Saturday, February 11, 2012


After the hurricane had died down, staying in the hotel was less than appealing.  There was broken glass everywhere, bats swooped through the lobby every evening,  eliciting screams from the hotel guests, and a large band of gypsies had taken up residence in the hotel.  We decided to make ourselves scarce.  We went down to the waterfront outside the hotel to look around and were promptly accosted by a man intent on robbing us.  It was only through Ivaan's quick thinking that we escaped.

We headed downtown along the Malecon and came across a large crowd standing on the breakwater looking out into the harbour.  The waves were still high, and a small fishing boat had capsized.  Two men and a young boy who had fallen overboard were flailing in the deep water.  They had apparently gone out to catch some fish, which are plentiful in the wake of a hurricane.  In the distance, a tiny rescue tug was chugging slowly towards them, but it was pretty clear it was not going to reach them in time.  It was horrifying.

We headed downtown.  On every corner, musicians were congregated on street corners singing and playing songs from Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club.  On every street, children were running up to us asking for caramelas (candy) and luckily we had brought plenty from Toronto for just this purpose.

No trip to a strange city would be complete for Ivaan unless it included visits to every one of the second hand camera stores.  There were several such stores, all run by seedy-looking Russian expatriates.  Each of them promised that if Ivaan would just step into their back room, they would show him the rare treasures they had hidden back there.  Ivaan was desperate to see these cameras.  I was just as determined that we were going to leave, as things were beginning to feel very unsafe.  

We had not been back at the hotel for long before the telephone rang and the front desk clerk told us we had a visitor who wanted to see us in the lobby.  We realized that the Russians had followed us back to the hotel.  Needless to say, we stayed in our room and didn't answer the door.

Havana was an incredible photo op.  The ornate, crumbling buildings, the 1950s American cars in pastel colours, the incredible ingenuity of the Cuban people who seemed able to repair absolutely anything.  Cuban women were very uninhibited about their attire.  Women of every shape and size, and of every age, wore bright pink or yellow spandex.

In spite of the trauma of our vacation, Ivaan was sorry to leave.  He'd made two friends in Havana: a stray dog he named Perrito and a lame bird he called Frosty.  As the food in the hotel was pretty much inedible, Ivaan collected all the roast pork he could find in the restaurant and took it outside to feed Perrito.  All the breads and cereals he could find were saved for Frosty.

To our amazement, when we returned home, the tour company offered us a replacement trip to Cuba, which we could use within six months.  Ivaan was determined to go back, if only to see Perrito and Frosty.  Not surprisingly, I put my foot down firmly.  Once was more than enough.

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