<Notes from Novemeber 29, 2009>
Today I had Sunday lunch with my Cuban friends and their mates. Instead of eating at my friend’s home we met at the El Rapido cafe next to their church. This ubiquitous chain of government cafeterias – you can find them and their yellow/white/red awnings – are in most suburbs and towns . They are meant to be open 24 hours but not a lot of them deliver on that promise. I’ve been to many of them in my time in Cuba. The menu consists of ham, ham on a pizza, ham sandwich, ham and pork sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich and a selection of ice cream. There is apparently chicken as well and when they have yoghurt it’s very good. As you order from this menu, you will invariably be told “No hay” to the first 3 requests. There are 5 of us. We order 5 pizzas, ice creams and drinks. There seem to be more cigars, deodorant, and coffee beans for sale than food. I notice some young Cuban men sitting around drinking beer with a straw – hip flasks in their pocket as well, they’re very organised… one of them staggers over to us and shakes our hands.
Anyway, the pizza was fine, and very cheap (for me, not so cheap for my friends or their friends) therefore I insist on paying.They always pay for me but it makes more sense for me to pay, I tell them I want to thank them for their hospitality. I think it’s only about $10 for all of us but, yet again, J.A returns my money and tells me not to be so silly.
I pick up a copy of Granma, the government newspaper. Copies are available in English, Spanish.I get both – then I can practice my Spanish, and they also make great souvenirs.
I’m on my way home tomorrow, so the last thing to do on my list is to take the Camello by myself. This bus/cattlecar/lorry thing is unique to Cuba. It’s some kind of truck with a bus welded onto it that is used for urban public transport. Hundreds of Cubans cram themselves into these vehicles to get around town. I’ve only been on it under the supervision of friends and have never ever got anywhere near having a seat. I’ve been warned to beware of bottom gropers if I am alone. It’s very crowded and you should watch your belongings as well. This form of transport is really, really cheap – a few cents, I think. Cubans say that it’s great value for money, as you get more sex, crime and thrills than at the theatre. You can make great friends on the camel bus. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with someone when your head is in their armpit. On more than 6 trips I had nothing stolen, met about 10 people and, unfortunately, no pinches on the bum…maybe next time.I recommend the camel bus to all who visit Havana, as this exciting and unique part of Cuban culture is rapidly being replaced by normal, safe, comfortable buses.