Jamaica.

And so to Jamaica. I feel I must qualify my comments in the knowledge that out there are Jamaicaphiles and Jamaicaphobes so I will try to just keep to the facts and maybe not offer too many opinions. The usual excitement on arriving somewhere new was tempered by the two customs officials and the undercover policeman who took it upon themselves to completely unpack my bags and question me belligerently as to why I was visiting. I thought that odd given the Island’s reputation. Unnerved I proceeded and was met by the driver from my Airbnb, nice guy who guided me through the usual rigmarole of changing money and finding a SIM for my phone then we were off into Kingston. After working for a Jamaican company a long time ago I naively thought the streets would be bouncing with the reggae music, but no, just another big city with horrendous traffic. I did spot some large 4by4 type vehicles decked out with lights and booming speakers. I gesticulated to the driver as if to enquire: hearse, he said. Ok then. Weaving through the traffic we came upon a huge 4-lane highway running north across the island with no other cars on it. In between songs played on the massive sound system in the car I asked what led to the creation of this motorway/freeway. The Chinese made a deal with the authorities to set up an entrepôt just off the harbor in Kingston and in return they built this giant toll road. Note the word “toll”, you must pay to drive on it and of course the local people can’t afford it and continue to use the old road which takes three hours for the North to South coast run, we did it in forty minutes.

Then we were there, Bromley House, outside Ocho Rios. Built on the site of an old Spanish fort dating back to the Sixteenth Century the house was a cattle ranch from the Eighteenth Century onwards, in fact it still is. In the late Nineteenth Century it was bought by a Scottish doctor who built it out in the shape it is today with sundry porticoes and balconies. I was billeted in one of the cottages on the grounds with three rooms, a kitchen, bathroom and wrap around verandah. Breakfast was cooked every morning by the lovely Valerie, who also takes care of the paperwork and finances, and consisted of eggs, bacon and an array of local fruits, star apples, mangoes, pineapple and was consistently delicious. Most days my host, Johnathan (Jonna), would drive us down Fern Gulley to Ocho for basic supplies, and rum. He was a rally driver, amongst other things, so the drive down and back up was quite the experience. Of course being born there he knew every twist and turn, he could probably drive it in his sleep, but for me, the newcomer, it was often a white-knuckle ride. There were two guard dogs, Elsa and Meatball, who sort of adopted me and would curl up outside my door and bark furiously if anyone dared come up the driveway. We went to a local beach for lunch and a swim on occasion and despite the mass tourism and cruise ships there was rarely anyone else on it (Sugar Pot). Other times we would go down to the village, Walkerswood, where there is a restaurant called Lyming where we would buy small flasks of the local rum and enjoy fabulous Jamaican food, jerk chicken, jerk pork with Festival, a type of local bread. I failed to sample Mannish Water, a local delicacy, which is a glorified Goat’s Head soup; I’m not going into details, too many vegetarians in my family! Another day we went to a Polo match, Jamaica vs Barbados, tea and triangular sandwiches with lots of gin afterwards.

The weeks flew by and I thought I should see some other parts of the Island. Up and up into the legendary Blue Mountains where I stayed at the Mount Edge (hotel, sort of). It seemed to take an age to climb up into the mountains but on arriving the views were stupendous. I visited the Bob Marley museum and felt a bit aged! Not much point in telling anyone of my nights touring with Marley as the label PR guy. A couple of nights in Kingston at the Liguanea club (pronounced Ligeny) which was just about the only accommodation available due to some International conference in town.

Interestingly the Liguanea was ‘featured in a James Bond film’, you might like to remember that as I will say it again, soon.

Bromley.

Bromley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast table and the incredible view.

Breakfast table and the incredible view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite dog. Meatball.

Favorite dog. Meatball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elsa and Meatball on my verandah.

Elsa and Meatball on my verandah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a neighbor. A bird who lived in a tree.

I had a neighbor. A bird, who lived in an adjacent tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It laid an egg.

It laid an egg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which hatched.

Which hatched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from Mount Edge.  The Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

The view from Mount Edge.
The Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

Panamanian Islands

Back to the blog after a bit of an absence, sorry about that. Where did I leave off? Was it Cartagena? What an absolutely great city that is, I can recommend to one and all and now that the five decade civil war is over its probably safe even for alarmists. Thinking back, quite a few months, I had to leave Colombia before I really wanted to and ended up in Panama City which was not, shall we say, edifying. High rises, office blocks, poisoned beaches, a canal and hats. I did write a blog about it didn’t I. The buzz in Cartagena and in Panama was that the San Blas or Kuna Yala islands off the North Coast are definitely worth a visit because nobody knows about them, nobody goes there and there is nothing to do if you go, nowhere to stay, basic food, no potable water, no loos, so yes, pretty much nothing, just the local people, the Kuna Tribe.

Another of those half past dark starts at 4.30am, run around the smaller hotels and hostels picking people up until the van filled up and off to a giant supermarket to buy, erm, what? I wandered around, bought a bottle of water, some cookies and a sandwich and went back to the van. Where did everybody go? I waited and waited until my van mates returned with cartloads of stuff. Huge water containers, industrial size serials, bread, cheese, just the basics and I figured they were going to be on a deserted island for just a few days. As a ‘more mature’ backpacker (ha!) I had made other arrangements. I had found a boat chartering person, just him and his computer, and he found me a Polish guy, with a boat and no guests, who would knock 50% off his normal rate for a quick sail around the islands for a couple of nights.

I can’t say more than that the buzz was correct. There was nothing to do, but for just a couple of days I lived in a dream. Perfect coral islands, atolls, turquoise, warm sea, palm trees, women of the local tribe, few if any men, (the women do everything such as it is). Actually what the women do is make their very unique clothes with panels sown on called Molas and they sell the ones they don’t wear to tourists like me. This seems to be their sole source of income. Interestingly there was little or no food readily available. We were behind a giant reef and with two fishing rods dragging behind we never caught a thing. We did manage to buy a couple of somewhat meagre specimens but they didn’t really satisfy. The whole area is ‘fished out’. Depressing. One last thing, the larger Kuna villages are on the mainland and the women take it in turns to go live on the tiny islands, so the two women I met were on their tiny island for three months then they would return to the village and two more women would go stay. And I do mean tiny, I walked all the way around it in ten minutes.

From San Blas I made my way to Bocas del Torro, another group of islands at the other end of the Atlantic side of Panama right up near the border with Costa Rica. This archipelago couldn’t have been more different to San Blas. All the overlanders from the North making their way down through Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to South America seem to land on Bocas, ditto the overlanders making their way North from the South, it was as a result, crowded. It had the feel of a Wild West movie, as in anything goes, and nobody seemed to care about themselves or anyone else. Certainly there are some quite beautiful parts but it all felt like a low end resort for travellers, cheap booze, cheap and quite nasty food and tacky accommodations.

Additionally the rainy season was just beginning so I began to panic that my medium term plan, to travel North, overland, through Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua would just be a soggy mess. I don’t mind a bit of rain but the rainy season down there is something to behold. It is really very, very wet.

I needed a miracle and naturally one occurred! Yes really. I was sitting in my hotel room watching the rain come down and thought “well it can’t be raining everywhere” and started looking at hotels etc on Caribbean Islands. Mostly far, far above my pay grade and honestly the thought of an all-inclusive resort where you are not encouraged to venture out of the compound rather destroys the whole point of travelling. Hmm, how about Airbnb? Search, search and suddenly there she was. Someone I knew with an Airbnb in Jamaica. Small world. Sent off the requisite email and 24 hours later I was driving up her driveway.

It all worked out very well.

Typical Island in San Blas

Typical Island in San Blas

 

 

 

 

 

A display of molas

A display of molas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuna ladies cleaning their beach.

Kuna ladies cleaning their beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More national dress. They were very camera shy.

More national dress. They were very camera shy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The airport terminal.

The airport terminal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset in the San Blas Islands.

Sunset in the San Blas Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bocas del Torro waterfront.

Bocas del Torro waterfront.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main street Bocas.

Main street Bocas.

Panama City.

Moving on from Cartagena was enforced by my 5.30am debacle at Havana airport where I was basically forced to purchase a ticket out of Colombia on a particular date and Copa Airlines wouldn’t change it. I tried to change it, wanting to go to Ecuador and perhaps the Galapagos, but the resulting fees would have added a further four figure sum to my already overpriced ticket. My lack of Spanish is really debilitating, I went out to Cartagena airport four or five times to try and work out a solution but to no avail, nobody at the airline desk spoke English. Fortunately the airport is close to the town but even so the taxi ride price varied wildly. They do not have meters in the taxis in Cartagena. You may have heard that Ecuador was hit with a tragic earthquake some days after I would have been there, so, swings and roundabouts and maybe it was fortunate that I chose not to go. Reluctantly then I went to Panama City by plane, but for the wretched Copa ticket I would have gone by boat, a preferred route because there are no roads between Colombia and Panama. Not even the famed Trans America Highway makes the link across what is known as the Darian Gap, an area famous for blood sucking bats, snakes, bandits and gun and immigrant smugglers. I had to fly.

Panama City prides itself on the remarkable number of skyscrapers it has, both existing and being built. I couldn’t find them particularly attractive, sure some had an element of interesting architecture but for the most part I was looking at a concrete jungle. Not my sort of place and I began to look at ways of moving on. First of course I had to see the Canal, I mean it is quite famous isn’t it. A long shot I wondered if they had Uber and yes they did and not only that but on signing in to the app they offered me a free ride. Ms Yira showed up and off we went to the Miraflores locks and the visitor center. I had hoped to see one of those vast cruise ships passing through but there was only a gigantic car transporter that dwarfed the surrounding area. I have to say that it was all very, very slow and although a feat of engineering on an epic scale I did come away feeling just a little underwhelmed. However the splendid Ms Yira volunteered to wait in the parking lot while I viewed the canal and on the way back agreed to take me on a tour of the old city the next day, her English was considerably better than my Spanish.

It seems the City fathers have caught on to the fact that visitors like the old stuff and there is an enormous amount of construction under way in the old part of the City. Whole city blocks are under construction, new restaurants, hotels, boutiques and tourist shops are springing up everywhere. I bought a hat, well it is Panama, it rolls up into a sausage shape so easy to pack but I am still attached to my hat from Cuba so not wearing the new one. We wandered around, admiring the architecture, the graffiti, the construction sites and our fellow tourists, had some tea over which Yira asked if I liked Salsa music. Sure, I said, why not and we jumped in a taxi riding into ‘a rather rundown area’ where there were crowds of people and the loudest Salsa I have ever heard. A thirty piece band, yes thirty, singers, dancers in National costume, crowds of amicable Panamanians who kept buying me beer and not another tourist in sight. I think it was a fundraiser for something but somebody seemed to have forgotten to raise the funds. Food was served, it seemed to be a type of stew, presented in a transparent plastic bag without utensils, but balancing my beer in one hand and the bag in the other I couldn’t figure out how to eat there being nowhere to sit. The music and dancing were stupendous, quite overwhelming, so many instruments I had never seen before. Darkness fell and it was time to leave as I couldn’t see my way around the mud puddles. It was a true taste of the real Panama.

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Some of the buildings were interesting to look at.

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The Panama Canal.

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Ship in the Canal.

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Old City of Panama.

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At the museum.

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Also at the museum.

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Downtown Panama City.

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The Bridge of the Americas. Between North and South.

I can’t find the Salsa photos. I will look and post when I find them.

Cartagena, Colombia.

At last I have caught up with my blogs and I’m sitting in my small Plazuela de Pozo in Cartagena, Colombia. It is sunset and the colors are amplified many times over, the yellows are like gold and the reds almost seem to move. The flowers are all having a last burst for the day and the birds are swooping around the sky. The church bells are ringing up the street at the Iglesia de la Trinidad and the small boats on the river are heading home for the night. The tourist buses have stopped running and the backpackers are enjoying their first beer of the evening. Restaurant owners are setting up tables on the sidewalk, others are sweeping up the remains of lunch or writing up the chalk boards for this evening’s fare. The carpentry shop next door to my hotel has switched off the electric saws, finally, and the coffee sellers are plying their trade with the artisans. Three streets away I can see the usual rush hour gridlock but my little Plazuela is like an oasis. People stop to photograph the murals while others sit among the street art sculptures enjoying the peace and quiet.

Everything about the city exuded its rich history, every turn was a new treat. The city was attacked and destroyed frequently by pirates, both Drake and Hawkins laid siege to the walls but failed to destroy it. There was a famous battle, the Battle of Cartagena, in 1741 during the War of Jenkin’s Ear (true) that ended because it was raining too much (also true) The treasure galleons loaded up their gold and silver here before setting sail for Spain. In the center of the walled city is a massive fortress, Castillo San Philipe de Barajas, built by the Spanish, it took them two hundred years to complete and was never penetrated. There is a fine Cathedral and a somewhat gloomy Palace of the Inquisition.

The Old City is quite the tourist attraction with original colonial architecture featuring overhanging balconies drenched in flowers. Endless tourist shops and lots of glitz but a good place for a wander. The hotels around the old part are mostly upscale and I found myself in the Getsemani area that turned out to be the oldest part of the City and not touristy at all. Kids playing football in the streets, bands playing on corners, inexpensive restaurants and cafes where I could linger for a while without being hassled to buy more.

I don’t know why I am having such a difficult time describing Cartagena. I have sat in front of this page for days, weeks even and I can’t do the place justice. Maybe the photos will help or maybe I should try and write about somewhere else. It’s a fact though, I was more sad (sadder?) to leave Cartagena than many other places I have visited lately, and there have been a few.

PS. The first line is clearly redundant but I thought I would leave it in.

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My little square. Look closely for the artworks.

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Art.

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My street.

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Typical Cartagena balcony.

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The Cathedral.

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A part of the fortress.

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The wall is very imposing.

Havana Days.

Long and hard I have thought about Havana, what was it like, did I have a good time, would I go back and I really don’t have an answer. Some things I learned were very upsetting others quite uplifting, perhaps. Therefore, what follows have to be just observations with no comments or opinions.

First, the Internet and access to same. Pretty much taken for granted these days everywhere you go. The deserts of Uzbekistan, remote islands off the coast of Western Papua, I could even use WhatsApp on various parts of the Great Wall of China but in Havana it was a struggle. Within the boundaries of the more expensive hotels a card was available with a user name and password for ten US Dollars, or CUCs for one hour’s connectivity. Clearly this was unavailable to the local people as a Doctor only earned $50 per month. At various booths and shops it was possible to buy a card for two Dollars for one hour but then the challenge was to find a place that provided an Internet connection. The trick was to look out for hoards of young people (kids) sitting randomly in the street, all on their phones. It could be a park, a street corner or a Government office. The nearest access point to my Casa Particular (BnB) was five blocks away at a very average looking hotel and there were the kids, sitting all around the perimeter, on their phones. BUT, the hotel did not sell the one hour cards and when mine ran out of time I was sent another five bocks down the street to a ‘blue and white house’, but they had sold out for the day. Manana! At this point I gave up my attempt to send a text back home to tell the family that I had survived the Stones concert.

The point here is that this is the situation for the vast majority of the population and it is not helping anyone. (Was that an opinion?) Imagine trying to do homework, and no, the local library is not just around the corner, or not being able to look something up on Google. People do not have access to the Internet in their homes or places of work. Would you walk five blocks to send a text message or an email and then walk the five blocks home again? No, I thought not.

Then there is the car situation. When the US created the embargo, imports of cars from the US stopped and those lucky enough to have a car just begged, borrowed or stole the parts required to keep them running, for over fifty years. There is a vintage car taxi route on which you stick out your arm, jump in, pay perhaps a nickel (5p) and ride to your destination. It’s a bit like, no, it’s exactly the same as Dushanbe in Tajikistan except that there you don’t get to ride in a ’56 Chevy! Contrary to myth the majority of the vintage cars are owned by the Government that in turn rents the cars out to the drivers. I did ride in one, a 1956 Pontiac, it reminded me of a tank but great fun and it put some dollars in the hands of a local.

I met a man who was arrested, back in the day, for carrying a Rolling Stones record in public.

I heard stories of a prison set up just for gay people, apparently it was something of a party scene!

My BnB host, his wife and children had no concept of being able to leave the island to go on vacation. It was just not on their radar.

There was a tv in the house but I never saw it turned on, though the wife had one in her bedroom and would disappear to watch telenovellas (soaps). Satellite dishes are illegal.

The rum and wine stall across the street had a crowd of people waiting to be served all day long. Rum at $2.50 per bottle.

I was taken to what appeared to be a private lunch club. Entering through a somewhat run down apartment block lobby we were whisked to the top floor where the view was heart stopping. The furnishings were all 50s colonial and the food was incredible. I felt very privileged.

Potatoes are a rarity and have not been seen for some months. I saw a line at a store and asked what it was for, potatoes I was told. Ah, so there are potatoes available? No, but they might have some later. Someone was recently murdered in a potato line, potato rage?

I was leaving, at the airport at some unearthly hour. Checking in for my flight I was asked where I was going next, after my initial destination and did I have a ticket and if not you must go to the office to buy one. This I duly did and was presented with a $400 invoice that could only be paid for with CUCs, not plastic or US Dollars. OK, seems a bit steep but I will go to the ‘change money’ and return. BUT, they were all closed, the two at Arrivals and the two at Departures. The security guard at each bank was unable to tell me when they would open, so there I was, and the clock was ticking. I felt as if I was trapped in 1984, a real rock and a hard place. I bumped into my Portuguese friend and using his fluent Spanish tried again. Nope, no one knows when they will reopen. A man appeared, saw my anxiety, determined my problem, used his ATM card to withdraw the required CUCs, took my dollars, I got my ticket and was last on the plane. Phew.

Cuba then, very interesting and yes I will go again but will take stuff, band aids, Aspirin, syringes, coffee, etc, things to give away. And no, I did not buy a Che Guevara shirt!

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The kids on their phones outside a nondescript building.

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Architecture of the Soviet Brutalist School I believe.

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A man on a horse because there is always a man on a horse wherever I go.

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More Brutalist architecture.

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John Lennon.

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The United States embassy somewhat hidden behind a Cuban art installation and the flag.

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Street art. Wow.

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Cannons at the old fort.

 

 

 

 

Havana and the Rolling Stones.

I thought I might take a nap before setting off for the Rolling Stones free concert here in Havana, quite reasonable after a long walk to the nearest Internet hotspot so I could text the folks back home. It seemed however that the upstairs neighbors had chosen today to nail down their new carpet. Then there was the energetic game of dominos, involving some twenty gamers at the end of the block which appeared to threaten violence judging by the shouting. Add to that the quartet on the top floor practicing an unknown, modern classical piece complete with organ accompaniment, plus the exchange outside my door between my Airbnb host, Perfecto (yes , really) and the tax collector. Yes well, no nap today. Instead I took a stroll across the street and purchased a bottle of Havana Club rum to replenish the family booze cabinet, two dollars and fifty cents, $2.50!

Havana, Cuba, where the old is struggling to catch up to the new. You have maybe seen photos of the cars. It is somewhat like stepping back in time carwise. There is a preponderance of ‘55 Chevys, the most popular here, because after the 1955 model Chevrolet stopped making reliable cars and engines. Earlier today I stopped to admire a brilliant example, beautifully maintained and shining when the owner came running out of his house, flung open the hood (bonnet) so that I could admire the original engine, all six cylinders. I took photos as he preened. Preened of course in Spanish which is hardly my strong point, nevertheless, there is no language barrier amongst automobile aficionados.

I arrived a couple of days ago after a very rapid planning stage and sorry to say I was not as well prepared as I should have been. The first manifestation of this was that I didn’t have any Euros. Euros? Yes, I should have brought Euros because that currency provides the best exchange rate. Not US Dollars, which are subject to a twenty percent penalty tax and all I could come up with were Mexican Pesos. Not as bad as Dollars and not as good as British Pounds. The challenge was to actually make the exchange there at the airport because you cannot purchase them from abroad. The line at the bank at arrivals, with two tellers, was vast, our plane load from Cancun and a jumbo from Paris all expecting to gain our CUC (Convertible Cuban Peso), pronounced kook, and race into town for our first rum. We became impatient and heeding the advice proffered went upstairs to Departures where there was a much shorter line. An hour later upon reaching the front we were informed that we could only change one hundred CUKs because this bank was for departing passengers changing money back from Cuban to whatever. ‘We can solve this, we will go to a big hotel”” said the friendly Emilito, sent to pick me up, and off we headed into town in a Lada.

Arriving at the extremely grand Hotel National we were greeted warmly but advised that the inhouse bank was closed, it was 9.30pm and we had landed at 4.30. Was it time for a sense of humor failure? No, no. Lets have a drink I offered and we passed through a magnificent door and found ourselves in what appeared to be a park, columns, fountains, a band playing, men smoking cigars and enjoying their brandies.

Ha ha, said I, this is Cuba, well a side of it anyway. The hotel had been taken over almost completely by the Stones and their crew and as well as the brandy drinking, besuited locals there were some very interesting looking characters who looked as if they had just stepped out from London’s fashionable scene. But of course they had. I had a little reminisce to myself!! A couple of drinks later it really didn’t seem to matter that we hardly had any money and that the problem would go away in the clear light of the following day.

I eventually reached my Airbnb at 11.00pm where everyone was up and about waiting for me. I was plied with various strong rum drinks, asked my opinion of Cuba which launched a two hour political discussion and I stumbled to bed eventually where I slept the sleep of the gods.

The concert was due to start at 8.30 and getting to the venue would be no problem, jump in a taxi, it was the getting home that concerned me. Walking is still not my strong point and the thought of walking three miles among half a million others filled me with some dismay. I had help. Nat’s (older son) law professor is Cuban and was staying on the island, he came and picked me up and we drove to the venue together. On the way he showed me where to go after the concert to grab a taxi home. The field was big, very big and from our initial vantage point the stage seemed quite small in the distance. Thinking we might find souvenir shirts, hats, pins etc we headed toward some tent like booths which, it turned out, only sold food and drink. Nope, there was no merch’, none at all, this is presumably because the cost of a $20.00, or (20 CUCs) Tshirt is far beyond the means of the average Cuban.

The Cuban people do not use CUCs, they use local Pesos, there are 23 local Pesos to the CUC and the average Doctor’s monthly salary is 50 CUCs or 1,150 local Pesos. A $20 Rolling Stones shirt would therefore be nearly half the monthly salary of a Doctor. No shirts!

We wandered about soaking up the atmosphere with four hours to go before the scheduled start, noting among other things that there were only four loos, bathrooms, toilets, whatever, and each at this early stage had massive lines. Flavio suggested that they were put up over the street drains, one over each drain on the adjacent street. They were really only three foot by three foot tin shacks. Its different in Havana. We met people, spontaneously, took endless photos of the stage that at close range was really very large, chatted, Flavio, as a law Professor is very well informed, didn’t drink beer, the cops were searching bags and basically did what everyone else was doing, waiting for the Rolling Stones to appear. As it got darker I began to feel a bit trapped, the crowd was growing and growing so I bailed out of the standing room only area to the less congested sitting area further back. Flavio had a friend with him so I didn’t feel like I was abandoning him. More waiting until dead on 8.30 out they came. One more Rolling Stones concert and you know, they haven’t changed over the years. They still put on an incredible show, the sound was exceptional, clear without being brutally loud, the screens were perfect, huge so everyone could see. There had been some discussion as to whether the youth of Cuba were actually familiar with the songs and it appeared that they were, joining in with the choruses, applauding the more well known hits and generally having the greatest time. Ten songs into the set with more and more people pouring in I decided that enough was enough and left. A long walk because all the surrounding streets were closed but eventually came to a busy street and was picked up by a Coco taxi, a conveyance that reminded me of a tuk tuk, it looks like three quarters of a hollowed out coconut connected to a motor bike. There may be a photo.

That was it, back to my Airbnb which actually in Cuba is known as a Casa Particular for more rum drinks with the family and then to sleep. I had done it, but I have to acknowledge the help I got (thanks Nat). All the way from my sleepy beach in Yelapa, two nights in Mexico City, two nights in Tulum and then Havana. As some have remarked it was a great start to my birthday weekend.

A street in Havana.

A street in Havana.

Local Color.

Local Color.

Just look at that!

Just look at that!

Coco Taxis.

Coco Taxis.

One of the four loos.

One of the four loos.

The big empty field.

The big empty field.

The stage is set.

The stage is set.

There were Brits.

There were Brits.

It became more and more crowded.

It became more and more crowded.

And more crowded.

And more crowded.

A seat on the roof of the houses in the background, $50.

A seat on the roof of the houses in the background, $50.

Almost time.

Almost time.

Finnaly, the Stones, me and half a million Cubans.

Finally, the Stones, me and half a million Cubans.

 

 

Some weeks on the beach at Yelapa, Mexico.

A short hop then to start again. The 6.00am Airporter to SFO and a 3 hour flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico which I cannot recommend to anyone. Huge luxury hotels, vast cruise liners, acres of condos, crowded streets and hot, very hot. My taxi driver, Hector, was kind enough to stop at an ATM so I could withdraw some Pesos, but it didn’t work. Nor did the next one. ‘Third time’s a charm’ says I, Hector looked baffled, but it was and replete with Pesos we went to find La Puerto de los Muertos, but he didn’t know where it was. Fortunately I had a vague idea after visiting a few years ago and after floundering about I persuaded Hector to drop me off a few blocks away. Dressed, as I was, for dawn in N. California the walk wasn’t the greatest, high humidity and 82 (28C) degrees but I found the jetty, now very modern, and headed off for the speedboat ride to Yelapa, about an hour South.

Not a lot has changed over the years. There are still no roads, no cars, perhaps more All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and if anything the locals are more friendly, “Hola Amigo” from young and old at very turn. The food on offer is still the same, basic, rice, beans and tortillas with fresh caught fish, shrimp, mahi mahi, sometimes chicken or even an omelet. The Lagunita Hotel hasn’t changed at all, still the same palapas, basically a hut with a dried palm leaf thatched roof, no glass, a very basic door and the walls are bamboo blinds. The roof is raised up from the structure so bugs get in and get out again. There are scorpions, I found one in my bathroom, geckoes and other lizards are everywhere but appear to be harmless. Staying in Yelapa is very like camping, if you like camping you will love it if not, you may not like it. People came and went, many left because they didn’t like the rusticness, others came to enjoy the peace and quiet, do yoga and meditate. Every day boats would unload visitors from the resorts in Vallarta who would risk landing through the surf for a day of overpriced margaritas and Pacifico beers. They would pack the five or six bars further down the beach arriving between eleven and noon, but by about 4.30, they were all gone. It was the Spring Break for US College students but again, Yelapa was too rustic for them to stay though it was interesting to see them on their big motor yachts, dancing away to techno music on the top deck with a drone to take selfies. There was mumbling on the beach of torpedos.

Yelapa is the perfect place to do nothing and that is what I did. Of course I met lots of interesting people, read some books, walked into the Pueblo (village) after wading through the river, ate, drank a few beers and enjoyed the tranquility. A special hello to Barbara and Mark from Portland, Oregon. I read a lengthy tome called SPQR, a history of Rome by Mary Beard and as I had just left the shxtshow that is the American election process one piece stood out.

Cicero back in 63BCE had a bit of a disagreement with Catiline exclaiming in the Senate:

“Quo usque tandem abutere, Donald Trump, patientia nostra?”

“How long will you go on abusing our patience”

Well not exactly that from two thousand years ago but apt I thought.

Sorry, but I really wanted to share!

There was a storm, totally unexpected by local people and visitors. The first I knew of it was when I realized at about 4.00am that my mozzie net was flapping about horizontally to the bed. The walls weren’t proper walls as I have mentioned and with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach, the wind and groaning trees and could quite imagine myself in some kind of battle. Four fishing boats were lost, dashed to pieces on the beach after dragging their anchors, including a brand new one with twin outboards. Dawn came and we residents gathered in the sand looking like survivors of a shipwreck. Everyone had donned all the clothes they possessed, three tshirts, jackets, hats, scarves, everything. It had its lighter side though the power was out for most of the day and of course the poor fisher folk. Mark and Barbara were in a house reached by a narrow track along the cliff edge which filled up with water, they couldn’t use the path until the waves died down, they were, as it were, marooned.

There I was then in Yelapa for a few weeks, it was very relaxing and I think I may have ceased feeling sorry for myself after the recent health issues, I had two operations on my leg. I have not been practicing blogging skills, hopefully they will improve as time passes. We will find out.

Here is the beach at Yelapa.

Here is the beach at Yelapa.

The river challenge, the morning wade.

The river challenge, the morning wade.

 

 

 

A frigate bird.

A frigate bird.

Interesting breakfast guest.

Interesting breakfast guest.

The dining room.

The dining room.

The beach on storm morning. No visitors.

The beach on storm morning. No visitors.

Normal day at the beach.

Normal day at the beach.

Trying to recover a wrecked fishing boat.

Trying to recover a wrecked fishing boat.