2017
03.18
Gas Supply Car

Gas Supply Car

SYNOPSIS:   DINNER WITH ROY AND HELEN.  SUCCESS AT THE INTERNET.  MOVING ON WITH A COLLECTIVO.  ABOUT OUR AIRBNB.

After I returned from the synagogue last night, we were met by Roy Junior (Roy Senior had picked us up from the airport) and his beautiful girlfriend Helen.  Roy Junior was 8 the last time, Celibeth was here.  Today, he is a handsome 23 year old with lots of ambitions and dreams about opening his own translation and tourism business with Helen.  Between the two of them they can speak four languages fluently!  We had a good time with them, eating out.  I missed all of the fun these guys had afterwards at a bowling alley, but work is work.  At last, my efforts connecting with the internet were crowned with success.  83 emails had piled up…    

This had been a long day!  Sleeping in a dense urban area in Havana is not easy.  The noises of the day continue until deep into the night.  Particularly the rooster, who so nicely blends in during the day, becomes a big nuisance as he starts his day around 4:30.  By 5:30 he is in full swing and no ear plug can block him out.  Some people seem to have transplanted an entire farm onto their rooftop.  The rooster is in the company of several chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs…  All on a roof top only 16 feet from us.  When the roof, or any concrete balcony for that matter, is mopped, a blast of dirty water gushes down a small pipe smack onto the street below.  From the fourth floor and aided by the wind, this crates quite a “rainfall” down below.  Nobody seems to take offense though.  But after observing what is going down there, I will surely be more careful walking down the streets from here on out.

Weeks ago when I had mapped out our trip, I booked overland buses to take us from one city to the next.  Already, three weeks ago, two of the buses we needed were fully booked leaving us stranded.  But not quite.  Where there is no bus, there are alternatives: Expensive taxis or competitively priced collectivos; share-taxis that pick up their customers at home and deliver them door to door.  I had to put my trust into our next AirBnB hosts who assured me that between 11 and 11:15 a collectivo would appear at our Havana home.  By 11:25 AM it really did. 

No American Oldie, but one of the more plentiful Russian rust-buckets showed up.  Along with two Polish tourists who had been traveling for one year (!) — this was their final week before turning back home    we made it to our next destination, Vinales.

A four-lane highway connects Havana with Vinales Province.  Only a handful of cars, if that many, are in sight at any given time.  That allows for horse-drawn carts and street vendors to share the road.  People were selling anything from strips of onions, to roasted chicken, to entire geese.  People also hitchhike along the highways waving Cuban Pesos in hope to be picked up.

The most curious stop we made was about 1/2 hour into the trip when the driver got off the road and onto a rocky, unpaved driveway, wound his way up the hill and turned into the front lawn of a renovated private home.  Three other collectivos had already pulled up.  The drivers were waiting for something.  But what?  There was no coffee, no bathroom.  A blue American Oldie pulled up, the trunk popped open and revealed about 1/2 dozen of gasoline canisters which were evenly distributed between the three collectivos at hand via a metal funnel.  Was this a black market deal?  Was this an unofficial collectivo “gas station”?  There was nobody to ask.  But when later in the trip I found out that 60% of the gasoline nationwide is stolen, I think I got my answer.

Twice we were pulled over by police checking the papers of the driver.  What were they looking for?  Somebody without papers?  Somebody without a taxi license?  Years ago, Cubans could have been in trouble if they were seen with foreigners in the car.  These police guys had no interest in us.  A friendly hello or a nod our way — they did not even ask for our papers.  What was this all about?  Again, there was nobody to ask.  But it seems that transporting foreigners takes special licenses no question associated with special fees.  The government is siphoning off what it can.

Vinales is a tiny village — so small, that it hardly shows up on a map.  But it has great significance as the center of this National Park, a UNESCO natural and cultural monument.  A drive to our new hosts took us along rows of small, colorful, neatly painted and nicely kept up houses.  Each of them had a small yard around the property and as if required by law, sported a minimum of two rocking chairs on tidy stone or tile porticos.  We read that over 250 families rent out a room in their homes to the multitudes of tourists who flock to this quaint little town in the middle of this majestic valley flanked by mountains, the signature feature of this region.  From our new home we have a view of this magnificent skyline.

Casa Juan and Marisol is run by mama Marisol and her daughter Yudi as an AirBnB.  Neither one of them speak English.  Thank goodness for Celibeth, who can communicate with them and most of all, make them laugh.  We were welcomed with a delicious fruit-mango drink.  Our room is spic and span clean with two comfortable beds and red, as everything else in this house.  We have to get used to the fact that we are living with a family.  Quite a bit of attention is lavished on us along with a bit of pressure to do this or that or the other thing…  A definite change to our last AirBnB run by Alexis.  There we had an entire flat for ourselves with kitchen, bath, fridge, and balcony.  Alexis would be minutes away had we needed him but he stayed out of our affairs.  We loved that place, smack in the center of old Havana.  We loved our balcony.  Every morning we watched Old Havana “TV” right outside our flat.  There was never a dull moment in that street.  This casa here in Vinales is a few blocks away from the action, but the village is so small, location hardly matters. 

One can definitely see the tourist dollars hard at work in Vinales.  This entire village radiates an air of prosperity.  The density of tourists on main street is a bit overwhelming and the line at the tourism bureau never seems to get any shorter.  But as long as this is a mutually beneficial symbiosis, who is to complain?  Marisol cooked us an absolute feast tonight!  That is the upside of living with a family — you have the option of having meals.  It is no cheaper than eating out, but certainly more plentiful and more personal.  And your money goes directly to the people.  Especially in Cuba, that is something I like. 

With a full stomach and a complimentary mojito, I will say:  Good night.

7 comments so far

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  1. Food looks quite delicious.

    • Looks good, but in general is quite boring (bland).

  2. Red is certainly the color of the day and night. The food looks delicious.

  3. Marisol’s AirB&B looks to be in great condition. Where does she get the materials and paint? Are there hardware stores around?

    • Material shortages are the order of the day, but CUCs get you a lot, probably nearly everything! And in Vinales, I really felt that the tourist CUCs were being put to good use for the locals and in turn again for the tourists.

  4. I love it! Your writing is perfect, I feel like I am there. This looks to be an amazing trip! Hi to Celibeth!

  5. Black market refueling is something you don’t see as an average tourist. I really like the homemade food pictures. I could almost taste them.