Sábado 31 de octubre- our last day in Cuba….
We wanted to buy some rum to take back so first we went to the nearest Cadeca (state money exchange) to change enough money to pay Orlando the driver and for the Casa- this Cadeca was an outdoor office with a long but fast-moving queue- maybe there’s no incentive to hang around as there’s no a/c!
We then headed to the Cuban equivalent of a shopping mall – from the outside it looked promising with lots of dark windows and the LP guidebook said you can get the latest fashions and most supplies-
in reality, the spiral staircase and adjacent wide spiral ramp reminded me of a mall in San Francisco but that was definitely where the similarity ended!
It was old and tired, and on the lower floor was a room selling electrical goods, whilst on the upper level was the ‘mercado’ – like a basic, dark supermarket. We went in but were immediately stopped and told to leave our small rucksack in the ‘guardabolsas’ (bag depository). This was out of the question as it held everything of value so we took it in turns to inspect what was on offer and bought a 50cl bottle Havana Club rum for $2.95CUC (1L was only $3CUC but we had limited luggage space) plus a bottle of 3 yr old añejo rum.
We dropped the rum off at the Casa and decided to get what is known as a Taxi Particular which cost 10MN (26p a ride) and they ply certain routes around the city. We were aiming to get to the Museo Napoleónico. We waited on the roadside and a green, British Hillman Imp stopped…we got into the ancient vehicle ..the driver said it had a Russian engine. I think in the end it was actually an illegal taxi as the route I was expecting it to take was not the one it used and it cost 20MN….but it was exciting all the same!
We found the Museo Napoleónico housed in the building that was home to Orestes Ferrara, a politician instrumental in the war of Cuban Independence (from Spain) in the early 1900s and contained a fascinating collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, including an amazing international library and his death mask.
We loved the museum and found there were some beautiful terraces, and I think I’ve found the design for the floor in the kitchen of our new barn, and the fountain too?
We thought the museum might be air-conditioned but unfortunately it wasn’t so after a very hot visit we went to the nearby Havana Libre Hotel to cool off upstairs where we knew there were some comfy sofas. Here we popped into the Salón de la Solidaridad and discovered a stunning full length mural depicting the revolution. This hotel was commandeered by Castro and he ran operations from his suite on the 23rd floor.
We wandered past the bar to check out the outdoor pool and Bill was delighted to spot an ancient TV showing New Zealand being presented, live, with the Rugby World Cup! There was just one old French gentleman watching the match who downed his drink and left as soon as the match was over!
Having cooled down we headed out to make the most of our last day, revisiting our favourite places- having a drink on the stunning terrace overlooking the Malecón at the Hotel Nacional where there were wedding preparations going on- we caught sight of the bride arriving.
We then went to the Capri Hotel as I’d read there was a rooftop pool with a bar. It was deceptive from the outside as, like most Cuban buildings, it was somewhat run-down.
Inside, it was more modern and we went to the 18th floor to check out the bar and pool plus the views and the bar staff all queued to sign my plaster cast!
We took a Dodge taxi particular (we’re getting good at this now!) along the Linea for 52p to our final restaurant which Orlando had recommended. Called Decamaron, it was also a paladar- a private, rather than state-owned restaurant- and featured walls decorated with a myriad of brass instruments and clocks and served food such as Pork in Marmalade with malanga (Elephant’s Ear/root) purée, Shrimp in coconut and ginger – we feasted well.
We arrived back at the Casa to the news from Isabel that Orlando would not now be taking us to the airport as he had had to go to Santa Clara- but we were to pay the CUCs we owed for his services to Isabel (now $110 as he had added $20 for last night’s excursion to Castañazo- actually good value but somewhat unfair as he hadn’t actually told us he’d be charging us. Note- if ever someone suggests something, be sure to ask ‘el precio’!
Instead, Isabel said Orlando had asked another taxista to take us. Isabel assured us that she’d pay this new driver out of the money we’d given her to pay Orlando. So Emilio arrived at 7pm (again, Cubans are incredibly prompt, or early as in this case) and took us to his car……
…not a taxi at all but his own, falling apart, 1984 Moskovitch with no seatbelts, very dim headlights and a broken speedo- in short, the type of car which all the guidebooks warn against taking to the airport, in case they don’t actually make it!
Still, we had plenty of time and Emilio seemed so nice- as did his wife who was waiting in the car to accompany us to the airport some 40 minutes away. The journey turned out, in true Cuban style, to be a revelation as we got chatting to Emilio, a trumpet teacher and trumpeter with the Cuban symphony orchestra, and his wife who was a Russian-speaking charity worker who had travelled to Russia and helped to organise the annual holiday for Chernobyl survivors paid for by the Cuban government for the past 20 years. Chatting took my mind off the fact that we could hardly see where we were going as there were no street lights once out of the city (indeed, were we going in the right direction?!) and what was left of the poor car’s suspension was taking a hammering. Apparently they also turn off street lights to save money- even near the airport we could hardly see as the lights were off …but we arrived safely and swapped email addresses and vowed to stay in touch.
We’ve met so many lovely, genuine, Cuban people and we can’t wait to come back!
We checked in and unfortunately failed to get the sympathy upgrade with my plaster cast as the flight was full but as frequent flyers we did get access to the ‘VIP lounge’. Not quite the high standard we were used to but Cuban style, offering unlimited rum, American sport on TV and some dubious looking snacks. So we made ourselves comfortable and relaxed in preparation for the long night ahead.
Next stop, Madrid, then back to London to arrive late afternoon on Sunday. Adiós, Cuba