Cuba part 10: Poverty can be blissful

Six hundred and eighty US dollars. Shit. I exchanged 200 yesterday for CUC because we found a guy who gave us a great exchange rate. Panic sets in as I thought I had more. I tell myself to take a breath and remember I have options. I need to be smart and choose well, but I have options. This is more than 95% of the Cubans have. 

Ben is working and he comes over for one of our quick chats. He asks if I’m ok, he’s really good at reading my face. I explain I had less money than I thought and need to go to the travel agency tomorrow to find out how much flights cost. I choke back tears as I tell him I still don’t know where to go. Then I apologise for talking about the same thing over and over again. He’s called away and I think how he would love to be in my position right now. He’s not allowed on a boat to leave Cuba and he can’t afford to buy me a coke (actually tukola), much less a plane ticket out of here. I realise how spoiled I am and vow not to complain. After all, he doesn’t complain and he would have a lot more right to. 

Today I went to the travel agency. Ticket to Mexico $277 and to Cartagena $800 something. Well thank you universe for making my choice for me. I have to go to Havana to enquire about Panama, I don’t have money to waste doing that. Isla Mujeres via Cancun it is. I feel good about it. I vow to be more social at the marina in case a boat is going to Mexico, Panama or Colombia. For I have a variety of homes to choose from and a job in Mexico, but it’s not well paying and I still need to eat. Ok, I’ll stop lying to everyone and myself. I would also like to return to Captain Cool. 

When I was talking about my next move with Ben, I said that I had to think good because I would have to stay there for a while and I am going to be happy about my decision. I’m tired of living in this “Well maybe it could be better….” state. There is good everywhere, it’s time to feel settled somewhere instead of living here until the next thing. One thing Cuba has taught me is that my iPhone is mostly evil (I write on it so it isn’t all bad!). My state of mind has significantly improved since not having easy access to the Internet and it was pretty damn good before. 

Now I’m not saying that things couldn’t change in a heartbeat and I do move on. God knows that’s happened a hundred times already. I’m just saying I have stopped looking/hoping for it and have decided to have my eyes wide open to what’s in front of me at the moment. So far, it’s working incredibly well for me. 

I leave the travel agency feeling like a weight has been lifted, for the decision has been made for me. The decision I knew was right, but didn’t quite have the strength to make on my own. I have to change some CUC for CUP (the Cuban national money which the Cubans get paid in), so I walk and stand in line with all the other Cubans. They look at me in shock when I talk Spanish. I just smile. I look like a tourist today. The sun is a killer so I have my big tourist type hat to protect my skin so I can continue to play with toy boys for as long as possible. 

With my CUP, I start to explore the outskirts of the city. There’s a big line at the bastido tienda (it’s the most refreshing fruit milkshake I’ve ever had) so I went and ordered one. I stood outside drinking it while listening to all the banter from the locals. I returned my empty glass (it was glass, there really isn’t that much plastic here which is great. If you don’t bring your own plastic bag, chances are you will be juggling all of your merchandise all the way home. I learned the hard way) and went in the opposite direction to el centro and the marina. 

The ambience is very different here. There are national horse and buggy taxis. There aren’t people shouting “Taxi!” “Where are you from?” I’m almost ignored. I look at the buildings which don’t differ too much from the centre. Some are run down with caved in roofs and ceilings, chipped paint and appear derelict other than the furniture inside, with maybe even a tv. Others are beautifully painted and well maintained. I see a big run down building in the distance and make that my goal. It’s better to walk with purpose, not like I feel at all that I’m in danger. I enjoy looking in each of the open doors. No, it’s not rude. Quite often there are little cafes or shops with no advertisement. You just have to look inside to see what treasures await. I’m looking for lunch or one of those delicious cookies everyone is eating and I can’t find anywhere (I’m still on the hunt). 

I admire all the old cars in their various conditions and watch all the people hustle by on their way somewhere. I only see one woman on her phone, how different to anywhere I’ve been in the last five years. I reach my destination and see it’s an old church. Wow! It takes up a whole square block and it’s all closed up. No money to maintain such a magnificent building. It is what it is. 

I notice there’s a busy street up ahead so I continue to walk in hopes I can find the chicken I’ve now grown an appetite for. Or maybe a fresh juice. The heat is quite unbearable. A dry heat, but one that burns so deeply it feels like my blood is boiling. I come to the corner and see there’s a bus station and once again I am bombarded with offers of taxis “Classic cars, best price!!” I politely decline and start walking toward the marina. 

Down the new street I haven’t yet explored, there are more horse taxis and local run down buses. Who cares. They work and get you from A to B in a very economical way. I rode one for free, accidentally. I enjoy studying the architecture of the houses. I’m no architecture expert, but I think they are from the Renaissance era. There are pillar type things attached to side of the houses and valances along the roof, which have elaborate designs carved into them. If you look close, you can see the colour the house used to be before the paint chipped off to expose the clay/brick substance (I hope my photos make up for my lack of architectural terminology…). Some of the houses probably haven’t been painted in over 50 years, because what’s more important? Feeding and dressing your family or having a beautiful looking house? Sounds like socialism has taught them some good values if you ask me. 

I see a group of four guys sitting in the doorway. Their conversation stops as I get closer. I walk by and one of them quietly says, “I love you.” I ignore him so he shouts it out. I turn my head and give him a cheeky smile as I keep walking. This evokes a cheer and “Esoooo!” from the group as I giggle and keep going. I have been in Latin America for 20 months, I know how to handle the cat calls. Actually, I know how to handle them better then the ones from the US. I know the Latinos do it to appreciate a beautiful woman and nothing more, unless she initiates. They don’t follow you (for long) or become aggressive. Many American men seem to do it arrogantly thinking I’m going to drop my pants and sit on them right then and there. Then they become deeply offended when I reject them. Please! Appreciate beauty, but then give women respect. 

I continue on my search for lunch with a lighter heart and a soft smile on my face. I continue to look out for cafeterias and settle for a pizza place which sells personal size pizzas for 6 pesos. This is something like 3 cents. It was a damn good pizza. I walk down the street eating while fending off the calls for taxis and a “beautiful woman” like me who shouldn’t be walking in this heat. 

A small sense of panic rushes over me as I think about my financial situation. But you know what? Cuba has very strongly demonstrated that it will always be ok. I mean always. I appreciate life and the people in it and as long as I always continue to do that, life is going to take care of me. The panic subsides and as I hit the malecon, the strong smell of garbage decaying in the sea knocks on my nose. Who cares. Cienfuegos is a beautiful place with beautiful people. 

I’m still a chicken shit. I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell Hank I’m looking for another boat to get out of here. Actually, maybe I’ll just tell him after I find one or am on my way to the airport… Damn, I can’t text him here!


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