Cuba 2007: Day 9

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I start to wake worrying because I suspect the lights on the car don't work on dipped although they work on main beam. It was dark when I did the Half Marathon at 0700 in November 2004. When the alarm goes off at 0610 I discover that it's already light and I was worrying unnecessarily (again).

There is a straightforward plan:
0615 pack
0635 wash
0700 breakfast
0715 check out
0725 drive to airport
0740 check in for flight
0800 return car

This goes well. The car hire place isn't yet open. But I leave my car outside and take the luggage to checkin. There is some hassle here. The person processing the queue seems to make a mistake doing the person in front and he has to get someone to help him. They don't see eye-to-eye. Then as I'm waiting for him to sort this out, a couple push in without explaining (even in Spanish!) why. The check-in person agrees to this. Maybe they'd seen him previously. So it takes me until 0810 to check-in.

Halfway between the terminal building and the chalet that the car hire firm have on the road outside, I'm meant by a woman who asks me whether I'm "Mr. Cornelius". It's a woman from the car-hire firm. Now, this is what you call personal service. (My guess is that people hanging around saw me park the car outside the chalet and told her where I'd gone.)

She starts by asking me whether the car was OK. Then she checks it over for damages and she finds the aerial in the driver's door pocket. We then go to the chalet. Here everything goes well. I pay the 23 CUC per day charge for Super CDW in cash and she gives me the blank credit card voucher back.

It's all over in 5 minutes.

Back to the Terminal building, and go through to the departure lounge. It's hard work getting served at the cafeteria. I have a coffee, a fruit juice and a heated bun containing salami. She is trying to do too many things at once serving lots of customers. Some people pay straightway whereas others wait until they have finished. She seems to give preferential service to some customers. And some customers seem to get refills particularly of fruit juice without paying.

And some customers pay in local pesos and others pay in tourist pesos. Only one set of prices are displayed marked in dollars. These are the prices I pay. (A US dollar used to be equivalent to 1 CUC.) I don't know what prices the local pay. Maybe they pay the same numerical value but in local pesos in which case they are getting the food for 1/25th of the price I'm paying or maybe they pay 25 times the value given on the board. I don't know.

It is wonderful to watch. When I try to order another coffee later it's impossible to get her attention. Later when it's not so busy I return and get served straightaway. I don't pay for this. Maybe she remembers that she overcharged me by 0.5 CUC (about 30 pence) the first time.

The departure lounge has three doors to the tarmac labelled A, B and C. My boarding pass for the Cubanan flight to Havana has gate C but I see that, although some of the boarding cards of people standing around also have C, others have A. On the tarmac there are two planes, one form a Venezuelan airline and the other is that of another Cuban airline (Aerogaviota). I have seen the incoming flight (the one I caught from Havana to Santiago three days ago) land but now it is nowhere to be seen.

The departures screen says my flight is on time.

Now they open the door labelled C and confusingly board both of the aircraft through this door at the same time. My flight is on the Venezuelan reject. I later discover that the aircraft is a Boeing 737. When I get on board I discover that the signs on the plane are written in English and French.

It takes off almost on time.

The airplane lands at Terminal 1 in Havana. My car hire is at Terminal 3. Foolishly, when I get to landside, I agree to the first person who says taxi. But he is only a fixer. I think he's disappointed that I'm only going to Terminal 3. He would prefer hotels in Havana or Valedero as these journeys are more expensive. I ask him in Spanish how much it will be. He replies "cinco".

When we get outside the terminal building, he tries to get me a taxi, but no-one seems to be interested in this piffling little journey. He goes wandering off. A woman standing next to me ask me in Spanish whether I'm going to the Internacionale. I say Si. She is with her daughter and she indicates that we can share a taxi. Meanwhile my man looses interest, and I leave it to the woman to try her charm on the taxi drivers.

Eventually, she gets into conversation with a taxi driver. I don't know why it takes such a long conversation to get a taxi. In the midst of this, she gives me the thumbs up signal. At some point, I ask her "quanto Es" and she replies "cinco". I say "cinco por tres" but she indicates that it's cinco for each of us. Later I query this again and she says cinco for me and diez for us two. This seems unreasonable to me and I suspecting she is trying to scam (as the journey into Havana would be 20 CUC).

Eventually the taxi driver is happy and off we go to Terminal 3. It's about a 5 minute journey. When we get there we unload our luggage. And in front of the taxi driver she asks me again for cinco. I try to appeal to the taxi driver but he's not interfering in this. I proffer 2 CUCs and after it dawns that I'm not falling for her scam she gives 5 CUCs to the driver and takes my 2 CUCs. As I leave, I hear her and her daughter giggling but I'm pleased that I didn't get done.

At the car rental place they are expecting me. The woman ask me whether I've hired from Rex before. I said I did one last week. She just wants to know whether I know what's going to happen. And the procedure is identical to what happen with my previous car hire.

However, she also tells me weird things like if I loose a numberplate that will be 50 CUCs and if I loose the hire document (of which she has a copy ) that is another 50 CUCs.

The car is waiting outside. One again it is a saloon rather than the cheaper hatchback. It's nice having a car that's identical to what I was driving last time (well earlier this morning).

The person showing me the car goes around the car in order to fill in the form with scratches and dents. I don't see any but when he gives me the form there are about 10 marks! I see the aerial is attached and undo it. The final stage of undoing it fools me but he intervenes and then puts it in the standard place (the driver's door pocket).

Once inside I get my notes for the trip out. Once again I've got waypoints produced using Gmaps-Pedometer and satellite images of crucial junctions from Google Maps.

There's not much to the route: get out of the airport, go straight on at a roundabout, turn left onto the Autopista, turn right off the Autopista, turn left and then turn right.

I'm looking out for a petrol station to fill up when I get back. I have a map of Havana that has one marked but I have failed to get that map out. But it's somewhere on route before joining the Autopista. I discover that it's at the roundabout where I have to go straight on.

It's a pretty uneventful trip. I've not so happy with the car as it makes a few weird noises but it gets there OK.

In the 20 minutes before turning off the Autopista it pours with rain. I'm using the pre-prepared waypoints to forecast junctions and the figures are 1K short. There's actually a sign for "Las Terrazas" as I leave the Autopista.

At this junction there are a lot of people hitching and I feel bad about ignoring them as it's about to pour with rain again.

When I get to the village with Hotel El Moku somewhere in it, it's a bit of a mystery as where it is. However, there are road signs to the hotel (and to other places in the community). Eventually I get there. The road goes round in a complete circle which I don't spot and has me confused about the sense of direction for several hours.

The person manning the desk turns out to be very friendly and helpful. He and I get on very well. It's about 5 minutes before I ask him to speak in English. And he says he thought I was Spanish-speaking. Nothing like a bit of flattery!

Whilst we are waiting for someone else to find out whether my room is ready, I ask him what there is to do here. He says "lots" and starts to tell me things.

Eventually I sign up for a bird watching walk on the day after tomorrow. This is going to cost 17 CUCs which is a lot of money. He suggests where I can walk this afternoon.

He also tells me about the other restaurants in the community. I explain I'm on half board but he retaliates saying he can give me a receipt so I don't have to pay for the food.

There's a restaurant doing typical Cuban food and a vegetarian restaurant. I tell him that I guess I will want to go to the vegetarian restaurant tonight. I also think about going to the other one tomorrow and then choose the best for the third night. But I don't mention all this to him. In this way I avoid the hotel food (and presumably also help the local community) rather than the hotel chain.

The room is wonderful. It is right at the very end of the block and is located several floors up and so you are in the trees. At one end of the room, I open the door to the balcony and at the other end I open the shutters and so there is fresh air through the room. The bathroom, toilet and showier/bath are spacious. It's not for a while that I notice that there is an ordinary window for the shower/bathroom which means that people in the community down below could peek! Weird.

I see there is a wall safe. I have to return to reception to get this activated. I have a card for unlocking the door of the room and this card has to be updated as it is also used for opening the safe.

I go for the walk that he suggested in the afternoon. It is to a river that has pools some of which people can swim in. There are also rustic cabins for sleeping. It's about 3.4K along the road to the pools and the road is a bit boring, and the pools pretty but there is no café open.

For most of the way there, it has been thundering with wonderful lightening. And on the way back there are spots of rain and I put on my lightweight coat.

When I get back I go straight to the bar and get a mohito. I join two people from Denmark. I ask them about the food in the restaurant. It's OK but not that great. They say that they are going to the vegetarian restaurant that night. I said that I was planning to go there. So later I switch to the other restaurant.

I ask the man at reception about Laundry. Although I've been doing my own up to now, it's not too sunny here and I wonder whether things will dry, and it would be nice to have it done properly. He says that I should leave it in my room and he will speak to the maid tomorrow morning and I should get it back the same evening. Excellent.

I have to pass reception to get a receipt before going to the restaurant. I tell him I've changed my mind and want to go to the other restaurant. He says he should ring up to see whether they are open. He tells me they say it should be OK but it take about 30 minutes before they are ready.

I go back to my room to get a book. And as I leave I just check that the card for locking the door works. I find that it no longer works. All my stuff is locked in the room with me unable to get in. Grhh!

I return to Reception again and explain the problem. He says that the man who looks after the door has just left. He lives in the village and he will have to get him back. I say no problem I'll go the restaurant and so things will be fixed when I get back.

It's just me at the restaurant which is weird. Tonight they will just be cooking for me. The menu has a few things on it but I go for the special of the house. The waiter explains that this is "beef tubes" which confuses me. I have my dictionary with me and when he goes one of the words means "veal" which is confusing. When the food arrives it is shredded beef. It comes in a tasty sauce with white rice and plantain (which looks like dried bananas).

I have asked for a mohito but he says he doesn't have any ice. So I get a beer (Crystal which is not as strong as Buchanero) and later I get another one.

My receipt gets me postres (chocolate ice cream) and coffee (but not the beers).

It's a nice and friendly but weird that they are just cooking for me. I tip 10% as if I was playing their full bill rather than for just the two beers.

Back in the hotel, I get my key back. And I try it out. It's OK. But I have to go back to Reception to get the safe facility enabled on this new card!

However, not long afterwards the door key goes wrong again. So I'm back again to see the man at Reception. By this time he's told me his name (Freddy). And we've exchanged other things like who I work for, where he lives, where he studied, where I've been. He's got to get the man back again.

I go back to the bar and have a mohito. I sit with the couple from Denmark again and tell them the latest episode in the saga of door key.

Freddy comes back and says the man is here. We go to the room and the lock man has difficulty in disabling the door. Freddy tells me that there is a Spanish saying that translated word for word means something like "when things go wrong, smile". I say that I'm taking it all very calmly. I haven't shouted yet. Maybe I will if this all continues tomorrow. He asks me whether I have a gun (to shoot him)!

He suggests that I have a different room and I readily agree. If things go wrong twice, it's bound to happen again. When the lock man gets the door open, he then has to do some magic on the door to the safe too.

I shift my stuff to the new room. They offer to help me, but I prefer to do it myself partly because my stuff is spread out all over the place and partly I just want to put the stuff in the identical places in the new room. It's helpful that the new room is two rooms away and so it has the same orientation as the first room.

I return to the bar and have another mohito. The people from Denmark have been joined by two others from Newcastle. We exchange histories and it turns out the male person of the couple was at the Language Centre at Durham University when I was in the IT Service at the University. My guess is that we probably did have some contact whilst we were both there but he moves the conversation on.

With my comings and goings, I think the barman forgot about my two mohitos. So, although he gets other people to pay up before closing, he doesn't quiz me. I decide to ask him how much for two mohitos. He says 5 CUCs. I think I could have got away with it.

An eventful day!

Here is a link to today's photos. Click the big i button in the centre of the screen to get the titles of each slide.

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.