressive. This stadium, and I exaggerate not, is actually on the beach! It is ‘Fields of Dreams.’ ‘Build it and they will come!’, but there are only about 80,000 people close enough to come. This stadium will stay with me forever, I get chatting to a craftsman inside the empty stadium and he fills me in with lots of facts, they can’t obviously compete with the big cities; Havana, Santiago, Cienfuegos and Camaguey, they are the Leicester City of Cuban Baseball. He tells me there are trials in a few days’ time, free to the public. I would be there, but we have booked onto a tour of the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park – I would love to see and hear the thwack of leather on wood in this mesmerising place – I’m so tempted to cancel the national park – I have no interest in baseball normally, it’s just ‘men-rounders’ and I have a degree in Ecology and a love of natural history. This is how captivating this stadium on the beach is!

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So, Lechita sauce (coconut, tomatoes, garlic and spices) is one of the reasons we have travelled to the farthest end of the island from Havana. In all honesty it is tastiest food I’ve sampled in Cuba, but it is no better than you would get in a supermarket packet back home, we are discussing this when the proud manager of the restaurant with the best Trip Advisor reputation (not much competition) sidles up to our table and asks, what we think of the food, as I’m about to give an honest considered opinion, The Wife espouses,

“It’s, just okay!” He turns and with a humph of his shoulders, disappears to more agreeable patrons from North Korea!

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

Well, it is, just okay, isn’t it?” (Total disclosure, she does not have Asperger’s syndrome, just a poor filter and lack of tact.)

We are setting off from Baraco to Santiago, a five-hour journey, the bus is well over an hour late coming into the station and when it arrives the rear side front and stairs have been partly mangled, the lights smashed, and the windscreen has a crack running through it and the door is held shut with string, it has hit a lorry in the mountains and come off second best.

We have been happily chatting to an English couple from London, the husband has per-chance bumped into a Cuban-national friend he met here 15 years before, it is heart-warming to watch them at the station, like they are off to war on opposite sides, they are very unlikely to meet again, that’s sad, but this is the gripping hands across the divide stuff – ‘And we made our love on wasteland, And through the barricades,’ I don’t know why I think of the lyrics from this Spandau Ballet song as I watch two men hug and depart, probably forever, this is humanity acting locally, but thinking globally, something the people that run our countries could heed… That was a party-political broadcast from the ‘Global Common-Sense Party!’ The English couple have two very young children, a nine-month and a two-year old, I know what fun looks like, and two under twos travelling independently is not ‘it’, e.g. The wife is juggling a whinging the nine-month old later on the bus, whilst trying to read a novel, this looks like extreme reading to me, and could only be harder if she were trying in to do it under water and ironing at the same time! My wife says maybe we should help, I inform her I’ve done larval stage with my own children, and just watching this couple is absolutely exhausting.

After an hour and a half, we stop at the brother in laws place in the hills for refreshments, my bowels are corrugating. I try to relieve them, but they are like a lone-wolf misanthrope and refuse to be relieved. I think I hear them say, ‘keep your friends close, keep your enemas closer still’, I know which I am! The bus sets off again, then my bowels ebb and flow with greater potency and I’m caught in the bob and swell. Total disclosure, number three, there is a toilet at the back of the coach, that you can smell every time the door opens and what is about to depart from me should not be inflicted on humans with any sense of smell, never mind those in unfortunate close proximity to the washroom, believe me Americans, you would not wash in there afterwards, even euphemistically! So, for the second time I approach the co-driver and in my best Spanish taught to me by a Nazi (see last week’s blog), I proclaim, ‘Estoy un poco enfermo’, (I’m a little ill), forgetting the bus is held together by string. They inform me the bus will stop in San Antonio, I know this is before Guantánamo, so I think I can hang on a few minutes, a few minutes turn into twenty-five, The Wife is holding up a 5 CUC coin and asking me what it is worth in Cuban pesos, this is not a difficult calculation, but the bus has pulled over and the driver has climbed out of his window, I’m thinking I should do the same, he has gone to buy bananas, it is a national holiday the next day, inconveniencing fifty passengers and one in particular, I think this is it, toilet nirvana, and as I get up, he jumps back in and drives off again, the bastard! The Wife is still wittering on about the coin’s value held between us like a two-year old, she has an O-Level in maths! I get up and proclaim louder and more assertively this time to the co-driver, ‘Mi poco enfermo’, they feel obliged to pull over at a row of modern double-storey hoses, I’m watching like a hawk a very old-man leave his dwelling while the co-driver disentangles the string to open the door, I leap from the bus, just as the old-man turns the key in the lock and places it deep within his jacket pocket – the bastard!, by the time I have explained and he has unlocked it, it will be too late – if a siren is not going off, it should be! So, I burst through the open door of the house next door to the surprise of a startled middle-aged women watching tele. ‘mi poco enfermo’ and I vigorously rub my stomach, whilst looking pained, which is not hard, ‘oh,’, she replies and thinks I have come to call for her son!! She shouts up the stairs for Estevo, I’m very close to the worst of all social embarrassments now and I’m thinking the toilet has to be upstairs and just making a dash for it, I repeat my plea and pathos to Estevo as he descends into the living room, and thankfully he understands the strange gringos urgency and points to the back of the house and right, I just, only just, make it, relieved I get up only to have to sit down again, I’m in toilet-nirvana, now, eventually, it’s safe for everyone, if I get back on the bus. I try to give them money but ironically only have my emergency bus station toilet money, about twenty pence, the lovely Cuban people in the middle of nowhere with a flushing toilet are obviously offended, but I have made the gesture.(StCP!)

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Meanwhile The wife is telling the inquisitive bus that think I have a long-lost friend here, like the English guy earlier, about my toilet abrupta exploits, someone is translating for the benefit of the Spanish speakers (I am not making this up for comic effect, unfortunately!) As I leave the house fifty pairs of eyes are fixed on me as I make the walk of shame up the path of the house, and then the full length of the pavement adjacent to the bus, I feel obliged to report back to the whole bus when three people ask if I’m ok now? – as I make the second walk of shame back to my seat in the middle. The Wife is confused and I’m reticent to tell her all the full details unless she stands up and broadcasts it to the other passengers to be followed by laughter, then a second wave of laughter when translated!

“Did you go behind a bush?” The Wife asks.

“No, in the house there.” I point to my toilet facilitating friends stood in their open doorway waving as we pull off. (Again, I’m not making this up!)

“Some strangers house, what did they say?” She tries to clarify, bemused.

“Not sure, I was trying not to shit myself in a complete strangers Cuban house!” She laughs unkindly.

What, you just burst in?”

“Yeah, the alternative consequence did not bear thinking about, needs must when the devil drives.” She laughs further, unkindly, then snorts out even more laughter for good measure.

“Did you not just go behind a bush?”

“Can you see any bushes in their front gardens?”

What, a Complete strangers house?” She is still bemused, or the world’s best actor.

“Estevo was a complete stranger a few minutes ago, not any more, still not sure what mama’s called.” She carries on laughing like an unkind lunatic.

“I’ve never met anyone with such a delicate stomach as you.”

“I have the constitution of a royal, I’m descended from Louis the Fortieth and Beau Brummell, not peasant’s like you.” Occasionally over the next thirty minutes before we pull into Guantamamo, she just looks at me shakes her head and smiles – unkindly.

“At least I can do basic maths, it’s 1.25 pesos, you retard!” I reply, when I’ve have had enough of unkind admonishments.

This is The Wife’s favourite travel anecdote of the jaunt, normally her eyes glaze over when I recount a story from the various slings and arrows of embarrassing misfortune that have befallen me in my existential struggle though life, but this one delights her perversely, to such an extent she will actually say, ‘Tell them about the bus journey in Cuba’ then laugh beforehand, if The Wife laughs with just the strap line it has to be funny, and involve discomfort social-embarrassment and self-effacing parody on my behalf. Then as I start to recount the story, that even I’m getting bored with, she will start to laugh ahead of me and everyone else… unkindly!

* StCP! = Supporting the Cuban People

Next Time: Then the food changed into technicolor!

 

 

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

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Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

 

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Key Words: Baracoa, Guantanamo, Guantamemaro, walk of shame, Field of Dreams, Build it and they will come, Lechita sauce, Spandau ballet, Cuba

#6 When it’s gone, it’s gone: Santiago de Cuba. Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America.

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I find Santiago de Cuba underwhelming, I will explain. I’ve done my research, Santiago is the cultural capital of Cuba – try telling that to Havanans. It’s closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than Havana and is heavily steeped in Afro-Caribbean culture. Entrepreneurial and rebellious are adjectives to displace poor, and as the second city you can only compare it to the capital. We have coincided our travels to be in Santiago, the far end of the island from Havana, for the festival to end all festivals some would have us believe! We have fantastic central roof-top accommodation that looks westerly over the harbour, with only four ships of any size berthed, two of these are Chinese (Americas loss, I sense) below the distant rolling hills, it looks spectacular from afar.

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A couple of people contacted me to question if the $25US/month Cuban wage was in fact true, it’s an average. We are told a story of a high school English teacher that earned $50CUC/month, who gave his job up to conduct culture walking tours, the day I spoke to him he had led ten people at $10CUC each, he had made twice is monthly wage in one day! Tourism is the bag to be in. I speak with another teacher when we are browsing in the large indoor market, also an ex high school teacher, that now has a shoe stall and makes $60CUC from that ­- more when tourists are around, and still does private tutoring, like he said – who can survive on $25CUC/month!

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I have learnt my Spanish from a set of cds on the way to work and back for two months. I have smashed the Luminar beginners course – if ever you are a representative of a food company attending a trade-fair in Madrid – I’m your man, although I felt a little cheated that the sexual chemistry between Mr Hanendez and Miss Roberts never conjugated in the present tense! – maybe it does in the advanced course when they get married, have relationship counselling, and eventual divorce? I moved onto intermediate (bought cheap on eBay – it’s my own fault), which consists of what I imagine to be an exiled Nazi war criminal giving Spanish lessons in South America somewhere (sorry I cannot be more specific than that), at least he sounds Germanic, male and life-weary, he spends most of the time berating his English university students, he does also appear to have a Weinsteinian favouritism to the females, his two catch phrases are ‘no, no, no, no, no one will understand you,’ and ‘you must get the push of the verb correct, to get the correct tense, it’s consssensual, not conselssual. Occasionally he reaps praise on one of the women and you can sense their utter relief that they have eventually appeased him – Stockholm syndrome comes to mind. So, one day we set off on a cultural walking tour as outlined in the Lonely Planet, we walk in the general direction of the farthest point to start and will work back towards Plaza Céspedes, near our casa, but half way to the start, we discover we have left the guidebook, containing the detailed route to navigate, it is 35C in the shade and neither of us is willing to go back for it, the blame game starts and we both agree that it’s the other persons fault! I have a good grasp of the route in parts of a foreign city that I never ventured into ever before and I have intermediate Spanish-Nazi to fall back on. I know Pedro Pico (a street named after PP himself –  is the starting point, and with a few ‘Donde esta Pedro Pico?’ We’ll have no problem finding it, two problems here, no local seems to know where Pedro Pico is, if he is a peak, a person, a priest, a shop, or a mime artist we are meeting or trying to find! Secondly, what Herr Eichmann has failed to tell me is that the people will not only not know what/where/who Pedro Pico is, but they will do so in machine-gun Spanish. After my third enquiry of PP and blank faces and machine-gun Spanish, at least I think it’s Spanish? The Wife is like a little dismissive echo, ‘fucking Pedro Pico!’ We eventually find Pedro Pico, it is a little forgettable side road, but not for us! Even now when the Wife is sleeping, and I whisper, ‘donde esta Pedro Pico?’ she will murmur back, ‘fucking pedro pico!’

A friend once told me that when her parents split up and her mother was going through her photograph albums with her new partner, and she was telling him about events with her ex-husband, it meant nothing to her knew partner – why should it, it was a previous life. I always remember this story when I’m living in my car just to ‘get away’ for a few days and it’s these little almost inconsequential events to the rest of the world that are invisible glue – we will always have Pedro Pico and The elephants at Kuala Lumpur Zoo! (https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/6946206-28-a-woman-in-bloom-travails-through-life-sometimes-avoiding-the-p)

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We visit the Museum de Carnival, an aperitif to the carnival proper, the procession is the same night and we are excited after the museum. We have wandered down to have a pre-cursory look at the floats, thinking more will appear later (they don’t). Temporary spectator stands have been erected along the main wide road down by the docks where the flotilla sets out from.  When we return for the allotted start time it appears that everyone apart from the stall vendors are still getting organised. We wait around for a hour and a half, eventually they set off on Cuban time, then appear to stop for another half an hour, there are several ensembles of dancers, we watch most and a few floats – we are underwhelmed and bored, this is dubbed one of the greatest carnivals in the world, there is obviously no trades descriptions act in Cuba. We both agree, ‘Is that it, let’s go and do the other Cuban festival thang and get pissed on rum!’ And pissed we did get, mightily so. We had befriended a young male salsa teacher, Rico, the night before and half-arranged to meet up again with him. He has informed us he will take us to his ‘ghetto festival’ but is baffled to why we would even want to go when the main events are in the centre. I do the Cuban thing and buy a bottle of run and a two-litre bottle of coke, all of a sudden I have lots of friends, people Rico knows, if they’re a friend of Rico, they’re a friend of mine. We have no objection sharing drink with locals, we are in Delores Plaza, a professional sound system has been set up and dancing is occurring, ranging from professional salsa teacher all the way down to inebriated middle-aged gringo on holiday dancing! It’s great vibe, we still want to visit the ‘ghetto carnival’ but Rico is still baffled, he says this is much, much better, so we stay and buy another bottle of rum and coke and we gain even more friends. It’s a great night and we swim home, once home I casually vomit in the toilet, as I do so I think to myself in mid-reflux, ‘this is quite pleasant!’ – that’s when you know you are beyond pissed on Havana Club – I deserve to feel much worse the next day, but I have ejected most of my hangover into the Santiago sewer system.

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We are hassled by the same eccentric drunk the next day, I think his name is Mr Bidido, we endure him the first time, but he hassles us again, forgetting he has hassled us before and The Wife politely says, ‘We just want some privacy’ to which he replies ‘Well, fuck you then!’ in English.

I foolishly have a three-meat bird dish in a restaurant overlooking Delores Plaza, that consists of two unknown fowl and luncheon meat – this is again one of the better tourist restaurants! It can mean only one thing: Imodium on the trip to Baracoa, via Guantanamo, there’s a lovely bay there with a huge military complex on. This ‘bunged-up’ ride will pale into insignificance compared to the bus ride back and the ‘walk of shame’.

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We go and observe the bullet holes in the wall of the military barracks, where the first bungled event of the revelation occurred, almost terminating the path to the victorious republic before it was even born, if you want to an exemplar of how not to lead a guerrilla attack, read about this one, the then barracks is now a high school, has been from 1963, and you can casually wander in and take photos while school is in progress, no one asks us for a police check, DNA sample and two references, like they would in the UK, they are patriotically proud of the bullet holes next to the books.

We struggled to find bottle water at one point one day, and we had to ration what we had. The food often ran out in the restaurants. For example, in one of the better restaurants, next to the museum of carnival I order two dishes from the menu, the waiter says they’re not available, then we spend a few moments choosing an alternative to be told they’re not available, this feels like a sketch from Monty Python, so I ask him what is, he points to three dishes off the extensive list, there is no rice, chicken, tomatoes, green beans, etc, etc, we decide to get a sandwich, to be told the bread has run out, I’m not making this up, this in the second biggest city in Cuba! The answer to the scourge of food is, ‘it’s festival time!’ I semi-sarcastically ask if more people have turned up this year, it shoots above his head when he replies, ‘no, the same.’

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Santiago is a long, long, way behind Havana. I wanted to like it so much more, the pollution is absolutely horrendous, and although there are not many vehicles on the road the belching ancient lorries can instantly reduce your life-expectancy by six months as they pass. Not since India have I experienced pollution so choking. We did eat at one great Caribbean restaurant, St Pauli. It’s a double-edged sword, with more money and freedom, less embargoes, the food would not only be better quality, but actually available, tourism would be better organised, money would pour in and it would be a fantastic destination, but that is obviously not what everyone wants, I’d just be happy with decent available food and drinking water, then I could forgive the carnival to end all carnivals, which I’ve seen better in Moss Side, Manchester.

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P.S. So adamant was I at the time, without the guidebook to hand that it was Pedro Pico, I later realised it was Padro Pico, which makes much more sense, as this is a prominent unmissable tourist attraction, and not an insignificant side street! The Wife never re-checked the route later as I did, and it will always remain my secret – ‘Fucking Pedro Pico!!’

 

Next time:  THE bus toilet incident (The walk of shame!)

 

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

 

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

 

 

#5: The revolution starts here. Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America

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two manatees

Santa Clara slap bang in the middle of Cuba was liberated by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his bandoleros in 1958 when he derailed a military train carrying 350 government troops and munitions, it sounded the death knell for Batista and Guevara is such a hero in these parts that a massive statue is located 2km from the city centre on the outskirts of town. It is the statue, and the museum that marks the spot of the derailing we have mainly come to see, although the museum was shut the day we tried to visit. Santa Clara is supposed to be an artsy edgy cultural centre, it was lovely, but no great shakes if you are on a tight schedule.

Carlo, the casa owner in Trinidad has arranged the next three accommodation places, this is a massive relief for us. I’m not sure if it is because of this, but Maria the owner of the Casa welcomes us like we are her children returning from a bloody war. The bon hommie is smothering, she speaks no English, so we are reliant on my pigeon Spanish, which is fun, but very tiring after a while.

We hired taxi from Trinidad, that we have paid 60CUC (*StCP! – see last week’s blog for average wages in Cuba – $25/month!) and takes an hour and a half, to drop us at the Che memorial first before Maria’s. The imposing Che is keeping watch on the very outskirts of town and fields – in case the local farmers rise up! Unsurprisingly it’s a very impressive memorial to the cigar smoker of the year 1959.

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Fidel Castro won it the year before in my completely made up poll to save time, Winston Churchill had a good run before, J F Kennedy did well just after, if George Burns is still alive(?) I should put him somewhere! Che smoking cigars was quite bad idea as he was a severe asthmatic! Dipping them in honey would have helped very little, but it gives you something to do when your waiting for another guerrilla battle to fight or a train to derail!

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With no internet we cannot book a bus at the station for the next day, but like the way of the world, Maria knows someone and we are sorted. If you can get a local to book your bus it saves a lot of hassle and queuing. The bus station toilet is up to public Cuban standards, they don’t do minus-star ratings in Cuba for obvious reasons. There is a cubicle designed for a pit pony and men at urinals nonchalantly ignore me, like I’m a naughty dwarf that has been sent out of class for tampering with himself! Until one fella looks in, not hard to achieve, and I reply a belligerent, pitiful ‘hola’, to which, thankfully he does not reply or strike up a conversation! Surprise, surprise, the toilet does not flush and I take the cistern lid off as experience of two previous casas gives me a good idea how to fix plumbing in Cuba, it is half full of water and disintegrating toilet paper! I maybe misguided, but I’m public spirited! Other urinators look on at the gringo on holiday trying to the fix plumbing! My Spanish isn’t good enough to do dismissive Spanish swearing, but I have a GCSE in International Body Language, so I know it is not something the casual toilet visitor would be prepared to undertake! I tell the attendant that the toilet is ‘se rompe’ it is broken, and begrudgingly he brings a bucket in to flush my embarrassment away in what appears to be a pilot episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm!’ I make a quick(ish) exit. The toilet opens into a café and the there’s one door with inadequate plantation shutters, health and safety would be apoplectic!

The bus takes 7 hours instead of 4, not helped by stopping at a Bali Hai type service station for nearly an hour and a half while the tourists held captive are fleeced or go hungry. We eventually reach Camagüey, everyone’s preferred destination except the drivers – there’s always two drivers on a bus in Cuba, the unions would not have it any other way!

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This looks like an extensive, efficient rail system  – don’t be fooled! The reality is below.

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There’s a train system in Cuba, honestly, it is mainly a single track between major towns and cities and here the station is literally crumbling to such an extent that it has a metal fence around it for fear of falling debris, although you’re chances of suing someone is about the same as a train arriving on time. I suspect when a train eventually passes through the town people throw a party! I eventually hope to catch the train back from Santigo de Cuba all the way back to Havana, when I suggest this to the casa owner she just belly-laughs at me with contempt. When I eventually see the ‘tourist train’ it has broken windows and looks like it has not moved for months. Avoid the trains, when they run, they usually breakdown, not surprising as they are mainly from the 1960s.

We like Camagüey, Cuba’s third biggest city, it has a real buzzy soul to it, although it takes us all our time there to learn to pronounce it right!

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My sandals that I have had for nearly ten years have flopped, unbound and become a severe tripping hazard. I bought them in Australia ten years ago, I have become attached to them on the occasions when it’s warm enough to wear them. So, I have to buy some new ones, we traipse around shoe shops losing the will to live until I settle on a pair of leather Adidas slip-ons, that would not be my first choice, but needs must, when otherwise you look like a homeless nomadic sadho! With them being new, cheap and hard to keep on, my feet turn tide-mark brown. I walk around like an oversized Hobbit, and the locals think it’s some form of British holiday ritual. If you want them they are size 9 UK, and would not fit the wide feet of a hobbit.

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The happy looking fella on the right must have been on holiday we I visited!

We love this city, my favourite place is Bar El Cambio in the corner of Parque Ignacio Agramonte, graffiti splattered walls, a few tables, very surely waiters (even when you order in Spanish!) I have visited this bar before through the writing of Hunter S Thompson, The Great Gozo himself used to drink in here. This for me is better than the tourist trap of the Hemmingway Bar in Havana, this still feels fresh, like he might wander in and join the surely bar staff in misanthropic banter. I could quite easy get pissed in here and be carried home as homage to the great man, wake up with a festival hangover and still smile. Instead of that we have booked a ticket to see some authentic Cuban music on the back of the great music we have sampled in Trinidad. When we get there, it is empty apart from three tables of tourist. It’s Cuba and eventually I have to visit a sit-down toilet, never expect to find a toilet seat and you won’t be disappointed! This toilet, for a mid-range venue does not surprise me and when I return to the table and report on the state of the toilet –The Wife says, “Image what the men’s is like?” I’ve been in the women’s pity pony cubicle, auditioning for yet another episode of ‘Curb your Enthusiasm’. The answer is pretty much the same – where are all the toilet seats? Are there endless gurning competitions occurring in Cuba?

Then the venue starts to fill up, the band start a two-hour sound check/tune up. It’s student night, there must be some promotion at the university as everyone is under the age of twenty-five and knows everyone else. They all do the Cuban drinking thing; two-litre bottle of cola and a full bottle of Havana Club per table. It is a surreal evening, the band cannot be heard above the chatter of completely uninterested students, it is like a Venereal Disease waiting room! We feel like middle aged tourists (full disclosure – we are!!) at one of our children’s twenty-firsts. It is absolutely fascinating, I get chatting to a few of the students about Cuba from their young educated viewpoint. They want little of the ‘Old Cuba’, they are looking far beyond the shores for change. They love their country, but as is the prerogative of the young they want so much more than their parents and grandparents had. They become disinterested in me when I tell them I have no sexually transmitted contagions to share, not since 1987 – it was dark, a lot of alcohol was involved and I think it was another human, the clinic told me it was definitely mammalian! They are not sure if I’m being serious, and neither am I after so much Havana Club and an afternoon in Bar El Cambio!

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Next time: When it’s gone, it’s gone: Santigo de Cuba.

* StCP! = Supporting the Cuban People

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

monochrome imp swirly letters

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

BookCoverImage

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

#4: So, you think you’re badly paid!  Swimming with Dugongs: Adventures in Central America

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When we arrive in beautiful colonial UNESCO protected Trinidad, Cuba, a place that looks as though the clocks stopped in 1850 there is the usual scrum at a plaza (Carrillo) where the bus pulls in. We have a strategy that works for us, I leave the bags with The Wife in a bar/restaurant/shade etc and I go on the hunt for accommodation. My bicycle rickshaw driver is Daniel and I think I have negotiated a 2CUC ride to the casa that is top of our list. It is full and Daniel takes me to similar places, most are full, eventually we find a great casa run by a young lawyer. We return to The Wife in Plaza that also houses the hospital. Daniel now wants 15CUC. I lie and say we only have 7 until we can get to the bank, we have an emergency 10CUC note. He has told me he only picks tourists up, for obvious reasons. He reluctantly takes the 7CUC, you mean bastard I hear you say, or is that just paranoid tinnitus? Before you judge too harshly, let me explain the average monthly wage in Cuba: 20-25 CUC. Exchange rates can vary obviously, especially if you decide to leave your European brothers and sisters, for God knows what unbelievable reason! 20CUC is £25, or US$20 per month, just stop and think about that for a short moment (think… think… ok, carry on), this is for an entire month!! The world average is £928/ month – so the average Cuban is getting paid roughly 1/40th the average of the entire global monthly pay – no wonder young Cubans want change when they look out at the rest of the world through the internet! I have just paid a rickshaw driver, albeit a pleasant one, the equivalent of well over a week’s wage for less than an hour’s work! No wonder he only picks tourists up!

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We get to the casa particular and we get chatting to the owner, let’s call him Carlo, the reason I’m changing his name, he tells us a lot about the politics of Cuba which I may refer to later. Carlo is in his mid-thirties, he is an ex-lawyer, when he was qualified he was earning 25CUC/ month, his wife is a doctor in the hospital, she earns 25CUC per month. The average casa in Cuba costs 25CUC per night, or, a month’s wages for a local – this is why Carlo is no longer a lawyer. The government take a set amount of monthly tax, he pays 500CUC as he has two rooms in his house, anything after ten nights full occupation is pure profit.  They are wealthy, as are many other Cubans by local standards for basically doing bed and breakfast, breakfast by the way is usually 5CUC each, but they are massive, tasty and impossible to finish. Carlo is renovating a five-bed casa across the street to rent out, he is about to become even wealthier. Tourism is the game to get into, it is the difference between living on the bread line, like a lot of rural Cubans do, ‘They go to bed hungry many nights’ Carlo tells me, ‘And that’s not right.’ He adds. That is one thing ingrained socialism does, it breeds empathy, we meet it everywhere we go – apart from taxi drivers in Havana! Although Carlo tells me Cuba is not a socialist country, but the people in power want the outside would to perceive it that way! I ask him about corruption, he has had to pay the local administrator 50CUC for permission to renovate his new casa, he tells me it is not too bad. When I suggest that 50CUC is two months average wage he dismisses this as money he can make in a single night. His two bedrooms are full for four months solid and he is wealthy enough to have visited his friend in France. While we are on France, I spent many hours meeting French people last summer and trying to explain why the British decided to leave Europe and eventually when I could not help them any more with their total bafflement, I just shrugged my shoulders and apologised for the slightly higher majority (52% to 48%), most of which will be dead before any possibly ‘significant’ benefits are seen! Deep breath, move on. While still on France.

We meet a French couple who seek out the museum curator in Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos is twinned with the French woman’s home town, so she is interested to meet the curator, he gets paid 15CUC per month! He’s the boss, but she tells us he is not complaining as he has got to visit France twice because of his job! It is better in Cuba to do anything within tourism than any traditional indigenous occupation, this is the general consensus. Carlo said the game changer for him was not getting a degree in law, it was taking the optional module to learn English, by being able to speak English he rents his casa easier and can take pre-bookings, he also speaks French. I could tell you many other similar stories to emphasis the point, the graduate computer programmer that takes groups on wildlife walks as he gets paid fifty times more than programming – Cuba needs as many computer experts as it can recruit, believe me, or the teachers of English and History that no longer teach, but take guided tours exclusively for tourists.

The incredible monthly Cuban wage is the reason why government shops exist and the reason why a tourist is forbidden from buying a breezeblock of cheese for 15CUC! If there is actually any cheese available to buy  – when it’s gone, it’s gone, and it’s often gone!

My Wife is a lawyer, and Carlo literally gasps when she tells him how much the firms she has worked for charge per hour – five times average monthly Cuban wage! He informs us about his wife’s work in the hospital, the basic levels; lack of equipment and drugs. People even have to bring their own paracetamol with them when they come in. His wife loves working in the hospital and with the rent from his casa and him at home to look after their children; she can afford to carry on doing it.

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A two-tier system operates in Cuba, you pay the equivalent UK prices to travel on the buses, which if you have travelled quite extensively in the developing world, is quite surprising, but I suppose you have ticked the box on the visa application that states: ‘Supporting the Cuban People’, and you certainly have plenty of first-hand experience of that while you are there.  You can see why foreign multinationals would want to operate there, a work force with the highest literacy rate in the world and one of the lowest labour costs, and on the doorstep of the United States and Mexico, etc.

The clip-clop of hooves in the morning In Trinidad gently wakes you, it’s real cowboy country. There is a lovely beach close by, Playa Anson, we spend a day there and are picked up in a Lada taxi as a storm blows in and the skies look as though they are about to haemorrhage, the taxi has no glass in driver’s side window and the inadequate plastic sheet does not keep the lashing rain out. The drive back costs us 20CUC, and the fact we are getting wet does not appear to bother the driver, it is all part of the experience, there’s no customer service department, and there’s still a living to make!

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Look at the belligerence in the eyes of El-Loco Bastiddo at the back!

We decide, well, The Wife has decided we have to experience the horse trek, in horse country. I’m not a fan of horses. I had a girlfriend at teacher training college that had ridden all her life and when we went to stay with her parents and I informed her about my unease with a big beast between my legs, she dismissed me and told me to watch her as she took off across a large field for a stirrup to come lose and her to fall heavily to the ground; she has been in a bath-chair ever since and fed through a straw, ok, I made the last bit up, she can feed herself now, she’s fine, she got up dazed but unbelievably uninjured, but I remember thinking you know what you’re doing and you fell off, and quite quickly at the very start!  I don’t like being that high up, as if you fall off you hurt yourself and it feels like you are doing a public hokey-kokey whilst trying to stop smuggled drugs falling out of your back passage – I appreciate this is not everyone’s view on equine activities! We trek up to a waterfall at one point my horse, El-Loco Bastiddo, I forget its real name, bolts off I pull it back and it nearly dislocates my shoulder. I’m also in trouble as I have forgotten to transfer the wallet from one bag to another when I’ve been to the bus station earlier by myself, the bus was booked up for two solid days up to Santa Clara. The taxi driver, a friend of Carlo has reduced his price massively when he thinks we will get the bus! The waterfall is lovely and we bath and chat to several people. An Irish woman tells us the prices in Cuba have gone up five times in the last five years.

When we eventually get off the horses, starving due to lack of funds to buy lunch, my arse is so bruised and battered it looks like I’ve been abused by a drunk medieval knight. It takes nearly a week for the pain of the bruising to fully dissipate – this is another reason why I don’t like horses.

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Me doing my best Putin impression at a waterfall in Cuba. A bear is just about off shot deciding whether to wrestle me!

Trinidad as I have said earlier is a beautiful place to walk around and marvel at. There is a good choice of food (by Cuban standards), the main plaza and surrounding streets offers vibrancy, dancing, great company, and even though it is on the tourist triangle you would be foolish to miss it out. Definitely go, think twice about a horse ride!

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 Hasta la vista, Bucaneros.

 

Next time #5: The revolution starts here.

 

@thewritingIMP  www.ianmpindar.com

monochrome imp swirly letters

Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar

BookCoverImage