Sat. July 6, 2019:
Again, I woke up before 9am and deemed it too early. I continued on until safely after 9am. At breakfast I was finally able to get my fresh-squeezed mango juice fix. (There are three hearts drawn in my book next to that sentence). The bacon was a little too chewy for my taste. Yesterday I had seen a fruit on offer that had a green rind and pink flesh. In trying to explain it to Alexis I inadvertently made a food of myself. It sounded like I was talking about a watermelon. I sent Camilla a picture but they didn’t respond in time so I had to bite it to figure out what it was. It was just a grapefruit. Less bitter than usual but still a grapefruit. I had a bite of Brent’s waffle, it was like biting into a waffle that was left to defrost. We had to go exchange more money after breakfast. The money Brent had exchanged the previous night was gone. He had messed up the room bookings and not gotten us a room for Saturday night. This was realized immediately after booking, a while ago. He booked the second room but forgot to include me on it so they made him pay that day. Trouble was, they wouldn’t bill it to the credit card used initially, we had to pay in cash. We had overestimated our budgets so luckily, we were not headed for another Austria situation.
Back in the room, Brent changed into his bathing suit and we headed down to the pool. I lounged on a chair, half-asleep, quarter-regretting I had not brought my iPod, and quarter-regretting not having brought two books. Afterwards he went to the bar to order us some poolside drinks. Mojito and rum & coke in hand, we set the record for earlier drink: 10:30am. The mojito wasn’t as good as yesterdays.
Because it was still early in the day, we decided to head out first to Hemingway’s house and then cab from there to Old Havana. It would save us a walk and leave the rest of the day free for Old Havana and family. The hotel concierge asked us where we were going. He explained that because it was further away and not in the city centre it would be hard to get a cab back. He suggested that the driver wait there for us and we agreed on a price. He then translated all this to the cabbie. It was a great system and quite frankly the airport should adopt it. It was so much easier. We had a quiet drive, not sure if the radio was broken or just off. I regretted (again) not bringing my iPod with me. The irony is that I had carried it around all day yesterday. And only last night did I unpack it thinking it unnecessary. It was stressful to see jaywalkers just stepping into the street, there was a moped just zigzagging between cars and cutting off a bus.
It was a nice-looking house, surrounded by greenery. The house was atop a hill and from the back you could look out over the trees and see Havana in the distance. The dining room had giant doors that opened onto the view. We could only peek into the house from three sides but we saw it all. We saw his typewriter, his war correspondent outfit, his alcohol bottles. There was a massive boar head above his desk and I imagined how intimidating it must be to write under such conditions. He even built himself a small tower, complete with telescope. The sign said that down the walkway there was a pool, cock-fighting ring and tennis courts. What it should have said is there’s Hemingway’s pool, his boat is where his tennis court used to be and there is not a trace (save for the sign) of the cock-fighting ring. It took us about 40 minutes to see everything. We had been told one hour. We went back to the map- did we miss something? Was there another museum building? We had missed the cock-fighting ring, as we turned back the lady asked for our tickets, we said we had already given them and amid the confusion she let us in. We backtracked, saw the sign and then left. It cost 1CUC to use the bathroom, except when I saw that the attendant had to go and pour a bucket of water into the toilet to flush it, I suddenly felt like it should really cost more than that. Brent had written down the cabby’s license plate and as we searched for it he asked me if I would recognize him. Of course not! I am bad with faces. Thankfully he recognized us.
Another quiet cab ride to Old Havana. He dropped us off near another entrance into Old Havana that was much more easily accessible to and from the Malecon. Yesterday we had to backtrack a bit and go down winding side streets because of construction. It did not help that the map kept losing signal. We walked over to Plaza des Armas to meet Camilla. Surely, on a Saturday they would have the second-hand book sale. Nope. I messaged her to instead meet us at Cafe Escorial, where I planned to buy Lucy some coffee and myself a tiny cup of coffee. By Plaza des Armas we saw the tiniest little kitten, it definitely had not been properly weaned and was so small and young and it just broke my heart, it should still have been with its mother. The only other animals around were three stray dogs. On the way we passed by cat park again and once again it was full, there were water bottles and bowls for the cats so at least they were somewhat taken care of. We got to the convent and still no word from Camilla. I remembered that there was a train car near there that had been used to transport an important person around the country (alas we could not go inside of it). So, we went to look at it and she met us there, while we hid out in the shade desperately drinking water.
I finally had my tiny cup of coffee and it made me so happy. It was so tiny I had to take a picture of it beside my camera for scale. It was a darker roast than I am used to and it was sprinkled with cinnamon. Camilla joined us for our mini-trip to the Presidential Palace, Adrian was still napping. On the way, Camilla pointed out Cafe Santo Domingo, saying it was one of the places her and Alexis liked going to. We had to make a pitstop. I needed a soda as well. The orange flavour of Ciego Monterro was not as good as the cola, it tasted like vitamin c tabs. Brent had the TropiCola which tasted less root-beery than TuKola and was better. We split a brownie (dry and more cake-like), chocolate covered donut (so good, soft & fresh), and a senorita (flaky pastry with nutty filling and a chocolate top akin to a napolonka). We came up to the Presidential Palace from the back and had to circle it to get to the entrance. The interior was beautiful with vaulted painted ceilings. It was also kind of starting to deteriorate, with painted chipping, which actually added to the beauty of it, the presence of time. The windows looked down over a horse statue on the lawn and you could see the ocean and the Malecon. In the distance we could hear thunder, it was not cars passing by as Brent kept insisting. We wandered through the exhibit out of order, by the time we realized it was too late to backtrack. I was more interested in the building itself than the Museum of Revolution part. It was interesting to see a museum exhibit done from a specific and biased point of view. It was also made very clear to me just how little I know about Cuba and its history.
There was more thunder and gathering crowds as we walked back to the convent. On the way we stopped into the $10-deodorant store (as Alexis had dubbed it) to see if they had any soda/water/beer for sale. Instead i got some nestle Bono chocolate cookies. I thought they were Cuban, nope they were from Paraguay. They were not good. Afterwards I remarked how cheap the rum was and how anxious I was about duty-free being open. Camilla mentioned having room in her luggage and offered to take a bottle for me. I nearly ran back to the store. I got a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Reserva for 8CUC (when I later looked it up, I was shocked at the LCBO price).
We went back to La Bogedita and squeezed past the crowd down a little hallway to the back of the bar where the restaurant was. There was almost no one back there. No sooner had we sat down and been given menus, the guy came back asking if we wanted mojitos. Yes please! It was so much better than the hotel one. They even printed the recipe on the menu! (I would later try making it home without the tools to muddle- it was awful!). The whole restaurant was covered in graffiti. It was funny to see near the top where only the tallest people could sign. The walls also had pictures of all the famous people who had visited. Periodically other tourists would pop in, but no one stayed, they just wanted pictures. The restaurant was known for the fried pork chunks but honestly the roast pork leg was way better. The cristianos and moros was also better than at the hotel. This time it had meat chunks in it. The fried root vegetables were also amazing.
The trouble was that we had just about finished our drinks by the time the food had arrived. No one asked our drink orders until the plates had been cleared. Brent tried to order a Cristal beer for himself and a Ron Collins for me. He asked for the bill at the same time which caused some confusion. The guy may have been asking if it was two beers, of course we assumed he was asking if it was two separate bills. He then said there was no Cristal, so Brent asked for any Cuban beer. He got a Carlsberg and I got nothing.
Instead we went back to the drink vendor. We had already visited him on our way to dinner to get some hotel drinks (2 beers for Brent, a lemon-lime Ciego Monterro for me). I needed more. I was dehydrated. We got a bottle of water and a pineapple Ciego Monterro. I felt better after and it was the best of the sodas so far. It tasted like candy. We had finished the giant bottle before we even met up with Camilla.
The coffee was in a flimsy paper bag in my purse, so of course it got a tear and spilled in my bag. Everything smelled like coffee, even more than the previous day. Thankfully I had an extra plastic bag in my purse. Walking back along the Malecon, all the fishermen were out in full force. I almost stepped on a fish that was flopping about, slowly dying, having probably jumped out of a bucket. Another man had caught a fish that was at least 2 feet tall (it was leaning against a wall, tail down). I was craving fresh-squeezed mango juice again and i was hoping the hotel might have some available in the cafe. They served it at breakfast so logically they should still have some kicking around all the time? Right? Nope. we did stock up on some more water. I could not believe how dehydrated I was. It goes without saying but still, i was shocked. It was frustrating that we couldn’t drink the tap water.
I showered and changed into my jammies once we were back in our room even though it was just after 6pm. I was tired, sweaty and still dehydrated. Now I was also getting a bit hungry, we’d had an early dinner. I got dressed again and went down to exchange some more money. The rum was so cheap, I needed to stock up at the airport. While I was “out” i also got us some more Mr. Potato chips, sour cream & onion flavour this time. I found them a bit off, they were like 85% of the way there to real Pringles but Brent was loving them- he’d had them before in the Philippines. When I was buying water from the cafe, I chanced on one of my most brilliant ideas yet: the cafe provided room service, which includes cocktails. I casually asked if I could order a cocktail and take it to my room, leaving the glass there for the cleaning staff to return. The guy did not seem to care, I don’t know if this was just a common request or he had no idea what I was saying. Either way, I was finally getting my Ron Collins (like a Tom Collins but rum instead of gin) fix. I came back into the room juggling all three, with a victorious smile on my face. IT WORKED I thought to myself smugly. I was a genius. The Ron Collins was so good, just lemon, sugar, soda water and rum. Between that and the chips, it really hit the spot. There was nothing on TV so I played Mario while Brent read. We had a relatively early bedtime anyways, seeing as we would be getting up at 4am to head to the airport.