Santiago de Cuba 4

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Back on the street, I thought about Adrian’s words. There is certainly anger towards the current situation. Perhaps common amongst the younger generations. The ideals of the revolution created fifty years ago had not filtered down to the younger generation. All they had experienced is hardships and seclusion from the world at large. Adrian words, “they think by limiting excess (internet and media) to the outside world, we don’t know what’s happening. We are not fools or ignorant. They just don’t want us to know the reality and failures”. They demand for change, is in the hearts for now. How and when will certainly be a test? Perhaps, with relaxation of business opportunities, increased tourism, local production and exports, the situation may improve quickly. I wish for this too.

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Through a narrow road from Calle Heredia, I arrived at a grand grey Museo Muncipal Emilio Bacardi Moreau. Three musicians added some colour to this area. Plenty of bicycles were parked nearby and a couple embraced on a park chair across the building.  I opted to sit and listen to more music.

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Further-on, on a side street, there was a quaint little bookshop. The owner invited me in to browse. Portraits of a young Castro hung on the walls. A few more curious together with old books filled this atmospheric store.

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A local transport pulled up in front of me. There were dozens of passengers seated inside the truck. It had a narrow window and door. Perhaps these heavy duty trucks were necessary to travel around Santiago’s undulating and hilly geography. I headed out from Parque Cespedes and ended at small leafy and pleasant Plaza Dolores. A statue of Emilio Bacardi occupied the centre. On the flanks, cafe and bars took their place. It is a lovely place to rest and watch the daily going-on. A few taxis were parked on the fringe under the canopy of trees. According to one taxi driver, Plaza Marte is the historical centre of Santiago.  Parque Cespedes is the old quarter and the centre for the beginnings of the revolution.

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I walked the busy Calle Auguilera. A heavy smell of carbon monoxide and diesel chocked my throat. I needed to get out. I found some lunch at a lovely open air terrace at La Terraza. It was on the third floor. I had to pass through the family lounge on the second. Food was good. After lunch, I found a barber shop nearby. I badly needed one, scruffy and untidy. The shop had a big interior. Reminded me of the old barber shops in my hometown, Ipoh in Malaysia. No many words were exchanged. When finished, I asked my barber, how much? He smiled and just shrugged his shoulders with a gentle smile. I asked him again. His response was the same. I gave him 3 CUC. I had enquired about the cost locals paid at the restaurant earlier. It was 10 – 20 CUP. I was happy to pay more. In the same shop was a nail salon. A young lady was having her nails done. It is quite common to see women with painted, decorated and extended nails. A common local obsession amongst women perhaps. I remembered those painted ones on Senora Habana. Day, my casa owner, had a hair and nail salon somewhere too. An enterprising women.

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I ended my walk at a small and noisy Plaza Marte. A few palm trees in the plaza did not provided the much needed shade from the afternoon sun. Wrought iron and painted wooden slated screens encircled the park. A bust of Camilo Cienfuegos occupied a spot in the middle. In the midday, a few people had taken a rest. This park felt like a roundabout, traffic on all side, noisy and puffed out thick fumes. Local transport, lorries, converted as public buses were packed with people. Passengers peeped through a narrow window.

I returned towards Parque Cespedes via a pedestrian only street, Calle Jose Antonio Saco. This street is packed with cafe, bookshops, arts and crafts gallerias, retail outlets and restaurants. It was crowded and a great place to people -watch. I bumped into Copa Airlines and thought I’d check my onward flights. I was shocked to find that my flight times for planned departure had be revised. Fortunately it was changed without any charge. Unfortunately I lost one day. No e-mails either. It just happened that I went in.

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After the walk, I returned to my favourite place in Santiago, Casa de La Trova. Maria greeted me, as if we were old mates. There were a few people. Three ladies, my first, performed a catchy tune. The crowd began to pile up and soon all the chairs were filled and people stood on the at the entrance door. An elegant professional dancer, dressed in red did the most terrifying gesture to me. She invited me to dance with her as she handed a white gladiolus flower stalk. I took it but I was mortified and literally pleaded with her to spare me. I had no idea the number of times I said “lo siento”, sorry. Eventually, she gave in and requested a kiss instead. I ‘dutifully’ accepted. Dancers, both locals and tourists, joined in and impromptu strutted their stuff. Looks like every Cuban can dance.

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A lovely young Cuban girl sat beside me. She is in her fourth year in medicine.  I asked her about if there was a drink problem amongst Cuban men. This is the story I heard from Diana and Sarsi. Her response was, yes. “Too much drinking. It is a sad situation”. Is it due to stress of unemployment or just a culture? It may be more complicated than meets the eye. The informal atmosphere was fantastic. Cuban culture is full swing. Dancing is in their blood but perhaps it is also a way to escape the hardships of daily life under the current regime and situation. As I was leaving, Maria reminded me to come tonight to watch the performances. I nodded in acknowledgment.

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