Wednesday Night (late) Feb 18
Well on my way home from the Inglaterra Internet Cafť, I usually come along the Malecon and turn up Calle 23 (La Rampa). Did the same thing tonight but decided to stop at Ave L at the top of the hill at Dinoís Pizza for a bite to eat. First time Iíve ever stopped there. A pizza queso y chorizo (cheese & pepperoni) is 1.90 CUC and while not actually bad, it did leave a lot to be desired. Thin crust, even thinner tomato paste, but an honest covering of cheese and chorizo. But comparing itís approx $2.50 CDN cost with the ďstreet pizzaĒ I get down in Vieja for 13 pesos MN (.65 cents CDN) and it would be a hard toss-up. Now Iíll admit the street pizza only has ham as a topping and not pepperoni, but still a tough call. Oh well, the place does seem very busy with mostly Cubans and their dates so it must impress the chicas. LOL!!!
Thursday Feb 19
Well it dawned hot and sunny today with a beautiful blue sky so what better excuse than to grab the big camera, the moto, and yesÖ the map this time! Feeling somewhat better, I fuelled me with a great omelette at the casa, fuelled the moto with Especial and headed out west from Havana along the north shore road.
Well I hadnít gone much past Santa Fe when I came upon a definite oddity for Cuba. Would you believe motor racing? Karting to be exact, but not your run of the mill tourist go-karts, but rather full-blown 125 cc water-cooled Rotax powered racing karts. Iíll be honest and say that I knew the track was out there. Iíve got a nice Google Earth image of the track and layout, but I was curious to see what was actually happening. The track was closed except for a private test/practice session for one crew. There is a big race-day coming up on March 8th, but sadly Iíll be flying home that day and wonít be able to check it out. Iíve done some Kart racing here in Canada and was itching to take one of these puppies out, but like thatís not going to happen here! LOL!!! Oh well.
Heading westward still, my next stop was along the seaside hamlet of Playa Baracoa. As you can see, there is everything from quite nice homes along the watersí edge to others eroded away with just the foundations still remaining. But itís very pretty and serene along the coastline here but having seen the ocean swell crashing ashore along Havanaís Malecon, it doesnít take much to imagine what it would be like along here during a good blow.
Of course like every little hamlet, there is a church of one sort or another.
And where the little river mouth empties into the sea, itís also very pretty and colourful.
By this point, Iím figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained so I push right on past Playa El Salado which really didnít amount to much except a nice view from a high bridge. Next stop is when I spy smoke and smog ahead and a sharp whiff of crude petroleum fumes assaults the nostrils. Iíve arrived on the eastern outskirts of the industrial port City of Muriel and La Boca, about 65 kilometres west of Havana.
Letís face it. Most of us are aware that burning oil generates virtually all of Cubaís electricity. Heavy sulphur crude at that, and it takes monstrous plants to generate that power. I shot this photo from the outskirts of town because I didnít want to chance photography closer and within sight of the ever present guards.
And lest you think this is bad, let me also tell you that right across the road to the left (out of camera frame) is an equally large concrete plant that also spews a noxious cloud of something or other. I simply couldnít find anywhere to get an angle to get a photo of this plant as well.
So I held my breath and quickly motored past these goliaths and around the headland to cleaner breathable air. I was now in sight of Muriel Inlet, the site many years ago where some 80,000 rafters were permitted to leave Cuba and venture forth across the Straits of Florida to the USA. Basically when Castro emptied his prisons and told them to leave. It was due to the Muriel Boatlift that the USA and Cuba eventually came to an accord where the US would issue 20,000 immigration visas each year and Cuba would stop the rafters exodus. Needless to say, the US has never actually held up their side of the bargain and actually issued the full quantity of visas in any given year. The Muriel Boatlift also had a great deal to do with what eventually became the USAís ďWet-Foot, Dry-FootĒ policy in place today.
Itís still a very busy shipping port with many ships at anchor in the harbour. I could make out Greek and Russian shipping lines for sure, plus others that I couldnít recognize.
The town is nothing really special and looks very typically Cuban, albeit with large wharf/warehouse areas alongside the harbour itself. And of course, the typical govít billboards of one type or another. But this is one of the few places where Iíve actually seen Fidelís likeness used.
Perhaps the strangest oddity that I saw was this Tudor style building/castle high up on the hillside. I tried to get up to take some more photos but three-quarters of the way up the road is a military checkpoint and the dreaded ďZona ProhibitoĒ which I DID manage to stay outside this time! LOL!!!
However I did manage to find this dirt road/track that I could barely moto up to get a nice overview of the town of Muriel and about the inner one-third of the inlet. The track is far steeper than it looks in this photo, believe you me!
So with the afternoon waning, it was time to bid adios to Muriel and start the long drive back to Havana. And it was an interesting drive.
Partway back and Iím comfortably motoring along and suddenly hear the sharp crack of high-powered gunfire ahead. Lot of it, with both single and full auto fire. And yes, I do know from experience what that sounds like so I rolled out of the throttle and proceeded cautiously up the road and around the next bend. And lo and behold, itís a Cuban Military live-fire exercise at a range located right alongside the roadway to the ocean side. Iíd seen the barracks beside the road on the outward leg of my drive but nobody was about. Well now late afternoon and thereís at least two platoons of soldiers in full gear doing a field stripping exercise and live fire on about a 200-300 meter range. You can clearly hear the zzzzzzzzip in the air as rounds pass down the range, through the targets and into the burms behind. The targets were both standard roundels and also full silhouette type. The roadside is only about 40 meters from the firing pits and maybe 20 meters from the tables where they were fieldstripping their weapons. I stopped to watch and they gave me about 10 minutes of watching before an officer whistled and waved me on my way with a friendly smile and wave. SorryÖ no photos. I may be crazy, but even Iím NOT that insane! LOL!!! However the troops did look very smart, crisp and highly professional.
One other place you pass where I could take photos is the Escuela Laninoamericana de Medicina (Latin American School of Medicine) which is nestled along the shoreline near Playa Baracoa. As we all know, Cuba is very active in training medical doctors from many countries in South and Central America and this is a huge complex of buildings. The water-tower is also an observation tower, but despite asking, I couldnít get permission to climb to the top for a panoramic photo.
In typical Cuban fashion, whenever you drive inter-city you will pass Punto de Controls where they stop Cubans and check identification. Iíve never had a problem and for the most part am waved right on through without problemÖ. Even today! So sorry guys, no ride in a police car yet this trip. Something Iím actually hoping to avoid despite my adventures. LOL!!!
Oh, and Bulldog asked for some photos of me and this yearís moto. Well here you go BD. You can call this moto the Yellow Peril, The Bumblebee or whatever.
And as I had the big toy with me today with itís extremely wide lens, I thought Iíd also give you a treat to see what it really looks like to see Cuba from the driverís seat of the moto. Let me tell you BD, itís some trick to ride the moto at speed and wield a full-blown DSLR and look through the viewfinderÖ.. all at the same time and keeping between the ditches!!! And NO PHOTOSHOP was used!!!
So that ends another long daysí adventure and after 7 full hours in the saddle, Iím now a nice shade of lobster red and feeling equally charbroiled. But itís forecast to rain tomorrow morning so that likely means no riding. Oh, and my arse hurts again! LOL!!!
Friday Feb 20
Well of course the forecast is wrong and thereís not a cloud in the sky! Heck, they canít get the forecast right in Canada, so why would it be correct here? But a cold front has gone through overnight and once again itís cool and windy though bright and sunny. Itís back with the sweatshirt even during the daytime today.
I needed some Internet cards so I rode down to the Inglaterra Hotel to pick some up. Itís better to have them then arrive and find out there are none until tomorrow. Youíd think that something as simple as keeping stock on Internet Cards would be an easy thing to do, but not apparently in Cuba. It seems they only deliver a set number to each hotel each day and once they run out the machines sit empty and unused for the rest of the day. Es Cuba!!
So I get there early today and get a new surprise. Theyíve always had one-hour cards for 6 CUC. Well now somebody has decided to sell only half-hour cards for 3 CUC. Now thatís not really a problem per-se, but Iíve always known that the first 5 minutes is just getting set-up and the last 5 minutes is pretty much a waste because you get caught doing something, sending an email etc and the machine just cuts you off mid process. Now, with only 30 minute cards, thatís going to be twice the unproductive delay just getting things done. Typical Cuban inefficiency or not caring what the customer wants or needs. Going to make uploading photos more difficult and time consuming. CoŮo!!!
I stopped by to see Pototo this afternoon and talked and drank espressos out on his balcony. This is the view looking west up Neptuno from Pototoís balcony. Pototo lives in Centro Habana. The tower is the Monumento a Julio Antonio Mella and the green leafy area a couple of blocks up is the University de la Habana.
Pototo also has a couple of real pretty birds in a cage on his balcony.
Oh, and you want to talk about POTHOLES and obstacles while either driving or riding the moto around Havana. Have a look at these!!! I came across them (thankfully not literally) last night. They just come along and dig up a bad section of the pavement, anywhere from 1 meter to 3 meters wide, and the full width of half the street. The damn holes are at least 6 inches deep as well with absolutely square sides. Of course they donít actually come along and put the new pavement in until who knows when. And the holes arenít marked or pyloned either. So the necessity of NOT overdriving your headlights is readily apparent. The only way safely past is to use the oncoming lanes and drive against the flow as this other moto rider is doing. Yiikessss!!!! I had come across these for the first time the other night on my way home and photographed them today. Theyíre on one of my shortcuts home from Paulaís. Es Cuba!!!
Tonight I rode down to another place reported to have a great hamburger. I seem to be on a quest here. LOL!! So I went to a place called Pan.Com located on 7th Ave, cnr Calle 26 in Miramar, a block east of the Canadian Embassy. Itís pretty much a sandwich shop but what a burger. The Super Cheeseburger is 235 grams, double-pattie, with chips (not fries) all on a huge toasted bun for 3.25 CUC. A funny thing. I asked for a slice of cebolla (onion) to go on the burger and they brought me an entire sliced onion. And it was a darn good burger and the only thing not making it rise to the top is that chips just donít make it the way honest to god French Fries do.
They also have what must be the biggest sandwich Iíve ever seen in Cuba. Itís called the Super Pan Jumbo (560 grams) for 5.00 CUC and includesÖ.. Baguete (125 gr), Jamůn Barra (75 gr), Jamůn Rapido (75 gr), Queso (75 gr), Mortadella (75 gr), Bacon (30 gr), Pierna (50 gr), and vegetables. I have no idea what some of those ingredients actually are but it looks amazing and Iíll have to come back one day and try one.
Oh, and it was incredibly COLD and WINDY trying to ride the moto back to my casa tonight. I had on a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt and jacket with the collar zipped right up to my ears and was still cold. And the wind was definitely buffeting the moto around and making my eyes water. Not a fun ride actually but Iím back safely in my casa and am going to spend the rest of the night inside. Thankfully thereís an English language sci-fi movie on tonight with Spanish subtitles. So thereís something to watch at least.
Well the weekend has been pretty tame. Just out socializing with friends around Havana and drinking endless cups of espresso, cerveza y ron while visiting. Helped one friend get their computer set-up and fix some problems. Itís amazing how many people have access to some sort of Internet or other and how many ways local Habaneros find to ďwork the system, izquierdoĒ (on the left, meaning not authorized or official).
Had a great meal Saturday night at a place Iíve never tried before. Went to the TrattorŪa Marakas, located at 37 Calle ďOĒ a few doors east of La Rampa (Calle 23) in Vedado. Itís a pretty simple faux Italian looking place with a huge map and posters of Italy on the wallsÖ but the food!!! My god, Iíve got to admit that Iíve not eaten better even along St. Clair in Torontoís little Italy area. I had a combination plate with Lasagna and Cannonelli (sp) with a basket of garlic bread and a half-bottle of red wine and it was superb. Thick and cheesy with real Parmesan and Mozzarella and an honest meat/tomato sauce. Even served traditionally in a deep dish scalding hot right out of the oven. Cost 12 CUC for everything. Paula had a pizza and they actually have a real wood-fired pizza oven in the back of the place. The only drawback was the service. The waiter was polite and efficient, but the kitchen was soooooo slooooooow!!! From ordering the lasagna to it getting to our table was at least 45 minutes. Iíll lay a bet that they only make it to order, then bake it in the oven which is why itís so long a wait. With that much delay, should have had the full bottle of wine! LOL!!! BTW, the dinner without the wine would have been 6.50 CUC. They have several pages of various pasta dishes all for the same 6.50 CUC price.
So itís now Sunday night and Iím at the Hotel Plaza because they are the only hotel in the city that still has Internet Cards available. And lo and behold, they are 1 hour cards. Es Cuba!!! Itís enough to drive me MORE Loco!!!