Friday and Saturday (19/20-05: before leaving) everything went wrong. I got robbed, things got lost, Luna ran away. All in all a rather dismal start. Then, on Sunday, I got a call from the Organisation Team of Cuba: they managed to check in everyone online. That is to say, everyone but me. Horror and stress ensued, though I tried to keep calm. All I had to do was go show my face at an airport desk. As might be obvious (from my long internet silence if nothing else, which you may or may not have noticed.) I made it through.
Right now I'm typing this on my phone, taking my time , my feet in the water of the hotel's swimming pool. I'll snatch the first opportunity to post this, but I'll probably only be able to use wifi after Cuba.
When we landed, we had a very watery welcome. Rain, and lots of it. (Another stitch since the weekend?) I think I was the only one who didn't mind much, but then again I am the only one who can't really appreciate the sun. I am still grateful for every day I live in Holland.
Since the first day, there has been plenty of sun. We started our Tuesday by breakfast at our Hotel Vedado, which was surprisingly good. I remember all too clearly that food in Latvia was 'meh', and though I will repeat again and again I'm glad I eat to live, and don't live to eat, I'm really secretely relieved the food here is nice so far. (They had told us not to expect any culinary niceties, but I'll disagree. I've already had the best grilled fish I'll have in a long while)
After breakfast, it was a gathering in the lobby, to take the bus to Miramar, and the Escuela de Idiomas (or language school).
The barrio (neighbourhood) is supposedly on of the places where the really rich people lived,until everything became property of the state and the all left, either to the States, or Spain, or elsewhere.
Dick (our spanish teacher) had already divided us into groups, so we heard that morning that the class of 35 peeps had been divided into 5 groups of 4 levels: next-to-nothing, basics, two groups of 'normal' and one advanced. Was dealt into the last one, with only three other girls (Nikki, Anouk and Emma) and one guy (Tom). And Jeremias, but he was just there because otherwise he'd probably have to wait out, bored, every day of week one. Explanation: Jere is an Argentinian. He needs as much Spanish classes as I need either Dutch or English ones.
After classes (and the realization I might starve whenever a restaurant told me they had nothing but 'carne'), we went on our first ever tour: la Habana vieja. Jeremias toured us along 'el Cinco Plazas', or the five squares. We saw the cathedral, the forts built to protect Habana from the pirates harrassing the coasts (the Dutch, the English and the French).
I had my only swim in the swimming pool of this week. I think it's the only day I managed to relax.
The second tour was the day after. Gloria toured us, Hannah toured the second half of the group. On the schedule were the Capitolio (basically the Eiffel tower of Habana in terms of importance), and el Barrio Chino (Or Habana's Chinatown, only without the abundance of the Chinese themselves. The only ones we saw were tourists, and there will probably be a lot of them working in the kitchens).
We got two tours on the day of our Oral Spanish exam. (Can you say tough?). One was a tour I was looking forward to a lot: Museo del Revolucion, or, in other words, Fidel's own piece of work. His entire life, as well as parts of -mostly- the twelve survivors of the first 82 to land back on Cuban grounds from Mexico, the best 'friends' of "the Beard". Amongst them: Che Guevara, current president and his own brother, Raúl Castro, Almeida, Cienfuegos and more. It was muy interesante.
The second tour consisted of Hotel Nacional, and opposite to the hot and suffocating museum, this tour turned out to be a pleasant surprise, not only because of the airco (though it played a big part), but also because I had no idea what to expect. I knew there had been 'some' famous people visiting it since forever, but I never imagened the bulk of names that hit me: Johnny Depp (!), Louis Amstrong, Frank Sinatra (I touched his doorhandle 8D ), the first actor to play Tarzan, who used to jump off the balcony of the first floor into the 1.3m deep swimming pool, as well as LOTS of mobsters. The maffia actually held a conference there that shut down the hotel's usual running for it.
It's been a couple of days since I had my feet in the pool, typing out all of that. And I will give an update of everything promise, but I need to get this off my chest first:
I JUST RODE A HORSE!
That, and today was epic from every angle. First of all, when I woke up and opened the door, the view took my breath away and left me momentarily speechless. Pinar del Rio, and specifically Vinales, is gorgeous. It's not called Cuba's Back Yard without good reason. Nowhere else do they have scenery and greenery like here.
Stacey, with whom I had had that Storytrail workshop in the beginning of this month (May), had to tour group 2, Elise our group. I managed to tag along with the other group, for the sole reason of being intensely curious as to what Stace had created. She was awesome. Her tour through the cave of a mogote (lime stone formed mountains), with a story about Cubans first hero: Hatuey, an indian, and an interesting debate in front of Cuba's biggest (and ugly) murial was interesting throughout.
After the storytrail we had lunch, and afterwards went to a tobacco farm. Lots of green, lots of interesting facts told by Mark and Kirsten. The entire proces was explained, from planting the seeds all the way to rolling the cigar, although we only went to the 'factory' to see it happening the day after. Mark also introduced something called Guayavita, which, as the name indicates, is a liqour-ish drink with small guavas in the bottle. Apparently there are two versions, and everybody who had a taste seemed to prefer the sweet to the dry one, judging by the looks on their faces. It all merely smelled like alcohol to me.
After we got back to our bungelows (yeees, the luxury, so much fun, your own little house) we had about fifteen minutes to get ready for the next activity, horsebackriding. I had 'stolen' some of the left-over meat off our tables to give to my new best four-footed friends (besides Luna, of course). They practically ate it without chewing, wagging their tails all the way.
Choosing horses was a tad difficult, they all looked fairly skinny and like followers. Hannah and I were silently squabbling over the most beautiful of steeds, a black one, firey and passionate. I asked for a fast one, and a fast one I got. Not our black beauty, but a greyish white horse who didn't look all that. Turned out he was far more eager to run than Blackie, which Hannah got, so I was satisfied. Hannah and I were quick to jot ahead and leave the rest of the group behind, and I tried out my steed the first opportunity I got, a meadow. Best. Thing. Ever. The horse guy wasn't too happy with me, though the old man who had assigned me the horse had twinkly eyes and the biggest smile.
After horseriding I took a swim, a shower, sang happy birthday to Emma at 18.00 exactly (midnight in Holland), admired a colibri with Stacey, and got ready for some bat-watching. The cave we had been at in the morning was full of them, and we'd been told that we could go see them. A pretty sight, but damn do they make a racket for such tiny animals. One of them, it looked like a baby still, came gliding so close to me I squealed (of happiness). Which says plenty.
To get back to before we left to Pinar del Rio, there's not a lot to tell. Mostly, spanish classes. The last evening in la Habana Anouk and I visited Habana vieja to eat something, though I wasn't hungry, and we ended up seeing Habana by night. Especially the Capitolio was a grand sight.
At the spanish language school we all got to prepare a little act, and after our written exam, which took place on the last day of us being in Habana, we got to watch this little show. It started out with everyone receiving their certificate, and afterwards a dance performance of a couple of children from a neighbouring school. After that, one by one we performed our own acts to each other, which was as much fun(ny) as it was good.
The bus trip to Pinar del Rio didn't take too long, two hours top. We were all pretty flabbergasted by the sights of the mogotes as we got a little talk about them and the other mountain ranges of Cuba. I personally wouldn't have minded if we had stayed here a week in the Spanish school, instead of Habana, which I had pretty much become tired of after 3 days.
I'll end this post here, for it's length and your tired eyes if nothing else. I'll keep on typing, of course, so stay tuned!