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Author Topic: Steve_YYZ's 2008 Trip to Habana y Vinales  (Read 25449 times)
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Bulldog
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« on: March 09, 2008, 05:50:34 pm »

I thought I would add this with just your post Steve so all can enjoy  grin

Thanks Bulldog. For those who wonder, about every 3 or 4 days or so I'd stop into an internet cafe or hotel during my travels and update this long thread on 7-Days. This is a compilation of my postings, with all the other commentary posting by others removed. So you can read just about my travels, all in one place.

Steve_YYZ

Trip from Feb 3, 2008 to March 2, 2008.
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Hola my Amigos!

Well I´ve arrived safely in Havana and it´s been marvelous. Temps are 25 to 28C each day with about 19C at night. Humidity isn´t too high and it´s just wonderful.

Flight was ok but got dinged by AC for $75 for overweight charge for 5 lousy pounds. Oh well, such is life. Aduana confiscated my pepperoni sticks that I had planned to have with all the beers at the baseball game Friday night. Again, not a big loss just frustrating. They got the Pepperoni, but MISSED the 2 pounds of Maple Smoked Bacon. Go figure. LOL!

I had a great lunch with Karmadoc (Cheryl) and Team1126 (Vic) from Victoria. We met and ate and drank up on the roof of the hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana. Here´s a photo of all of us.



I´ve only had 2 run ins with the police so far. One for being in a taxi that was running with the meter off (cash deal) and one with my friends who picked us up at the airport. But a few little white lies and all was well. Gawd this is fun.

Have walked miles and eaten lots of Peso street food. A whole day´s food walking about in Havana and I haven´t spent more than 2 dollars canadian.

Went to two Supermercado´s for good shopping and we have steaks, a leg of pork, chicken, and of course, bottles of rum and cases of beer. Oh, and 3 bottles of Cuban wine. So we´re well stocked and ready for anything.

For those who know her, I´m typing this on an illegal internet connection over at Paula´s apartment in the city. But to find the correct accents and symbols on a Spanish keyboard is sure a challenge.

Everything is well and will touch base later when I can. And of course, more pics to follow.

Miss you all..... well not really, but I´m expected to say things like that. It would be better if you were all here with me.

ciao
Steve


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Hola My Amigos y Amigas!

I've just survived my coldest day so far in Havana. It only got up to 25C today. But there's a stiff wind blowing. Real nice however.
Heard you guys had a dusting of snow...... ROFL ROFL

As you can see, the coolest place I found so far was the wine cellar at the El Aljibe restaurant at dinner the other night. Paula and I chose a nice Spanish red to go with out Pollo dinner. With all the Cuban fixin's of course. Rice and Beans, Plantain, Salad, Patate Frit, Pan y Agua. Great feast and I was stuffed. And the price is still only 12 CUC for the full meal deal. It's a great bargain.

And as the second photo shows, I found some incredible steaks at SuperMercado Palco, a hard-currency market and we had a great BBQ in the backyard. Kinda hard to beat a backyard BBQ anytime, but in February, with the warm breeze blowing..... simply heaven. Heard you guys can't even find your backyards under the snow. Oh well. It might melt by the time I get home in March.

So everything is well. Went to the baseball game last Thursday night. The Metropolitano's beat the Industriales 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Great game and and amazing stadium. Only cost 1 Peso (Moneda Nacional) to get in, which is about 5 cents CDN. Fresh roasted pork sandwiches with tomato and piquante salsa were only 5 pesos MN as well, and a Refresco (pop) was only 1 peso. MN Parking was outrageous at 5 pesos MN. So a whole evening of baseball, food and drinks was less than 25 pesos national, or about $1.25 CDN. The darn Skydome and Jays should learn a thing or two about concession pricing from these guys.
 lol1 lol1

I have to run now because I'm meeting friends at Plaza de la Cathedral around the corner and we're going to hit Cafe O'Reilley for drinks and nosh. I'm presently in the Internet cafe at the Santa Isabel hotel on Plaza Armas in Vieja. At the Plaza Hotel, or the Inglaterra, the internet is 6 CUC per hour but here at the Santa Isabel it't only 3 CUC per hour. Go figure.

Anyway, I'll hoist a cold beer for each of you tonight.... but would somebody kindly head over to my place and shovel my driveway and brush off my car.  ROFL ROFL ROFL







PS..... Could one of the mods put this thread as a "Sticky" so I can find it when I get on. Surfing multiple pages with dial-up in Cuba is SSSSSLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!

Hasta Pronto
eSteve


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Hola Amigos…… Part III

Well things are great here in Havana. I’ve rented a Moto (Scooter) for the week and needless to say it’s somewhat exhilarating to play with Habana’s traffic on two wheels. Even more fun at night! But I’m being cautious and for me…. Slow! But the extra mobility and chance to get around at whim really is great. Got caught today in a tropical downpour and thunderstorm. If you look up the definition of misery in the dictionary, right beside it you’ll see a photo of me trying to get home in the downpour. At times I actually wondered if I was on a moto or was piloting a submarine!!! Of course I was wearing jeans and they act somewhat like a blotter and I don’t think there was a dry centimetre of me that the rain didn’t soak. Oh well….. chalk one up for the experience ledger.

As requested, here are some more photos from Habana. Some Beisbol photos for Wendita and of course a nice scenic of the Capitolio taken from the rooftop of the Hotel Saratoga. Then there is the venerable Café O’Reilley in Vieja…. Because let’s face it…. All that photography builds up a good thirst! LOL!

Panoramic Shot of the Estadio Latinamerico compiled from 8 original frames.










Hit by the Pitcher!


Out at Second!


Capitolio from roof of Saratoga Hotel


Cafe O'Reilly watering hole. Keep those fluid levels up.


And lastly one needs to keep their strength up with food, so here’s a sampling of what you can get at one of the peso (MN) eateries on Juan Carlos III. Take a look at the pork cutlet on a bun the girl and guy are holding. For 20 pesos (MN) or about a Loonie Canadian, how the heck can you go wrong?

Street Food along Juan Carlos III. Who says Cuban food isn't great!


I’m meeting “Radar” from the Cubamanic forum tonight for drinks and dinner and it’s amazing how many of the Cuba forum people end up down here enjoying themselves. Cheers Terry (Martian) is flying in from Bogota next Monday and we’re going to make a serious effort at the Habana Pub Crawl. Bet Wendita wishes she was with us!!!

Only one piece of bad news that’s pissed me off. The Canadian travel agency I used (Carlson Wagonlit, Majestic Tours) f*cked up my booking for Vinales and I have now found out that I have NO HOTEL or place to sleep. So I’m trying to decide if I’ll go a Vinales casa or pass till another trip. Needless to say, it’s kinda upset my plans…. But Cuba es Cuba. I just didn’t expect a Canadian company to let me down as well. Glad I found out now instead of arriving at the hotel next Monday morning to be told. So the gamble basically is to take the Viazul to Vinales, arrive at 11 am, and then hope that I can find an acceptable Casa by no later than 1:00 pm or, with no place to sleep, get back on the Viazul and come back to my casa in Habana. Am I having fun…. You bet!!!

So that’s it for this update. Weather is nice again but the humidity is starting to come up as well. Especially with all the rain today. But it’s forecast to be nice tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

Stay warm, stay happy my friends and we’ll see you when I get back.
10 days down…… 18 days to go!

Steve_YYZ

Here’s a few more images to titilate your thoughts of WARM Cuba!!

A night image of Cafe Tabernas in Vieja.


Castillo Real Fureza at night. Note the little statue on the top of the central tower. It's the famous lady symbol that is on all Havana Club bottles.


The wonderful shoreline Malecon that Habana is famous for.


The Hotel Nacional enjoys a commanding presence along the Malecon and stately grounds.


More later folks. My internet hour is almost over. Takes too long to upload the photos to Photobucket, but knew you guys would like them.
It's started to rain, so slow internet is a good way to pass the time.

Love ya all........

Steve


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A Backseat ride in a Cuban Police Car --- With the Military!!!

Well, if there’s a way of finding trouble, I have just moved to the top of the list.

Thursday (Feb 14th) was a glorious day here in Havana with the temps just around 28C, clear blue sky and dry air. So I took the Moto, maps, cameras and went exploring. I started out in Vedado and found the park with the statue of John Lennon on the park bench. Not the easiest to find, but with a few stops for directions I finally found it. It’s an oddity, but fun to see anyway. Besides my own pics, I got another person to snap a photo of me sitting with Lennon.



Then where to go next? A look at the map, a full tank of gas (100 km range) and I decided to take the coastal highway westward to the far outskirts of Habana. I finally ended up a Marina Hemmingway where I met a fellow Canadian yachtsman with his boat and we had a nice chat. Small world, he’s from Hamilton. Then I had lunch at the Pizza Nova and headed out exploring again.

Some amazing boats at Marina Hemmingway, but unless the owner gives permission, then no photos allowed. Especially of the USA registered boats!  nono nono


Looking at my map, I decided to head to the Museo Nacional del Aire (National Air Museum) where you can look at lots of old Cuban aircraft, from a P-51 Mustang from the Bay of Pigs era up through supersonic Mig fighters, helicopters (Hip and Hind) and some old transport aircraft. I’d been there 7 or 8 years ago and wanted to check it out and photograph some more.

So leaving Marina Hemingway I looked at the map to find the museum in the La Coronela/Cubanacan suburbs and mapped out a route. But of course, I love to explore the back roads, alleys and other out of the way places, so it wasn’t a direct route. I guess you could call it my version of a walkabout.

Somewhere or other, I pull up to an intersection and totally lost, shut off the Moto, have a cool sip of water and pull out the map to figure out where I am. There are little pyramid markers at intersections with the street numbers on them. Gawd….for a GPS!

I hadn’t been stopped 60 seconds when I hear lots of screaming and yelling from behind me. Turning around, I see a Cuban Military Cop running towards me, yelling, gesturing and also talking into a walkie-talkie. Decision time…..do I crank it up and ride off, or wait and see what the problem is? Figuring the latter is the best course of action, I wait for the military police and he starts into extremely rapid and loud Spanish and all I’m able to catch is that he wants my “Carne” (Cuban national identity card) and the words “Zona Prohibido” and lots of waving of arms. Well another 60 seconds pass and three police cars come screaming up, blue beacons flashing but no sirens. So now I’ve got one very excited Military police, plus 6 regular PNR police officers. The request for “Carne” comes again and thank god I’ve got a photocopy of my Passport with me. As they all study it, I get asked “Canadiense?” to which I reply Si, estoy Canadian. Well now the Military and PNR cops start screaming at each other with LOTS of finger pointing, and somewhat worrying, some of the fingers are being pointed at me! My limited Spanish is getting a workout, and necessity is also improving it rapidly. I’m asked “what hotel” and I say No hotel…. Casa Particular. They seem satisfied with this. Then the questions Por Que, and Donde start coming (why and where) and finally I understand they want to know where I’m coming from, where I’m going to, and why. I tell them Marina Hemmingway and the Air Museum. They don’t understand the museum part. So out with my notepad which thankfully has the Museum name in Spanish and it’s address and finally understanding dawns. But why was I at Marina Hemmingway? I don’t know the word for lunch, but thinking quickly I managed to say….. Comida….. media dia. (Dinner, mid-day) They understand this. I’ve also discovered that pantomime and charades are good traveller skills to have.

Ok, so now I’m thinking we’re getting somewhere and they understand….. right up until the moment that they motion me to get off the Moto, and they open the back door of one of the police cars and motion me to get in. OH SHIT…. I’m in for it now. Do I have enough Spanish words to ask for the Canadian Embassy?

So I’m sitting in the back seat of the cop car, though I hadn’t been searched or anything like that and while firm, they were polite to me. There’s also a plexi shield between me and the front, the doors are closed and locked and it’s quickly becoming a small Easy Bake Oven. And I’m the one getting cooked! Well now two cops jump in the front seat, lots of Spanish follows, and I finally understand they are taking me back to Marina Hemmingway, leaving the Moto at the side of the road with the other police and military. Like I have a lot of options at this point!

Now it starts getting fun. With lots of Spanish still flowing from the cops and PNR guys to the cops in the car, we finally set off leaving the Military Police and 4 cops standing at the roadside beside my Moto. So they take me back to the entrance of Marina Hemmingway, then with me totally confused, they turn the car around. Now the two cops turn to me and say Äqui …. Something…. Then Moto? Ok, I finally figure they want me to show which route I took from HERE, to where the Moto was. At least knowing how to say left, right and straight ahead in Spanish is helping. So turn by turn through all the neighbourhoods I show them what I think is the way I took. God, I sure hope I’m right. Trying to remember which turns you took when you were lost is not easy, but they seemed friendly and polite by now.

Winding through the streets and alleys, after 10 minutes I finally spy the Moto ahead and relax because I’ve at least found my way back to where this all started. The cop car stops, and surprise… they open the back door and motion me out. Ok, what next?

The PNR guys and the Military cop start into a loud shouting match (6 to 1) again with lots of finger pointing but this time, no fingers are pointed at me. Hey, do you believe in signs? Now they turn to me, ask for my “Mapa” and again much discussion and finger pointing at my map they are discussing the route I took. Are you confused yet…. Because I sure was. Just what the heck is going on?

Now the senior PNR cop comes over and motions me to get back onto the Moto. Hey, this is starting to look better. The volume level of the conversation has come back down to somewhat approaching normal. It’s now explained to me in Spanish (which I only caught 1 word in 5, that I’m in the middle of a “Zona Prohibito” and will be escorted out. I’m motioned to follow one cop car on the Moto and away we go, with another cop car behind just for good measure. Like me on a Moto with a max speed of 60 kph is going to run away from two Cuban police cars with radios. Up the road we go and surprise…. There’s a full checkpoint with me coming OUT from the wrong side. And I mean FULL CHECKPOINT….. steel barrier across the roadway, guardhouse, and Military and PNR police, and I was inside!!!

So with a two car police escort (I’m still not exactly sure where we’re all going) we head up the main road and turn back towards the city. Well 10 minutes later, after many turns, the BIG SURPRISE…… I’m now at the driveway of the Aviation Museum and with a toot-toot of the horns, some friendly waves I’m motioned to turn in and the cops leave. Alone at last. The looks on the Museum admission attendants faces with this crazy tourist on a Moto with police escort was priceless! Surprise… they didn’t overcharge me on the admission. LOL…. Wonder why?

Migs galore for those with a penchant for fast movers!


Now the explaination.
Showing my Casa friends the map and explaining what happened, I finally found out that I was buggering about in the Siboney area of west Habana, which is where Fidel and Raul live!!! Who knows how close I really got? All roads and entrances are blocked and have manned checkpoints, but by random chance, I’ve found the one circuitous back alley way into the zone without passing any checkpoints. No wonder there was consternation. Either that, or some guard wasn’t at his station when I passed. I think that someone might be in BIG TROUBLE for letting a crazy tourist on a Moto get inside the zone. But that’s not my problem. Glad to help out with state security measures…. NOT!!! But no, I didn’t get to see or meet Fidel or even figure out which house was his. Also thankfully, all my cameras happened to be in my backpack at the time so they never figured out I was also photographing. I was just a tourist on a Moto with a backpack with a Canadian flag sewn on.

So that’s one day in the life of a crazy Canuck Independent Traveller, who by-the-way, after a day on his Moto looks like a first cousin to a boiled lobster. Can you say pink? That night I relaxed over a nice dinner in a restaurant down in Vieja with my friends and laughed about it all. They are still teasing me.

NO!!!! it's NOT because of the Wine!!! Can you say Red Lobster?


Am I having the adventure I wanted? You bet! Wouldn’t trade a minute of it. Now kindly pass the Malox for my stomach and the Nitro to get my heart working again.

More of my travels later…..
Steve


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LOL Guys and Gals:

This is just a quick note with no photos because I haven't been back to the casa today to upload to my computer, then to a memory stick, then to photobucket then to 7 days. Nothing is easy here in Cuba.

Took the moto back today but have had a great week with it. Went and met Pototo today (Randy, Sherry and Cheers Terry's friend and also from Cuba-Junky fame). I'm meeting Cheers Terry on Thursday, and will also be meeting another Terry of Spanky Project fame. Lots of Canucks down here.

Went to Palenque last night in Playa for that damn BEST CHEESEBURGER in Cuba, and one that you wouldn't even be afraid to serve in Canada. Simply awesome and only $2.25 CUC. Nine of us ate dinner, beers, frys, etc and only managed to spend $54 total, including tip, and we were all stuffed!!!

Got stopped by the Police AGAIN this morning (they are becoming my best friends  confused2 ) because I had the Moto down in the harbour area photographing the marine industrial heart of Bahia de Habana. Got told "no permisso" and asked to move along, but I got the photos anyway before the cops arrived so no problemo. Just a few minutes out with the "Carne" (ID) again and they didn't even make me erase the photos I had taken. Go figure??? I guess the cops are slowly figuring out I'm NOT the average tourist photographer.

Used some BS this morning with another Military Police officer and was able to get front row on the Prado at the finishing straight of the Vuelta de Cuba (Tour of Cuba) cycling race. Great finish as they sprinted uphill on the Prado, past the Grand Teatro and then the finish line right in front of the Capitolio. Not "Le Tour" for sure, but then again, the roads aren't nearly as smooth as in France.

So that's it for now. I'm off to Santa Clara by Viazul tomorrown morning and will be back in Havana on the night bus Wednesday night. So sometime late this coming week I'll try to touch base again with more adventures. Let's see.... I haven't crashed a bus yet!  ROFL ROFL ROFL

Love ya all and thanks for the comments. Brings a little cheer from back home. Only question is what are you all doing on the internet.... when you should be outside shovelling!

As for me....Bartender........ Un otro Mojito por favour!!!  Mojito Mojito Mojito Hammock


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Una dia Bueno -- Una Dia Malo (One Good Day, One Bad Day)

Habana, February 19, 2007

Hola again my amigos.

Well it’s been a very interesting past few days. We’ll give you a recap of last Friday. Once again it was time to cook up a Pavo dinner (Turkey) with all the trimmings for the family. As it’s not the Christmas season as it was last time I did this, I was unable to find a full turkey, but I did manage to find a 19 lb turkey, sans legs and wings. It’s basically all breast, but still on the carcass so I could still stuff it. But what an incredible quantity of white meat! As you can see, it barely fit into the oven in the kitchen! And that’s Canadian Maple Smoked bacon that I cover it with which adds a great flavour to the bird. The maple bacon fat mixes with the turkey fat so the drippings to baste with are simply wonderful.



Here’s me getting set to do the carving on a side table after 4 hours in the oven.



And of course, the toast and the good part…. Sitting down to eat!





Having the Moto for the week really made getting around easy. Here’s me on the Moto. Kinda looks small underneath me (or maybe I’m too big) but it sure did the job.



Here’s a few tourist views to show where I’ve been. Cemetary Colon is amazing. There are 56 hectacres of ornate graves and mausoleums, both ordinary Cuban and famous ones as well. It could literally take days to wander about and see all the famous people buried there.



And I visited one of my Canadian friends at his 9th floor penthouse Casa and this is one of the views from his terrace. Just at dusk, looking up Havana’s famed Prado, the ceremonial entrance to the city. That’s the Capitolio up at the top. This is one Casa that is sure to be on my list "to stay at for a week" spent entirely in Vieja and vicinity. The view, plus the convenience of it’s location make it spectacular. Oh, and there’s three rooms available. Anybody interesting in sharing for a week sometime?



So it’s been an amazing time so far…… until yesterday.

Yesterday was Monday and I was off to Santa Clara by Viazul. But at 5:15 a.m. in the morning the phone started ringing. Very sad news from Canada. My best friend’s (Keith’s) mother had passed away. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but still very sad news. So needless to say there was some upset here in the house in Cuba (The casa is owned by his mother-in-law). Keith wasn’t even here because he had gone to the airport for 04:30 a.m. for a flight to Holguin but was expected back at midnight. It was a one-day business trip. His wife Magalita had flown home to Canada on Sunday when her week’s vacation ended. So it was just me and the rest of the Cuban family.

Well despite the upset, I had a Viazul bus to catch to Santa Clara and with a bit of a rush I made it to the Viazul station on time. Nice 4 hour ride to Santa Clara and a chance to see some of the countryside as we passed.

Upon arrival in Santa Clara, there was the usual swarm of Jiniteros promoting their Casa’s and I saw photos of one that seemed nice, and it was located only a block from the Parque Vidal, the main town square in SC. So off I go in a cab to look at it. It was small, but very nice and modern with all that I needed. It was fully self-contained on the rooftop with nice views across the city. Clean, AC, modern bathroom with hot shower and a fridge. So we negotiated a price for the two nights ($45 CUC total for 2 nights) and also breakfast. Then I went downstairs to register…… OH SHIT!!!!! Guess where my Passport and Tourist Card are? YUP….with all the upset in the morning at the Havana Casa, I’d gone and left my Passport and TC in Habana. So I cannot register in Santa Clara. I’ve got a photocopy of my passport, but that’s not good enough. And the lady of the casa has just phoned Cuban Immigration to see what can be done.

So……..here we go again with the official bureaucracy of Cuba. This time it’s off to the Ministerio de Immigracion to see the bureaucrats there. Well you’d think I’d committed a Capital Crime! Five thousand questions, forms to be filled out, explainations (all in Spanglish) because here I was a foreigner travelling in Cuba without an official document. I did at least have money, credit card, and my return Viazul ticket for Wednesday. Well after an hour of this BS, I’m told that I MUST be on the next Viazul bus back to Habana. Yup, just arrived and an hour later I’m declared “persona-non-grata” and told to leave. I am beginning to think the Cuban Authorities are getting a THICK file on this crazy Canadian tourist! Hope it doesn’t present hassles on eventually leaving Cuba.

So with only 2.5 hours till the bus, I’m free to explore. It’s entirely my own fault but that doesn’t make me feel much better. Oh… and now it starts to rain. Oh great!!!! So I grab a cab, negotiate a fee for the whole time ($10 CUC) and away we go. So I do get to the Che Mausoleum only to find out that it’s CLOSED ON MONDAYS!!! What more can go wrong today? It’s beginning to become a day from hades! But I am allowed to walk around the site and photograph all the exterior stuff, despite the threatening sky and make the best of it. Darn impressive, but after about 20 minutes I’m done. Only thing I really couldn’t do was to see the inside museum, but heck, I can always read about Che’s exploits anywhere. Here’s the best image I managed to get out of the day.



So then it’s off by cab to see the Tren Blindado (Train Blendado). It’s surreal but somewhat silly at the same time. Five railway cars sitting askew at the side of the railway tracks. They’ve made a museum out of it because Che had used a bulldozer (it’s also on display) to pile up some logs and derail the train which was carrying armaments to the battle in Oriente. Because these armaments didn’t get to the fighting, the Revolution succeeded and days later, Batista fled Cuba. So while it’s historically significant, visually and photographically it’s not worth it.

So by this time, I’m hungry, frustrated and somewhat glad to be leaving Santa Clara behind. It’s also somewhat of a dreary little town IMHO and not photographically inspiring. The streets are very narrow, drab, and I quickly get the feeling of a rat running around in a maze. The cab dropped me off at the bus station, I grabbed two marginally passable pizzas and a COLD BEER (best thing so far today!) and wait for the bus.

Another 3.5 hour bus ride and I’m back in Habana. The ride back was shorter time wise because we didn’t stop at any roadside cafés and the driver was nice enough to drop me on Habana’s outskirts close to my casa where I could walk home instead of a cab.

So here I am back in Habana, wondering what to do next. My friend Keith caught today’s AC flight back home so it’s become very quiet all of a sudden in the house.

Oh, today’s plans. Go back to the Viazul office, because guess what? My ticket for Wednesday was NOT good for the return bus on Monday. I had to purchase ($18 CUC) a Monday ticket and will have to refund the Wednesday ticket. And refunds can ONLY be done at the Viazul office in Habana (minus 10% service fee). So this shows that while a paid for in advance ticket can be a good thing (guaranteed spot on the bus) it can also backfire when plans change. There were more people at the Viazul station than available seats on the bus, but I think Immigration called the Viazul office because a lady was there who pointed me out to the driver and said I must be on it!!! Damn…. They’re watching what I do!!! But at least I’m not in jail waiting for someone to bring my Passport down from Habana.

So other than the Viazul office for a refund, and now down to the Plaza Hotel to use the Internet, today is a quiet day. Wandered around Vieja and visited the very impressive St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral and cloister. Got some great shots that I'll have to process tonight on my computer. Then off to Plaza Vieja where I met a Canadian family in town from Varadero for the day. Had a beer with them at the Micro-brew tavern, then off down the street for my favourite Habana street pizza. For 10 pesos CUP (about 45 cents CAN) it's a great snack and so hot you have to watch you don't burn your mouth. I'm damn near addicted to them every time I'm in that area of Vieja.

It's hot today, and it rained softly late this afternoon, but not enough to stop me walking about. I'll eat a home-cooked meal at the casa tonight. OMG.... can you say DIET EXTREME when I get home. If I don't gain 10 pounds this trip then I'm lucky.

Full steam again tomorrow……. But I haven’t decided what, where or why yet!

The adventure continues.

Ciao for now
Steve

ps to Cyndy. What is the "feel" like in Habana because of the impending political announcements on Feb 24th? Well I'd say calm expectation. Most Cubans have come to realize that Fidel will never be an active President again due to his health. But all want him to have some sort of ceremonial role or title for the rest of his life. But they want Raul and change to also come. So no panic, trouble or anything of the sort. Just sort of a calm acceptance that life goes on, and "es Cuba"!!!

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Poner al dia Numero 6,
Ciudad de Habana,
21 de Febrero, 2008-02-21

Hola Amigos y Amigas:

Well things are progressing and I finally have a revised plan for the next few days. I’m off this morning to rent a car (decided to bite the bullet on cost) for a week to really open up my travel options. I’m figuring a day or two here in Habana with the car, then to head out to Vinales at dawn on Saturday. I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be staying as the hotels in Vinales are all full, which likely means that Casa availability might also be thin. I sure hope the seats in the car recline! LOL! I also must remember to take my Passport and Tourist Card with me this time. Duh!!!!

Yesterday was a pretty dull grey day in Habana and it rained some in the afternoon. So I decided to declare a day of rest. Didn’t leave the Casa the whole day, but rather caught up with some Photoshop work on the laptop, got some extra sleep and generally just spent a tranquil day doing absolutely nothing. I did manage however to finalize my deals for cigars and now have two nice boxes of Partagas Serie D, No 4 to bring home. It’s taken 2-1/2 weeks for my source to get them for me. And of course I also have a couple packages of Cuban domestic peso cigars (El Credito) as well. The freezer size ziplock bags I bring down will keep them pristine till I get them into my humidor back home.

I’m off to Bar Monserrat this afternoon to meet up with none other than Cheers Terry, (a.k.a Martian) to compare war stories about life in Cuba. Between the BS and the rum it promises to be a fun afternoon!!!

And of course, what’s a Steve_YYZ posting without a few photos to entertain you. Let’s just call this a random collection of oddities.

Habana while a popular tourist destination for Vieja is also a bustling harbour and shipping port for Cuba.



Vuelta de Cuba race winner Pedro Pablo Perez leads the field up the Prado past the Gran Teatro de Habana on his way to both the day’s stage win, and victory in the overall classification. He completed the 1791 kilometer tour of Cuba in 42 hours, 11 minutes and 35 seconds.



Without doubt I’m in love with the architecture of Habana and there’s nothing more inspiring than the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis. Dating from 1719 it was briefly used by the Protestant English in 1762, after which the Catholics refused to ever use it as a church again. It was fully restored in 1994 and the church and adjacent convent are now a fabulous museum.



While the architecture of the churches is wonderful, here’s a building most Cubans love to hate. Where churches once dominated the skyline of western Habana’s Miramar district, now the former Soviet Embassy (now Russian Embassy) takes dominance. The Cubans seem to think the building represents a sword thrust down into the building, a symbol of the former Soviet might and power.



One of the things you’ll see in the very old parts of Vieja where they haven’t yet begun restoration (if they ever will) is building so close to collapse that the Cubans solve the problem by erecting bracing between the buildings. Sort of like Heather on crutches…. Needs a little extra support till it can be fixed! LOL!



Of course not everything is work and effort in Habana. Sometimes it’s just nice to grab a piece of Malecon seawall and have a relaxing nap.



And finally, perhaps the strangest oddity I’ve photographed this trip. There’s nobody happier than a Cuban who has just bought a large flat-screen TV, but he’s taking it home with a horse-drawn carriage. The contradiction simply astounds me.



So that’s where I’m at up till now. Even though I’m enjoying my travels, it’s also sure nice to read your replies and feel the good vibes from my friends back home. Ok, that’s a lie. I know you all hate me for enjoying the fine Cuban weather down here but I do promise to fill my suitcase with all the warmth and sunshine I can bring back to you guys.

Hasta luego y besos……

Steve

ps to Pastor Ash. At the rate I'm going, I won't be holding Granma but I'll be IN IT!!!
Una Terrorista Canadiense!!! Seriously, I have a copy of Granma with Fidel's statement on the front. Sure to be a classic.


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Ok, here's a great recipe for raising a little hell. We had an amazing afternoon/evening and the cervezas and cigars just kept flowing. Finally managing to get together for fun and frivolity were none other than.....

Cheers Terry (a.k.a. Martian), Steve_YYZ and of course Cuba's famous fix-it guy, Pototo. We had an amazing time (or was that the beer) and we'll be getting together again later next week when I'm back from Vinales.



Oh, and here's one JUST TO MAKE YOUR MOUTH WATER!!!!! Eric, even a SMELL of this one is going to cost ya big time buddy!

Prepare yourself........
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Are you ready???
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Anticipation is half the fun!!!
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Look what I found and bought!!!



Now doesn't that make your mouth water. Let's not even discuss the budget.... IT'S BLOWN!!!! We're talking triple digits here for one bottle. It's NOT going to get packed in my checked-luggage for the return flight!

Oh well, life if for living and enjoying.

till later
Steve  CubaFlag CubaFlag CubaFlag

ps to bmichnol. Havana is the English spelling and Habana is the Spanish spelling of the name. But it's pronounced with the "b" sound like in banana. Guess the local culture is growing on me.

ps to Bulldog. Gee, thanks for the nice photo of the ice. Can you air-express some down here for use in my Mojitos. Thanks buddy! Oh, it's another 30C day but not too humid. Actually HAD to use the AC last night for sleeping. Gee, that was tough.  ROFL ROFL



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Poner al dia Numero 7,
Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
27 de Febrero, 2008

Hola Amigos y Amigas:

Well it’s Wednesday afternoon and it’s raining, cold (18C) and damp, quite a change from yesterday’s 32C in the Viñales Valley. So I headed back to Havana a day early (this morning) because I couldn’t see sitting around in Viñales on a dreary wet day.

I’ve already arranged to meet Cheers Terry again for dinner and drinks this evening down in Vieja so as I’m going to be near an internet café, I decided to take the opportunity to update you guys. This is probably my last update until I return to Canada (sigh…. Only 4 more sleeps in Cuba) but it’s been great fun and some very unique experiences.

So I’ll tell the story in photos…. naturally.

I’ve already been told once by the cops not to photograph the harbour. But that was in daylight. Nobody said anything about night time and heck, they aren’t looking for tourists taking night photos. I was real lucky and in the right place to catch this image from all the way across the inner harbour. That’s Havana’s oil refinery on the eastern side of the harbour just as they flare off the excess gas from refining. It was an amazing sight that lasted only a couple of minutes. Shot this at 300mm with a ¼ second exposure time. I had actually set out that day to visit and photograph Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemmingway’s Havana home for many years. It’s on a high hilltop, south of the city. But alas…. It was closed for mosquito fumigation that afternoon. I’m not sure if timing will still allow me to get there before this trip ends.



I spent a day at Las Terazas, the nature area about 50 km west of Havana. Went out for a picnic day with Paula and her son Jose-Luis. And YES!!! There is indeed a “Canopy Tour” but I decided not to take it. Not because it looked dangerous or anything, but more because of the price. The Havana hotels offer it for $27 CUC which includes your bus excursion, admission to the Natural Park, the Canopy Tour, and even a full lunch in the restaurant. Not a bad deal. But if you arrive by car independently, they want $25 CUC just for the Canopy Tour. And frankly, for the full day’s outing on a tour it would be worth doing, but not at that price separately. There are two sections of the “Tour” but to call is a Canopy tour is somewhat misleading IMHO. Both sections are basically a long glide out across the lake and back. I’d guess the whole actual sliding part wouldn’t take much longer than 2 minutes, one minute per section. That’s pretty pricey in my books. Hence the pass on it.

But I did enjoy (if that’s the word) a nice hike with Paula and Jose up to a marvellous lookout. It’s about an hour climb up the trail to a height of 330 meters, and I’m glad to say that taking an easy pace didn’t tax the heart TOO much. The exercise will of course keep my Cardiologist happy, but in the heat we felt somewhat like wet sponges by the time we reached the top. Thankfully we had pre-frozen some pineapple juice and water which was nicely chilled and melted by the time we reached the top.



Monday morning saw me head out alone to Viñales and it was a pleasant drive. About 2.5 hours at a comfortable speed and the road is not too bad. The part of the road from Pinar del Rio up to Viñales is a wonderful road (if I had a Porsche) with 1st or 2nd gear switchbacks, dips and rises, and all sorts of twisty bits to keep a driver happy (or scared) depending on your mood. The local I had picked up hitchhiking told me that all the local Cubanos say that the entire construction crew was drunk when they laid out the route. LOL!

As to Viñales itself. Well I found a really nice Casa, AC, hot water and a very nice family. Cost me $20 CUC per night, plus $8 CUC for each dinner, with enough food to leave me staggering to the porch afterwards. Had a wonderful Langosta (lobster) dinner the first night, then a great traditional Cuban meal the second night. Pork, rice w/black beans, maranga (sort of like potato, not sure of the spelling) plantano, salad and a nice fruit plate.

The scenery in Viñales is everything it’s expected to be…. And then more!!! I was up at 05:00 in the morning and at a pre-scouted location to catch the first light of dawn and there was a lovely mist in the valley.



Here’s the more traditional view from the Hotel Jazmines, where by-the-way, even as a non-guest, you can snag the buffet breakfast for $5 CUC. So I stoked up the furnace for the day’s shooting and sort of waddled away from the hotel. This photo is actually taken late afternoon when the light angle is ideal.



So I then spent the rest of the day touring the valley, visiting farmers harvesting the tobacco, the Indio Caves and “Prehistoric wall painting” and the other sights of the valley. All to end with of course, a sunset photo over the valley at day’s end.



But there’s one final photo from this trip to share with you. From Viñales of course. Enjoying perhaps the finest cigar I’ve ever smoked and an ice-cold Cristal, all accompanied by the awesome view. Let me tell you about that cigar. It was rolled by a local farmer, after he walked me into his curing hut, hand-picked the leaves for the cigar, and rolled it right in front of me. Ten minutes later it’s the one I’m smoking in this photo. Can’t beat that for a “farm-fresh” handmade Puro!! And best of all, I’ve got a ½ dozen or so more to bring home with me when I need a “Cuba moment” back in Canada. Those hand-rolled puros will be all the more prized than the commercial boxed cigars I also have.



In the few days left, I’m invited to a home-cooked meal at Paula’s on Friday evening and then a few final days around Havana, with nothing particular in mind but enjoying the atmosphere, sights, sounds and flavour of the city. Then sadly, Saturday afternoon I’m going to have to pull out the suitcases and start the return packing.

So that’s the final report from this month-long odyssey of mine. Hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have had fun bringing it to you. There’s lots more photos to share, but they’ll have to wait for post-vacation processing, sorting and editing.

Adios and see you all soon.

Steve

Hmmmm...... you really find out who your friends are when YOU bring the rum!!! LOL!!!
Seriously, the bottle WON'T be coming to a trailer pack, but for the conniseurs amongst us we might be able to arrange a nice sampling session. But ya guys have to ante up with some temptations for me!  ROFL Wendita doesn't need rum!!!  Banana Banana

There's lots more to tell, and for SURE there's going to be another police story to tell when I take the car back to the rental agency. But THIS time, I'm the one that will be calling them. Got ya curious now? Let's just say the rental scumbag who's trying to scam me is going to get the adventure of HIS life. It's a long story and will tell you all when I get home, because by then I'll know the conclusion. Let's just say that there are some shenanigans with the paperwork, and of course the money, and for me, the best defense is a good offence! But the car is great, and so far no dents or dings though the suspension got a workout with the potholes.


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Miramar, Ciudad Habana
Thursday February 28, 2008.
Somewhere around 24:00………

So here I’m thinking that as it’s the last night with the rental car, perhaps we should dine somewhere nice that’s normally a cab ride away. At least that’s the plan.

On Wednesday night (shortly after my last, last posting) I’d met up with Cheers Terry, his charming Canadian girlfriend Mona, and two of his Canadian production crew down in Habana working on a film. We’d promised a short few drinks (ha, ha, ha) and headed down to the La Lluvia de Oro on Calle Obispo. Well we meet up with a couple of Terry’s Cuban friends (4 to be exact) and one thing leads to another and it’s a 6 hour drinking/eating marathon. Well we at least managed to confirm plans for tonight’s dinner which was supposed to be a nice quiet dinner with just Terry and Mona, and Paula and I. We’d meet Terry and Mona on the terrace of the Inglatera at 7:30 and then all head out to El Aljibe in Miramar for dinner and some wine.

So I pick up Paula just after 7 pm and negotiate Havana traffic down to the Inglaterra in Vieja to pick up Terry and Mona. SURPRISE….. instead of picking up two people, there are all FOUR of them coming to dinner with us. The whole darn crew!! And I’ve got the car, and I’ve been volunteered to drive the whole gang. WAIT A MINUTE HERE…..the car is about the size of a pickle jar, and to get six of us in, with me still having the seat back far enough to allow my long legs to actually let the clutch up…..well we’re like gurkins lined up in the jar. Oh, wait a minute…..we’re NOT pickled, YET!!!

THE PICKLE JAR.......


So with Paula and I occupying the two front buckets, that leaves 4 normal sized adults (Terry, you owe me buddy for calling you normal size!! ROTFLMAO) to occupy the two child seats in the rear. Yup, everybody take alternate turns breathing, and away we go. Three guys across and Mona somehow sharing laps….mostly Terry’s. Well the darn pickle jar is right down on it’s rear springs (it was a new car with only 1400 km on the clock when I got it) and every Habana pothole causes a LOUD thunk from the rear. The back’s so low that oncoming cars are flashing their lights at me thinking I’ve got my high beams on. Thunk, bang, creak….away we go!

So we head out along the Malecon, only to find a police roadblock because the surf is washing right over the western part of the Malecon due to a strong onshore swell. So instead of the “relatively” smooth Malecon, it’s time to play “Lets wander around the side streets and potholes” time in Habana. Well despite getting lost (my fault actually) we finally find the Aljibe and have a great dinner. It’s all you can eat, which of course while wonderful for our hunger, also leaves the dilemma of how 4 totally gorged people are going to get into the back for the ride home. Oh, and love those Frijol Negros (Black Beans) which add to the….ahem…..ride home!!!

Well we’ve left the Aljibe and somehow instead of heading eastward towards the city, we’re headed westward out of the city. Hey, lets get some digital photos of everybody pickled into the car (this was of course 2 bottles of wine later) so the description was now somewhat more accurate. So we’ve got all these little digital cameras firing away inside the car till it’s strobing away like the inside of a demented disco. But finally we’ve got enough photos……but HEY……WHY ARE THE BLUE LIGHTS STILL FLASHING???

Oh CRAP,  we’ve gone and done it again. Yup, those flashing blue lights are coming from the Cuban Cop car behind us that wants us to stop. It’s still hard not to laugh at cops driving a Lada, but this isn’t the time for levity.

So we’re busted for breaking Section 131 of the Cuban law for having two many people inside the car. And that’s a 30 CUC fine. But in Cuba, they don’t fine foreigners renting a car. What they do is write on the rental contract (which nicely has a spot just for this occasion) that you’ve broken the law and the rental agency collects the fine. No such thing as traffic court here. But oh, that’s not all. There’s this little part of the rental contract that also states that if you’re caught with too many people in a rental car, the rental agency also dings you an additional 50 CUC. So yep, we’re down 80 CUC here and this is not fun.

Well thank god for Paula (the only Cuban with 5 crazy Canucks) who can at least translate for us. So it’s time to negotiate…..delicately!!! This is “es Cuba” and with a little discussion and translation, we all agree to be “Nice” to each other. The cops let us go, for us being “nice” to them to the tune of 10 CUC each. But 20 Chavitos is still better than 80 LOL!!! So off we go again, still 6 of us in the pickle jar and MY NAME on yet another Cuban police report. We finally get turned around and headed the right way back to the city. But hey, the night’s still relatively young. What can we do next?

So it’s off to visit John Lennon in the park which in turn leads to going around many blocks in circles in Vedado until we finally stumble on the park. “Imagine All the People…..” With a certain amount of frivolity, and those darn blue disco flashes again, (no cops though) we get all the photos we need, then pile back into the car and eventually make our way back to Centro to drop everybody off. We actually made it without any further stops or difficulties and finally Panataxi Steve is back at my Casa. All until NEXT week, because Terry and Mona are going to be in Toronto and we’ve arranged to meet for dinner at the Mambo Lounge one night next week. (Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, not sure yet).

Steve, Terry, Mona.


Paula y Steve


Oh, and here’s one more Vinales photo for you and one of the Malecon waves.

Vinales Dawn from the dining room balcony of the Los Jazmines Hotel


Waves along the Malecon


So there you go, another surprising day. Couldn’t post this until tonight, but I’m sure you can all appreciate it.

Steve


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LOL Pastor, but it WILL be nice to sleep in my own BIG bed tonight.

As to the photos. Well after I get a TON of laundry done, and get my apartment back into some sort of decent shape, then I'll start into the photos.

Oh, and just to add to the problems to face this week, while my car was parked in my apartment building parking lot fo the last month, the snowplow has hit the drivers side and dented/scractched it's way along. So the landlord already knows, but that will have to be attended to as well. Gee, back one hour and life gets more complicated already, sheesh!!!
« Last Edit: January 24, 2009, 06:00:11 pm by Steve_YYZ » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2008, 09:03:01 pm »

Bluffing the Scammers – The Rental Car Saga

A little background first. I’d decided last Thursday (Feb 21) to rent a car for 8 days to get out and really explore the area, plus to get me to Viñales. I’d asked Pototo where was a good place to rent a car from and he’d suggested that I head to the Habana Tryp Libre Hotel.

So away I went and decided on a small Korean car from the VIA Gaviota rental people who have a desk inside the hotel lobby. The price quoted (the same at all VIA agencies) was $65 CUC per day which included all insurance and unlimited mileage which for 8 days would total $520 CUC. This was to be paid by both Credit Card and Cash.
They billed $400 CUC to my MasterCard (converted to US dollars of course) plus $120 CUC cash to equal the total rental cost. In addition, they get an “Authorization” for an additional $200 CUC damage deposit, but this is not actually billed to your account, just authorized to see that the credit is available. I went downstairs with the assistant to the garage to see the car and to determine if I’d actually fit with enough room to drive the small car. It was Ok for a week, but I’d never own something that small. The car was brought outside and I both looked the car over (it was brand new with only 1400 km on the clock) and took a complete set of digital photos from all sides as proof of the condition of the car.

Back inside, the paperwork is complete and presented to me for signature. I’d had to show my Passport as well. Carefully reading over the contract, I note that it simply says that $400 was applied to my credit card and the balance in cash. But the contract also doesn’t state the total rental cost so the cash balance could be anything. I insisted that it be written in that $120 was paid in Cash and this was done. With everything correct, I signed the rental contract. The rental manager then stated that the only thing left for me to do was to go out and verify the actual mileage on the car’s odometer and then sign the actual car condition report. So out again with the assistant to do this, then back inside.

I was presented with the rental contract (whose copies had been separated) with my copy letter folded, but stapled at each end, effectively sealing it shut. It was handed to me along with a map and everything was said to be “in-order”. And that’s where I made my mistake and got caught off guard. I should have twigged to the stapled contract but simply missed that very subtle ploy. So with contract and map in hand, away I went.

A couple of days later while sitting around the Casa in Viñales, I thought I’d open up the contract to read it and practice some of my Spanish. Aware that one scam is the “Damaged Contract” scam whereby if the contract is ripped or otherwise damaged, you are charged an additional $50 CUC when returning the car, I very carefully used a pocket knife to open the staples and remove them. Well knock me over dead!!!! The contract has been changed and where it once said $120 CUC cash deposit, it’s now been scratched out and says $40 CUC cash. It’s done very sloppily but none the less, the scam is obviously on. In addition, another area of the contract has now been filled in which states that it is $360 CUC rental for 8 days, plus $80 CUC for insurance, which only then equals $440 CUC. So the scam is clearly for $80 CUC. But what to do? Obviously the only thing to do is to wait until I return the car and work the problem at that time.

So today (Friday 29) I arrived at the Tryp earlier than the contract time (2 pm) so as to have a bit of time to work on the problem. Instead of going to the rental car desk, I went straight to the front desk of the hotel and asked the receptionist to get me the hotel General Manager and informed her that she might also have to call the Police. When asked what the problem was, I informed her that there was a thief working in the hotel and I wanted to both report it and rectify the problem.

Well needless to say, things started to happen quite quickly (by Cuban standards) and a very short time later the Manager appears. He quickly appraises me, only to find a “tourist” standing there in clean slacks, dress shirt and polished shoes, more a businessman than an obvious tourist. When he asks the problem, I suggest that as gentlemen, perhaps we should discuss the “Hotel’s problem” somewhere more private and away from the line of people at reception. Eyebrows raised, he complies and we move to a side office. Now before even discussing the meat of the issue, I take out my notepad and ask for his full name and position title…..”For my Report” that I will be presenting to “my Amigo” back in Canada. Naturally, he asks what report and what friend back in Canada, and now it’s full bluff time. Casually, I reach into my wallet and present him with “my friend’s” business card. It’s the formal diplomatic business card of Senior Darias, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada, who I had met last year. Well now the eyebrows are touching the ceiling, and his tan has faded just a little. Gee, this might actually work! So I now fully outline the situation, and ask if the hotel is prepared to rectify the problem. Caught off-guard, the manager states that unfortunately the car rental agency is a separate company and there is nothing official he can do. But he is prepared to assist if he can and asks what I would like done. I state that I would like the Area Manager for VIA cars contacted and to have him come to the hotel. And in addition, and if necessary, would he kindly contact the Police and have them come as well. The tan fades just a little more! Perhaps there is a better solution he says, and we agree to go together to see the manager of the VIA agency at the hotel (the same man who was trying the scam), but seeing nothing to loose by being reasonable, I comply, but also state that if I’m not entirely satisfied, I will still be contacting other people.

Well now we arrive at the VIA rental desk and the hotel Manager in rapid Spanish informs the VIA scumbag (manager) of the problem and he tries to bluff his way out of the situation. I clearly hear “loco tourista” (crazy tourist) a few times (if ONLY he REALLY KNEW!!!) and the hotel manager leaves at this point. I think he was glad to officially duck the situation. So once again, it’s bluff time and the first thing I do is get his ID card and carefully copy his full name and VIA personnel number into my notepad, for my report (LOL). I go through the whole explanation again, only this time I am calling the VIA Manager a thief, right to his face. When the Ambassador’s business card comes out, the VIA Area Manager is mentioned, and the Police are also mentioned, there is absolutely no doubt that this guy goes white as a sheet of paper and slumps into his chair, probably shitting a few bricks as well. At this point, I think he knows he’s beat and tries to insist that it is all a simply mistake. I tell him that he is now both a Liar and a Thief and state that it’s obvious that the only people that can solve this issue are his manager and the Police. I then further inform him that is it my intention to see that by tomorrow he won’t have a job anymore either. The bricks now turn to solid 24K gold bricks!!! Then I calmly sit back in my chair and the stare-down begins. Well for the longest 60 seconds of time, I calmly sit there lightly tapping my pen on my crossed knee. He’s staring back at me, white as a ghost, with sweat streaming down his face. (it’s actually quite comfortably air conditioned inside)

Finally he blinks, admits that it was a stupid mistake on his part but that his family is poor and he needed the money for food. Telling him not to insult my intelligence because he is wearing nice clothes, has a very nice watch, gold rings and a gold necklace (the Cubans do love to show their bling!) I finally throw him a glimpse of resolution and ask what he is prepared to do to settle this matter and that if I’m not satisfied with his settlement, then perhaps the Area Manager would be more agreeable.

Well I’ve never seen a Cuban move so fast in my life before. Out with the contract and all the figures are quickly changed to now reflect a rental price of only $55 CUC per day (total of $440), the damage Authorization Slip is quickly ripped up and handed back to me, and in the absolutely sweetest of moments, he stood up and took out his OWN WALLET and counted out $80 CUC cash and handed it back to me, all the while apologizing and professing stupidity on his part for trying to cheat me. Never in my time in Cuba have I seen a Cuban actually be forced to hand back money after scamming it eight days earlier. I think he would have done anything to simply get me out of there and end the matter. People from the other sales desks were watching and also closely listening (other rental car companies and tour operators) so I think this guy publicly eating crow and having to pay me back was a good lesson. Not all tourists are stupid or ready to give up.

He wanted to shake hands with me, but I refused and chose to just leave, with my money now back in my pocket and having achieved a good deal on the car. With one final colloquial Spanish phrase that questioned his ancestry and the profession of his mother!

Did the Ambassador’s business card help? Well of course it did, but so did politely complaining and starting from the top down, and of course a good bluff and poker face. A new lesson learned for me and one for the books. Did I want him actually fired? Honestly, that’s a difficult one to answer. I know that life in Cuba is hard, and if he’d treated me politely, efficiently and respectfully he would have got a nice tip and the end. As it was, he gets nothing and hopefully will think twice before scamming another tourist. But reality also says that he’ll likely lay low for a little while, then go back to his old scamming ways. The payoff is just too tempting in a poor country.

Es Cuba!!

Steve
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