Day 2: Playas del Este, or: Vamos a la playa!

I am sitting at the beach with my feet in the sand. I’ve already taken a swim and I had a couple of Cuba Libres. Wonderful. Since my start in Havana was quite rough so far, I decided to actually do something fun. I took a bus at the parque central ($5CUC return ticket with Transtour) and I went to Playa Santa Maria del Mar.
It was a bit cloudy at the beginning and the beach is really empty. I am now enjoying my day-off at the beach among tourists who do not try to rip me off, who d20141216_152625o not follow me and try to hit on me. I had nice conversations with other tourists, but most of them are just…different. Of course, I am a tourist as well. But still, I feel different than those tourists who buy their holiday packages and who just end up spending 2 weeks at the beach at the same hotel. I had a really nice conversation with an elderly man from Canada. He regularly travels to Cuba and he always takes clothes, pens, notebooks, etc. with him for the locals. This time, his project is a homeless man who lives on a piece of cardboard in front of the hotel. When he tells me about this man, then I am confused.

I thought that the Cuban government takes care of people? Everybody assured me that people might be poor in Cuba, but the government makes sure that the basic needs of people are covered. So usually, they get housing, food stamps, health care and education provided. I started to be curious. After my Canadian friend (In Cuba, everyone you meet is your ”amigo”) got me some Cuba Libres from the hotel bar, he wanted to introduce me to his homeless friend. So, I followed him to the hotel and there he was.

He literally sat on a piece of cardboard. He was wearing a cap (my Canadian amigo brought him the cap from Canada) and he wore ripped clothes with stains everywhere. And he was insanely drunk. Apparently, tourists had quite some fun to provide this homeless Cuban guy with regular Cuba Libres or Mojitos. I tried to talk to him since I wanted to understand why he was living on a piece of cardboard in front of the hotel. But his drunk-Spanish was impossible for me to understand. The only thing which I got was when my Canadian amigo and a Polish man who joined our conversation, started talking about Socialism (The Polish man was a perfect conversation partner as he experienced socialism live back then). Then, all of a sudden, our drunk Cuban amigo started yelling ”Socialismo! Solidaridad!”. Was that sarcasm? He was pretty drunk, but still he was really enthusiastic. I did not get the picture at all. Anyways, this was the first and last homeless person that I would see during my four weeks in Cuba.

After this experience, I said goodbye to my Canadian amigo (Lunch at the hotel- Thank god I do not have this cliche tourist vacation).I returned to the beach where I am now sitting in the sun, digging my toes into the powdery-sand. Life is wonderful. I feel like walking to another spot when I hear the sound of guitars and some voices. I follow the music with bare feet in the sand and I end up at a little bar-thingy… Some chairs and tables in the sand with a little roof and a wooden shed next to it where I spotted some alcohol bottles. Hmm… I order a Pina Colada, listen to the music and the waves in the background. The waiter with my Pina Colada arrives, and he tells me to take a sip. He is holding a bottle of white Havana Club Rum and pours it into my glas until I say ”gracias.” He tells me that I can call him whenever I want more rum. My trip is starting to get better at this point 😉 I am sipping on my Pina Colada and I feel the sweet alcohol kicking in as I already had a couple of Cuba Libres before. The only thing I have eaten so far was a quick breakfast. Never mind, I am on holiday. Next to my table, there are two guys sitting. One of them gets up and asks me if I want to dance with him. I start laughing and I say that I am not good at dancing salsa. So, he tells me that he can teach me. And we start to dance, in the sand, next to the ocean. I am light-headed, the sun is warmly touching my skin, and I enjoy the dance. It turns out that the two of them are also tourists from Mexico and that they are also staying in Havana, just like me.After the dance, we continued talking a bit but then they had to leave. We decided to meet up in the evening for a drink. I was really excited. Two nice guys, also tourists, who wanted to hang out. Finally! I wasn’t alone anymore. The two of them left, and I continued drinking Pina Coladas. By the way, those were the best Pina Coladas I have ever had. With fresh coconut with little pieces in it, fresh pineapple juice, and of course. My best friend, the guy with the rum bottle.

At one point, it was time for me to go. I left my little paradise beach and went back to smelly,heavily polluted, Havana.
After a nice dinner at a nice restaurant (but expensive again! 😦 Although I asked my host Isabel for a cheap place!), I met up with my two Mexican amigos and we had a great time out. We went to Hemingway’s favourite bar and had Daquiris, then we walked a bit through Habana Vieja, and we went to some beers for drinks. The two of them were absolutely fantastic, gentlemen-like guys. Oseas, a political science student who was about to spend 4 months in Havana in order to do politica20141216_213744l research, and his friend Salvador who was visiting him here and who was a political consultant. The perfect guys for political discussions! They told me a lot about Mexico and that I should come and visit. We talked about corruption in their country, violence, the amazing food… And of course, about Cuba. Oseas agreed that many people in Cuba are poor and that the salaries are extremely low. But he also acknowledged that there is no extreme poverty such as in Mexico and that inequality in Cuba is not the same as in other countries. You will be hearing more about Oseas at the end of my trip, by the way.
Anyways, the two of them were amazing, they paid all my drinks and also brought me home. For the first time in Cuba, I felt really happy and I had a nice evening. I really enjoyed their company. If you guys are reading this by any chance: Thank you!

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I got home, and I happily went to bed. I couldn’t wait what else I would discover in this crazy country.

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