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CUBA IS THE FUTURE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND PERHAPS THE WORLD On my way out of Cuba, from La Habana, on COPA airlines flight to Panama, I w...

samedi 1 octobre 2016


I noticed some unusual activity on my blog from Poland and wondered why on occasions I have my blogs being read in Poland, Belarus or Russia?
A friend of mine from KL informed me that she has received a spam mail from cochinjew@neohouse.pl  from Poland.
So the suspicious activity on my blog was to hijack my log in to the blog and send spam to the people who regularly review my blog.
So be aware.

vendredi 30 septembre 2016


Gordon and Gaye, two friends from Melbourne wanted to add La Habana to their itinerary of a tour to South America. We had been friends for a long time, having shared memorable moments together while we were junior doctors in Melbourne.
I made all the arrangements for them in La Habana. I was working on a Medial Project in Rural USA, thought about making a quick trip to Havana to surprise them and be their personal tour guide. I know Havana very well but have never been a tour guide to anyone visiting Havana. I have been a tour guide to friends who were visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia; Cochin, Kerala; Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, Malaysia and Miami, Florida.

 When I show people around, it is concentrated on PEOPLE, CULTURE and FOOD. They had arrived from Melbourne after a long flight with a stop in Auckland and a short stopover in Santiago de Chile. It is a very long way to Melbourne from Havana, Cuba..
 COPA airlines based in Panama started the journey off well with a nice pasta and chicken dish on their flight from Panama to Havana.
 G and g did not know that I would be in Havana.  I had timed to arrive within 30 minutes of each other and Yodel, the taxi owner/driver of a 1958 Chevrolet Belair with his polished car would be their first introduction to Cuba
 They were both as i had remembered them, easy going, jovial and curious and open minded. It makes the my task easy of explaining a country as complex as Cuba
 Coincidentally another australian couple had decided to do a side trip to Cuba from the original plan to visit South America and they joined us. They did not know us before but as easy going aussies, we all fitted in well with each other and enjoyed our companies from the first moment on. I had organized a two bed room apartment for them, called Casa Particular, which are officially licensed private homes for visitors to stay, much like Air BnB. The apartment had recently been renovated, had two air conditioned rooms, two bathrooms with strong hot shower heads. I also took this convenience to have a shower or two at their place. Our first stop was La Flauta Magica, a penthouse bar and restaurant which faces the Malecon, the seaside boulevard as well as the USA Embassy. It is a fine place to introduce visitors to the skyline of Havana and its suburbs.
 We had a lot to catch up on, we were incessantly chatty that set the tone for the next few days when we were constantly talking to each other covering everything and anything to our hearts desire.
Soon they were hungry, they had been traveling all day from Santiago to havana with a stop in Lima, and I had chosen La Casona, an old favourite of mine, housed in a colonial house, known for its specialty of Arroz con Pollo Chicken and Rice.
 I chose Chillindrones de Cordero  Lamb with Mashed Malanga.
 Our days were long, from morning to midnight, as we wanted to pack in as much experiences for them as possible as well as catch upon what is happening in Melbourne and Australia and to reminisce pleasantly those gorgeous days of innocence and ebullience.
 Havana is Hot.. temperature wise as well and we stopped off at La Balliza a cafe open until midnight where a friend of mine, Jennifer an aspiring actress works. Limonada Frappe was cold and welcoming was a welcome relief at this open air cafe. The night air was still warm.
 Cuba is about people and all interactions border on the philosophical. While looking for a old model taxi that would accomodate all five of us, I wanted to bargain down the price from the offered 8 dollars. Why is that, the man pondered, the tourists want the prices down and never say, the price is 8 dollars, but I will pay you 10 dollars? Dollars here refers to the Cuban tourist currency, affectionately called CUC by foreigners and derogatorily called Chavitos.
 Our taxi driver was called The chinaman, while he had no resemblance to the native of Cathay. Cubans are very fond of diminutives, one of the first similarities with Aussies I was to discover, and most have one. I am called the Sultan for my eastern origins  and the propensity for a harem? I dont know.
 El Chino dropped us in front of the Capitolio, an edifice built by the Dictator Machado to resemble its cousin in Washington DC. as is common in cuba, we exchanged telephone numbers, in case we need each other in the future. (this sense of solidarity is one of the great gifts of the Cuban Revolution). Walked past the Teatro Gallego now named Alicia Alonso Theatre after the great Cuban Ballerina, past the Asturian building as well various old and new hotels and historic building onto Obispo street, thronging with visitors, with vendors trying to get your attention.
The surrealism of Cuba would be evident once you have any interaction with the merchants of Old Havana. We wanted to dine at Dona Eutimia, a well known purveyor of Cuban cuisine. Two mulatto men approached us and said he could organize a table for us in front of Dona Eutimia, before I realized the scam. They were from a nearby restaurant and we would be thinking we were eating at Dona Eutimia while sitting at the callejon alleway without traffic. I walked away as soon as I found out the restaurant Dona Eutimia is closed for reparation, the same was to be repeated at the cafe Bianchini where I wanted to take them for coffee and cakes.
I showed the colonial building that now houses Hostal Valencia and they wanted to have lunch there. After an interminable wait we were politely told that neither the chef nor the waiter had turned up for work, so we were forced to eat a government eatery , which is attached to the delightful Old Stock Exchange building. As it happens in government run restaurants in Cuba, the service was inefficient, food lacking and the shrimp served on toast might have lived in another century. It is wise to avoid Government run eating places, not for the fear of your money ending up in coffers of the government but for the simple reason that they are inefficient, food mediocre and the service very sketchy.
 More sightseeing, we would clock in around 18 km by foot that day! the old acqeduct, Plaza de armas, Catedral and ended up in the Plaza Vieja now beautifully restored to its former glory by Eusebio Leal, the indefatiguable Historian of the City.
 A fine cafe at the Plaza Vieja. One other reason not to patronize the government run establishments is that the employees steal, in our case, one look at us and it is obvious we are foreigners and the bill is not produced and the la cuenta or the cheque goes directly into the pocket of the servers. It happened at this coffee shop as did when I bought a bottle of rum at the shop at Havana Libre. It is estimated that government employees working in the tourist sector steal about 60 per cent of the income. The punishment is severe but tourists are not aware nor do they wish to disturb the status quo of the culture of stealing by the government workers. This does not happen in privately run businesses for obvious reasons
 Music is every where, you are welcome to join in. Gordon borrowed the guitar and belted out a number all of us joined in. Cubans truly have the sense of living in them and they are very present tense oriented people who would not give up an opportunity to enjoy themselves. The concept of saving for a rainy day whether it is a peso or a stolen chavito or a drink or a smoke is alien to them. Gordon singing in English, cubans clapping and some of us swaying and all of us  a sudden, a character with slicked hair and with sixties look took the guitar and sang the same song in Spanish! more clapping and stomping followed..Sponteinity is the nature of the game here ..

 We walked some more, this time through streets seldom trekked by the tourists, to expose them to the reality of the housing situation in old havana, on to the splendid architecture of Hotel sevilla and Bacardi building and the old Palace of the President now the Museum of the Revolution. The museum of the Bellas Artes houses the largest collection of cuban masters and sits facing the old palace and the remnants of the old fort of havana while enjoying the breeze from the sea. An obligatory stop to pay homage to GRANMA the ricketty boat that brought Fidel, Raul, Che and Camillo and other 140 odd revolutionaries to Cuba in 1956 and also the missile to remind us of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, JFK diplomacy and the crisis. A poignant moment indeed. 
I suggested that we give our feet a rest and that we enjoy the Hotel nacional and a Mojito there. 
Once again, two taxi drivers, one a cunning huge black man who tried to swindle the australian visitors of the change to a 20 chavito note and the other a humble self proclaimed guajiro peasant. Speaking Spanish is so essential to a visit to Cuba, otherwise you would get only a very superficial glimpse of cuba, it would be like readinng one page of a large book.
 Hotel Nacional reeks of nostalgia. Built or owned by Jewish mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Izzy Rosenblatt, aided and abetted by their cronies in the underworld and its entertainment arm, it was the place to be seen and sing and dance for americans of all classes before the revolution. A visit to the gallery of personalities is a must. While post revolution photos are mainly of political or literary or arts personalities, pre revolution photos show Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn and other people with italian sounding names like Trafficante, Marciano.. It is kempt well and it is pricey but a drink at the patio for old times sake.

 The apartment they stayed were across from the home off my good friends Pinillos and the young girl, Danielita suggested that we try Motivos y Razones, a paladar, a privately owned restaurant for dinner at Avenida F y 5ta in Vedado, our suburb
 It was not a disappointment, we could have white wine there with our dinner which is a  recent improvement for the ever present Mojito, Daiquiri, Cuba Libre and Pina Colada.

 I had grilled shrimps which tasted fresh and malanga chips and rice, with a nice glass of wine (it was a good pour) from Chile. We were talking non stop which we continued on our walk back to the apartment. In Cuba you tend to walk more, it is an inviting climate to walk in the evening and certainly it is the safest place to do so in the Americas.
Elsa, a spanish friend of mine, recalled her trip to Havana in 2006 and said: Yes Cuba is a very safe place but as a single woman I had to be very careful of the words of the Cuban Men!
It is so true... the seductive latin male is personified nowhere stronger than in Cuba.. but physically you will not be harmed walking around Havana at night.
 at the appointed hour on the next morning, unusual for a cuban, the driver Yodel appears in his 1958 Belair for the 250 km sightseeing trip in to the countryside and a dip in the crystal clear sea at Varadero. We were to experience very many surrealistic cuban moments during the day.
Starting off with a diversion where no sign was posted at the beautiful bridge spanning the provinces of Mayabeque and Matanzas. I will recall them one by one inn context
 Earlier in the year, I had mett a young promising artist from Matanzas and he offered to meet us and show our australian friends his historic city. He met us at the Cafe La Vigia, a state owned enterprise in very sad shape. Servers were gathered together in deep conversation while we the clients were left to swelter under the fans from the time of Batista (the dictator overthrown by Fidel)
 in the art gallery next door, a local artist was exhibiting rather bold social commentary in this painting. I wanted to show you two very strong comments about the two giants of the Cuban revolution, Che and Camillo. The above shows the bar code with Che's well known face imposed . Che has become a commercial face of an industry spawning all over the world, not just in cuba. 
 while we can laugh off Che's commercialization as a dream come true in the minds of capitalists elsewhere the above portrait of Camillo a beloved of cuban revolutionaries a far more audacious a painting: a social commentary beyond words.. 
what happened to camillo and his dreams? it seems to be asking.
Camillo died in a plane crash soon after the revolution. Camillando is a world play on Caminando  meaning walking going.. Bold I thought.
 Kudos to the painter, Adrian Socorro, who called his exposition The Jungle of Azucar....once again a world play.. an indirect pointing of fingers at Cuban functionaries as Cuba is affectionately called Sugar by some..
 will continue my commentaries later