Cuba 2007: Day 8

Here is a link to tomorrow's diary.
Here is a link to yesterday's diary.
Here is a link to the index of the days.

I didn't take any photos today.

Got to breakfast earlier today but the place was about 4 times fuller than yesterday. I guess it is because of the Festival de Caribe. The coffee machine had run out and had to be refilled. 20 minutes later and it had out again. However, there was an urn dispensing some black liquid in another corner of the room. This turned out to be a lot nicer. There was a queue for tortillas but today's with jamon and queso was a lot better than yesterday's.

After breakfast, I meet the cleaner in the corridor. She wants to clean my room. (Yesterday, I asked her to go away.) She's sweet. I say 5 minutes, and I get my stuff together to go to the pool bar to do some financial calculations.

I've seriously underestimated how much money to bring if I carry on at the current rate of expenditure. I have also to pay departure tax, 2 or 3 lots of petrol and car insurance (23 CUC per day for Super CDW). I could pay for the latter by credit card but that would cost more.

I still have 300 euros and 100 UKP. I decide to leave the 100 UKP as a reserve. I could cash the 300 euros now but I would still need more money later. If I'm going to get a cash advance on my credit card, I should do this now, i.e., in Santiago, rather than try and do it in the smaller places I'm going to for the rest of my stay. So I plan to get 350 CUCs on my credit card.

Visa credit cards from USA companies are not accepted in Cuba. The trouble is you can never tell who owns a UK bank these days. I bank with Smile which is owned by Co-op. Surely that must still be British!

I have previously noted that the bureau de change desk at the hotel has a Visa sticker. And it also says that it does Visa in my guide books. So I go there. But, even though he's got a Visa swipe machine in front of him, he says in Spanish that Visa is not possible and that I have to go to a bank.

I research where the banks are. One of my guidebooks points out that there's a bank between Calle I and Calle J on the Avenida Las Americas. That's not far away from the hotel.

There's not much of a queue at the bank, and whilst standing in the queue I keep reminding myself of what my PIN is. When I overdo thinking about PINs I tend to forget them. And I tend to do it by remembering visually where I go next on the keyboard of the PIN machine.

I was also hoping that my phone call to Co-op Bank before I came telling them I was going to Cuba would mean that the transaction would not be blocked.

I tender my credit card and passport and tourist visa. He takes all of these. He then asks me in Spanish how much money I want. I'd previously written 350 CUC (about 193) on a sheet of paper. He charges 395 USD to my credit card.

He then asks me in English as to how I would like the money. I reply in Spanish saying "vientes". This works. So I get 17 20 CUC notes and one 10.

Later I work out that it has so far cost me a commision of about 17. I'll also get charged by my bank. Later I wonder whether it would have better if I asked for the transaction to be done in sterling. He knew from my passport I was from the UK and so I guess he would have offered that if it were possible.

I didn't need my PIN. Even though he had a VISA swipe machine, my authorisation was done by signature.

I then "prune" some of yesterday's photographs and get yesterday's diary sorted out. The diary seems to take a long time to do. In the diary, I'm also temporarily listing the photographs I've taken so, when I get back, the chore of uploading them to Flickr will be easy.

Early tomorrow morning I'm flying back to Havana airport. It's an 0935 flight and so I want to check in for the flight by about 0740. Later this afternoon I recce the route to the airport.

This is the first time I'd been in the car since I got here. Maybe it would have made more sense to have dropped the car off at the airport two days ago and done two taxi trips from and to the airport. I'm currently worried the hire car person won't be there tomorrow morning at 0800 like he/she is supposed to be. We shall see.

The security guard is at the car. Looking out of my hotel window he often stands around here or he leans on my car and put his feet up on the tyres of the car next door. The cars are conveniently under a tree and so it is cooler. I say "Ola" to him and ask without an answer "Is everything OK?".

I look round the car to see if it is OK. It has been parked in the hotel car park but in one of the bays close to the road. Someone has moved the side mirrors into a safer position and I revert them back to normal. I say "Everything is OK. Gracias". I slip him 1 CUC. He asks me in Spanish whether I'm staying tonight. I try to reply that it's just one more night. Later I discover I should have tipped him 1 CUC per night. I hope I haven't annoyed him. He seemed pleased with his tip. I wonder how many Security Guards there are.

In my recce to Santiago Airport, I discover that it's about 11K from the Hotel to the Airport; it takes about 15 minutes. I reckon I should be able to get a quick breakfast at 0700 tomorrow morning before loading the car and checking out.

After the recce I go to the petrol station. He charges me 21 CUC. Last time I filled up in Baracoa it was 15 CUC. This doesn't surprise me. On the way back from Baracoa the petrol gauge didn't come off Full until I'd driven about 200K. Although the gauge said Full when I picked the car up, I reckon the petrol tank was not full.

Back at the Hotel, I leave the car in an area which is closer to the hotel building which I hope is safer.

At about 1530 I wonder whether I should now go into the centre of Santiago and go to both afternoon and evening performances separating it by food at some restaurant I haven't been to before in the centre. (The only restaurant in the centre of Santiago I tried when I was last in Cuba was not very good.) I decide to be lazy and start to type up today's diary. I'll probably go to the same restaurant as to where I went last night. I'll take my full Spanish dictionary with me this time.

I also ought to pack.

The waiter in the restaurant is pleased to see me again. He shakes my hand as I arrive. This time he offers me a table on the open-air terrace. I use my dictionary to translate the strange words on the menu. I decide to go for "chuleta de cerdo al jugo". According to my dictionary, this is meant to be pork chops in gravy. I also ask for a "ensalata mixte". The chops are not quite what I expected but it is wonderful again. It comes with a timbale of congri (rice with flecks of black beans) and a couple spoonfuls of potato that have been sauteed with a few other things like onions and cucumber.

He shakes my hand again when I leave. I like this restaurant.

With the Festival de Caribe in full flood, it is difficult to concentrate on watching one thing. In the end, the best act of the evening was a noisy event featuring rappers. I've no idea how this music is categorised. It could have been hip-hop. As I arrived it sounded like reggaeton but, as there were several different performers, the style changed quite frequently.

Some of the numbers were sang along by the audience. And, although there may be visitors from other parts of the Caribbean, my guess is that these local songs.

Alongside the performers, there was a small screen showing video clips. The names "trespeso", "sentimiento" and "rezistencia" appeared on these screens. I wrote these down meaning to look them on the web when I get back. (When I got back I found http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzqFvXTqau8.)

Knowing that it would be an early start tomorrow morning I tried to get to bed early. In the end I didn't make it until 0010.

I look at my luggage and decide the packing can be done first thing tomorrow morning.

I didn't take any photos today.

Here is a link to tomorrow's diary.
Here is a link to yesterday's diary.
Here is a link to the index of the days.