Day 11: Santa Clara, or: Human rights,…?

”Libertad es el derecho que todo hombre tiene a ser honrado, y a pensar y a hablar sin hipocresia. (…) Un hombre que obedece a un mal gobierno, sin trabajar para que el gobierne sea bueno, no es un hombre honrado. Un hombre que se conforma con obedecer a leyes injustas, y permite que pisen el pais en que nacio los hombres que se lo maltratan, no es un hombre honrado.” (Jose Marti, La edad de oro, chapter Tres heroes)

”Liberty is the right that every human has to be honest, and to think and talk without hypocrisy. (…) A person that follows a bad government without trying to improve the government is not an honorable person. A person which follows injust laws and contributes to the country to abuse its people is not an honorable person.” (my own translation, no guarantee that it is 100% correct)

Today’s blog entry focusses at an acquaintance which I made in Santa Clara, actually already on my first day there. I met this nice guy, I will not tell his name here for security reasons. He was super nice, we talked a lot and he even bought me beers.
He told me that he had a German girlfriend (but that he still saw other girls ”Soy un hombre!”- ”I am a man”. Yeah, Cuba…) Apparently he was hanging out with a lot of tourists, he told me about a Dutch group of backpackers who would arrive in a couple of days and a German-Thai couple that he spent some time with at the moment…
I was really careful, though. My disappointment regarding Cuban people was still quite fresh and I had promised myself not to trust people that easily again.
But he seemed to be a very social guy.
He asked me what I did, and I said that I was studying something like Politics, International Law and Economics. He pointed at my tattoo (I have the Amnesty International Candle tattooed on my left arm just underneath my hand), and told me that he thinks that it was great and that he believes that human rights NGOs are doing great work.
Oh wow.Life-Facebook-Status-18564
He continued saying that he had met many foreign people in Cuba who were involved in the field of human rights and he said that it was a shame that NGOs, including Amnesty International, were not allowed to enter Cuba.
He added that he was hoping that Cuba would change quickly and open up, since he was very interested to talk openly and to exchange ideas in this field with people from foreign countries. Then, he said quietly that it was sad that every time people try to talk openly in Cuba about critical things you had to be careful and look around to make sure that nobody was listening.

Actually, we also wanted to meet up in Remedios for a bit at the festival, but due to the large amount of people it was just impossible to find one person if there are more than thousands present.

Anyways, Santa Clara is pretty small and I saw him the next day, after my night in Remedios. When he saw me, he nervously waved at me and came closer to join me on the table in the cafe I was sitting (I had beers of course already at 11 in the morning).
He told me about his Remedios ”adventure”.
He was having a lot of fun with a group of his backpack-friends, when all of a sudden an undercover policeman asked him to come with him. He was in shock. He was just hanging out with his friends at the festival like everyone else!
My friend was taken to the police station and questionned the whole night until 4 a.m. They asked him what he was doing with all those tourists he was hanging out. They said that he spent too much time with foreign people and that he did not have the right to do so. He should stay away from non-Cubans. They made him pay a $30CUC fine (again, a normal Cuban officially makes about $20CUC per month!!) and then they released him after a couple of hours.
I couldn’t believe it. Why? What was the crime that he did? He was a social guy who was interested in other cultures and people!

But my day got even more scary.
After my talk with him, I went to the Che Guevara monument. I took some nice pictures, walked around and then sat in the20141225_144207 shadow- it was a really warm day. Then suddenly, a young policeman stood next to me. He said hi and asked me how I was doing. Then what my name was, where I was from and what I was doing in Cuba.
Ok, awkward.
But actually he was really nice and we had a nice chat.
I answered his questions honestly (I did not say much though besides the part that I was a political science student), and I told him that I came because I wanted to see what Cuba was like since I had read a lot about it.
And well, after I had answered his questions where I was going next, how long I was still staying, etc. I told him that I had to go. I thanked him for the ‘nice chat’, got up and started walking towards the next Bici Taxi.
Well, they do not take tourists immediately with them if they are suspicious I guess.
Or maybe the two incidences were just a coincidence.
I still do not have any answers to that.

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Day ‘n Night: Street party in Remedios,or: Navidad=Loco!!

What a night. After my dinner, I walked to the casa where I was supposed to meet the Argentinian guy who would travel with me together in the truck to Remedios that the friend of my host had organized. Half an hour later, he was finally there and the s20141225_015723enora led us to a casa of one of her friends who owns the truck- apparently there would be more backpackers joining us. We were sitting in a garden, and more and more people joined us. There was an Israeli couple, a Mexican guy, a Frenchman, the Argentinian and me. Especially the Israeli couple, the Argentinian and I had nice conversations. Although I was a bit scared to tell them that I was German (uhm uhm…), they declared right at the beginning that they were Israeli but that they do not agree with the politics of their government and that they want peace. Puh, no fucked up conservatives (little note on the side:I hope you followed the election-disaster in Israel this week….). After a while20141224_203345, the senora declared that the truck was ready. And oh yes, what a truck. I had never seen such a thing. It was super old, and there were some simple seats in the inside where things used to be transported apparently. It was loud, the whole truck was shaking and we were soooooo slow. On our way, we also collected an Italian group and it was actually fun. After about one hour we reached Remedios. It was incredible. A typical street festival with… different street food. Grilled pigs (yes, entir20141225_011048e pigs) were placed on tables without any fridges or protection. The men selling the meat did not wear gloves or any of it and simply touched the meat and put it on bread with their hands. A nightmare for every hygiene lover. Everything was covered in fat and oil. I was disgusted (I don’t eat meat). Oh, and they also sold apples. Why? Just because. We walked towards the ‘fun area’ after we had gotten some beers. It was hilarious. The most ugly and useless toys were sold there. Dolls that look like they were from the Soviet era and then hit by a bus. Then the best part. They also had a couple of primitive gambli20141224_233835ng games. My favourite one was the following: Rat Roulette There was a box in the middle that was surrounded by a circle of boxes. Every box in the circle had a number on it and a ‘price’ (a can of Coke, a small plastic ball,…). The guy collected money, and then at one point started turning the box in the middle. Then, the box stopped and the guy opened the cover. A white rat ran out of the box and towards into one of the boxes of the circle. The person that had bet on the box where the mouse went into won the price. Hahahaha every Animal Rights organisation in Europe would go nuts!

It was so much fun. Just walking around with the Israeli couple and the Argentinian, looking at those bizarre games, taking pictures and laughing. So apparently, this was not only strange for me, a girl raised in Western Europe, but also for people from other backgrounds. ”Cuba es Cuba”. We also noticed that a lot of the decoration was not even ready, although the festival had alr20141224_221135eady started! There were pieces and tools everywhere, and construction workers still working on it. How strange! At midnight, there should have been fireworks. But it was almost 1 a.m. when there came an announcement via speakers ”The person responsible for the firework should come to building xyz so that we can start with the preparations.” The PREPARATIONS?? After a 1 hour delay? Oh wow. 20141224_230753 Then finally, the fireworks started. It was an absolute chaos. The streets were completely packed with people and the firework was totally unorganized. The fireworks flew very closely, some landed in palm trees, others in roofs of houses… It was crazy. Then the craziest thing happened. We were basically in the middle of the festival when suddenly everyone started running in one direction. It was loud, people moved very quickly. I thought that something happened at that it was like a panic attack. But then I noticed that people were actually smiling and then I saw a little cart with fireworks on it in the middle of the crowd- and the organisers just pushed the cart and ran around with it chasing people while the fireworks from the cart went off! The only thing I was thinking about in this moment was that all this was super dangerous and that certainly people would get hurt that night. It was crazy. And as if all the loud noises from the people, as well as the music was not enough, there were also speakers which played a track with (seriously, I am not kidding) firework sounds. To make it more dramatic. HAHAHAHA awesome. We had to leave pretty early though, and so at around 2.30 we went back to Santa Clara with our super slow truck.  What a great and crazy night! I was sure that I wouldn’t forget this Christmas Eve, ever.

*note: The video of the Rat Roulette is available on my Facebook account. Unfortunately, the video format cannot be uploaded here. Send me a message or leave a comment if you want to add me on FB or if you want me to send you the video. Cheers!

Day 10: Santa Clara, or: The Rebel

First, Merry Christmas everyone! It was the 24 December when I woke up in my smelly casa in Santa Clara. The first thing which I noticed, was that my toothpaste was empty. Damn it! This was the moment that I had tried so hard to ignore until now, but that morning there was literally nada coming out anymore. What a pain in the ass.
The day before though, I had already realized that Santa Clara kind of has big supermarkets (bigger than what I had seen in Havanna, Cienfuegos and Trinidad).
So, I started my shopping trip. The first thing I crossed at the ‘Boulevard’ was a bookstore. I love bookstores! But of course… all books were second hand. And only in Spanish. And pretty old. I didn’t mind though and I bought the children’s book ‘La edad de oro’ from Jose Marti. I figured that since he is such an important person in Cuba, it was time for me to finally read something of him.
Afterwards, I finally entered a supermarket. I ha20141223_135328d to drop off my bag at the entrance (danger of theft), and then I entered it. And what a surprise! There were products there and the shelves were not empty!
The supermarket was divided up into areas, one of them was the grocery area, then the house articles and cleaning stuff, cosmetics, etc. It was really confusing though, since there were cash desks in the grocery area, but all the other areas were solely glass desks where you had to point at the product you wanted to buy and then pay.
So, first I went to the grocery area and got a bottle of water and two cookies. I noticed that the prices for the products were ridiculous. One jar of mushrooms: $3CUC! All canned products were from the European company SPAR. Of course the products are expensive then! It said on the back that they were imported from Argentina.
It took me more than half an hour to wait in line before I could finally pay my three items. I was super annoyed by the slow pace how the employees were working.
Then, I had to go to the next area and get my toothpaste. Again, I had to wait. Torture!

Generally, the work attitude of Cubans is quite strange. I had the feeling that nobody was working, anyways. The cafes were always full, people stalked me and told me their life stories constantly and didn’t want to let go. I always kept asking myself ”Don’t those people have a job? Or a family to take care of?’ Strange.

At one point, the heat was torturing me again and I escaped in the Cafe Obrador, which was a beautiful cafe next to my Casa Particular. The interior was super chick, held in white and black and there were modern paintings on the wall. The waiter wore elegant clothing and he was ridiculously hot. Tall, blue ey20141225_165855es, and this soft voice. He came to my table every two minutes and asked if I was fine, if I wished anything else…  I have to add at this point, that Cuban guys are not really attractive. Really. Don’t expect anything when you go there. But this man was super sweet.”Si quieres otra cosa, puedes preguntarme…” Anyways, I ordered a coffee with mint and it was fantastic. They had various tees and extravagant coffee variations. And then, the best part ever. There was a young, maybe 16 year old boy sitting on a chair, with an Apple Mac laptop and big headphones. He had curly hair and a piercing and he was wearing a Beatles-shirt. The music switched, from The Beatles (which is super unusual for a Cuban caffee, since most of them play typical Latino music or mainstream European/US party music) to ‘Hoobastank-The reason’ While I was having my coffee, and then afterwards a nice tea, my music hero kept playing alternative music.

Dur20141225_152948ing the rest of the day and my walk through Santa Clara, I noticed that this city was somehow different. I saw some punks, a couple of heavy-metal like people… and generally a lot of young people. Santa Clara is a university city, maybe that also makes it different. There was much more art in the city, and I even noticed some kind of ‘graffiti’, saying something about a Punk movement, including the anarchism symbol!!!!! Wow, Santa Clara the Rebel!
I ended my evening at a Peso-Restaurant where I ate for about $3CUC (grilled fish with rice and salad)! And then, it was time for the festival in Remedios!!!!
+++TO BE CONTINUED+++

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Day 9: Santa Clara,or: Pain

Before I even started the journey to my next destination, I have to say that my last night in Trinidad was hell. Really. Running around for the whole day in the sun made my sand flea bites on my legs suffer even more . It hurt horribly during the night, so I couldn’t sleep. At one point, I grabed a towel, let it soak in some ice cold water and then wrapped it around my legs- this was the only way to deal with the pain. Then, I managed to sleep for a bit, but at 3 am the neighbour’s chickens started to make awful noises UNTIL 7AM. My night was literally over. Then, the next shock. After I said goodbye to my beloved casa, I went to the Viazul bus stop. It turned out, that the timetable which I got in my casa in Havana already expired- there was no bus therefore going to Santa Clara in the morning. In Cuba, the alternative to the bus is to get a cab- either a collectivo (you, or the Taxi driver needs to find more people to join and then you can split the costs), or just a regular one. Since nobody wanted to travel to Santa Clara, I was trapped. The guy at the bus stop advised me to take the bus to Cienfuegos and then to try to get a collectivo there to Santa Clara.

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In Cienfuegos, I was again the only one who wanted to go to Santa Clara, so I just negotiated and got a super cheap taxi to Santa Clara ($15CUC!!)
Little note: Every Cuban who owns a car automatically is a taxi- legal or illegal. Some of them are really rude and ask for ridiculously high prices- never ever agree to the first offer that you get, mostly even half of the price is still ridiculously high. Be wise, I mean, a normal Cuban person makes about $30 CUC per month. So, it is not realistic at all to demand $10CUC for a five minute drive.

I arrived at my casa which my other casa had arranged- they were some family friends, otherwise all casas were fully booked because of the christmas festival. My room was awful. Totally disgusting. There was mould in the shower and the small of the bathroom was indescribable. The bedroom was dark and dirty. But whatever. The landlady also told be that I couldn’t have dinner there, but she arranged that I could eat at some friend’s place.

I spent the rest of the day outside, where my legs were killing me. The sun burned on my flea bites and I was driving crazy. I decided to go to a pharmacy and ask for something which could help against the itching pain. But: surprise. Cuban pharmacies are really strange, the shelves are empty and the staff just tells you that they cannot help you and that I either have to see a doctor or go to an international pharmacy. I went then to a tourist pharmacy, but no luck there either.

I was frustrated, my legs hurt, and everything was just awful. So, I just stayed in bed with wet towels wrapped around my legs and I napped.
But: the lady where I had dinner arange a seat for me in a truck which would take some people to Remedios for the festival the next day- yeaayy!!!
I was super excited- but I did not expect to witness such a crazy, hilarious, puzzling festival in this moment….