Susan and Norman's Cuban Odyssey
page 5

Patio Los Dos Abuelos

...we have arranged to meet the others at Patio Los Dos Abuelos (The Two Grandfathers). Here, the seven of us are given a virtually private concert by a group of 4 (then 5) musicians, with voice, guitar, bass, bongos and maracas. The one guitar has a set of 3 doubt strings, in A-D-F. For the price of a beer and what we put in the passed glass, we have a wonderful hour in the vine-covered courtyard.

The 2 Grandfathers appear to be the black and white grandfathers of the owner, from what I can tell of the legend on the back wall.

Shopping in Cuba

Donna, Norman and I head back towards the main square to find a taxi; we stop at a street market to check out the stuff. The difference between dollar prices and peso prices is incredible. I gather that Cubans pay in pesos, while tourists can be charged in dollars (the same number) except in dollar stores (i.e., priced in dollars).

Donna treats me to an ice cream on the street. 0.60 pesos, or about 4 cents. Then she and I wander into a few dollar stores to check out the merchandise. Paltry is the best word to apply to the selection. A few items, all inside glass cabinets. The windows contain more goods than the store, it appears. A case of putting all one's goods in the shop window.

Donna, Norman and I meet back at Parque Cespedes and get a cab and begin our journey back through the fumey, busy, narrow streets.

Back at the hotel, I fall into the shower, but Norman falls into a volleyball game, catching the last 10 minutes of it.

A little while at the beach, at the beach bar (sunset time again) a rest in our rooms, then it's dinner time again. Life is so busy.

I am still queasy, so eat light and drink nothing, and slip back to my room before the cho.

Wednesday, January 21.

(sorry, the last roll of film is still to be processed)

This is the day of Norman's big snorkelling, fishing, boating expedition. He and Lynn are off at 9:30/10:00. They are picked up by the launch and taken out to the impressive sailboat, and off they go. The rest of us enjoy a short trip in a large pedal boat, a four-seater with room for the fifth person (me) to drape herself gracefully across the prow as a figurehead. If only my bug weren't bugging me. Fortunately for me, Donna is feeling seasick, so the jaunt is fairly brief.

I do some more snorkelling at the reef and commune with the fishes, and, with a tight-fitting pair of goggles, get no sea water up my nose.

The entire rest of the day is spent at the beach, with a brief lunch break. Jamie's philosophy of sloth is contagious.

We have a plan to go into town for an evening at Casa de la Trova, so I dose myself with half an Imodium, and 5 of us (Norman, me, Lynn, Janet, Jamie) squeeze into a cab (4 VERY friendly in back seat) and head into Santiago.

There is a baseball game on the car radio. Santiago, the champions (yay!) are beating the pants off Santus Spiritus.

At the Trova, we arrange for Robin, the driver, to pick us up at 12:30 and head inside to enjoy the old style music. All acoustic. The first set is in the main floor, where eight men, some of them very old (especially the one with the hat and trumpet) play traditional Cuban jazz on guitar, bass, bongos, maracas and bangy sticks.

The dollar we paid to get in is just for the seats, it seems, since the show is open to the street, and lots of people (well, guys) are hanging out just outside the grillwork enjoying the music too).

Second show is upstairs, pricier, but not as good. The guys are younger, louder, jazzier, with amplifiers and matching outfits.

I enjoy being inside one of the old Spanish style houses. In structure, it's much the same as the oldest house in the western hemisphere (though probably a few centuries newer?) built around a central courtyard.

There are huge old doors leading out from the room that runs the length of the house to a second story balcony running around the outside. The balcony railing is all old ornate iron work.

Norman and I look down into the street below, where there is plenty of activity. The sandwich vendor on the corner is doing a brisk business, the young people wander up and down the street meeting and greeting their friends, the cars weave around the pedestrians.

We can look across at other houses and balconies of similar faded glory. The architecture is magnificent, but they are all terribly run down and, I suspect, unappreciated. The shabby grandeur is poignant to the point of heartbreaking.

Lynn wanders off down the road and joins a different party, where the rum and beer and music are fairly free-flowing.

At 12:30, Robin is waiting for us as arranged. Santiago won 7-2. We are rushed back to the hotel. Most of us go to bed, but Lynn is up for still more partying, and goes off to the beach bar, where Robin joins him and downs at least 4 beers before driving back to town.

Thursday, Jan 22.

Our last morning. We rise earlyish and I take a dip in the sea, then I settle in for a morning on the beach, having decided against the temptation to hike to the farm, which starts with climbing up (by ladder)the rock face we climbed down by rope earlier in the week.

I read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Then it's time for lunch. Janet, back from the hike (I'm glad I opted for sloth) and Lynn join me at the beach lunch place for salad and fries and beer.

Then it's time to get my act together. We pack up and work out logistics of remaining in holiday mode (and costume) until the last possible minute, and pretty well manage to do so.

Mysteriously, the bottom half of my bathing suit has vanished from the balcony.

I make up for my near-abstinence of the past few days by downing 3 piņa coladas at the bar, and Norman has one last volleyball game. We hang out at the pool for the rest of the time (as opposed to those who, having checked out, are sitting in the lobby guarding their luggage) then get changed and hang out some more.

The bus pulls up to the door (visible from the pool patio) and it's time to go. Norman gives Alex his Raptors hat. We say goodbye to all the gang we've been hanging out with all week, climb on the bus and the more animated of the staff jump up and down and see the bus off.

At the airport, we check in and pay our departure tax of 25 USD. We spend the next four hours on the world's most uncomfortable seats. I buy a Cuba t-shirt ($5) and a pin (this one is a flag--a little more subdued for my hat than the Che pin), and eat the food we've scavenged from the last three meals.

Painfully remembering that I lost my 1999 trip diary in Shannon Airport moments after making the last entry, I keep a close watch on my trip diary.

One final entry. The plane is late arriving in Santiago from Toronto. Apparently, this was due to "political trouble in Dominican Republic," preventing the plane from refuelling there and setting back the entire day's schedule for the aircraft. The pilot assures us we have plenty of fuel now.

We arrive back in Toronto by 3 am, and are in bed by 4.

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