Cuba continuing 2

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 13:24

US: So many products to choose from. Too many.
Cuba: So few products. Too few (if any).

During the day, it's reaching around 32 C. that's hot enough, esp. w/ the humidity, to make it uncomfortable in the sun. aside from that, it's pleasant - in the shade, or in the morning. The weather seems so consistently comfortable that I think it explains the economic non-productivity.

The Caribbean is a tough area. It produces some tasty food & drink. I don't want to spend more than a year or two here.

Cuba continuing

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 13:19

Still having a hard time getting to sleep… the mosquitoes make it worse… the only repellent I've found contains citronella, not DEET, not sure whether it's that effective… Smells nicer at least…

The dehydration may also make it harder to get to sleep

The pharmacies here don't carry the usual assortment that e.g. American pharmas have… Here it's herbal products, a few staples like ibuprofen, etc. So far they've said they typical Cuban "no" to both of my questions: if they had anything to get to sleep, or if they had anything for the sinuses.

Cuban society is basically functional, but anything more advanced seems spotty…

La Habana, Cuba

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 13:16

I'm already getting tired of Habana. It's a beautiful city, but it's exhausting. Also, I feel like I've seen many of the streets. After seeing a street once or on a few occasions, I feel like I know it, so it loses its novelty. Thinking of spending another couple of weeks around town, then maybe try to get out to other parts of the country.

Finally managed to get the 5 hour wifi cards to work… After much walking, found a telecom minipoint… As I approached holding my broken wifi cards, the saleswoman said "we don't carry those here." I answered that I just wanted to exchange them. She said I'd have to go to a full sales center. I asked where the nearest one is. She wrote down directions, then s/aid she thinks it's somewhere around there. I asker if in the meantime I could buy some 1 hour cards. "No hay ahora" ("We don't have any now"). I walked over to the full sales center, where the extremely slow bureaucracy eventually replaced the cards. The process involved much slow typing, printing of tons of paper, stamping the papers, etc. I asked the staff woman to scratch off the password covers (like a lottery ticket) for me, since these were more of the vintage 2017. She obviously had a better technique than mine, because she was able to scratch them off with a coin without tearing them off.

I hope I don't pick up too much of a Cuban accent in Spanish. It sounds funny to me, hardly intelligible.

Tu y usted…

There's a funny feature of Spanish & some other languages, not present in English. There are two different ways to say "you" in Spanish: tu or usted. In English, this used to be the difference between you versus thou. "Tu" is informal, as in two friends talking to each other. "Usted" is formal, as in addressing a stranger or a respected person. This leads to a sort of forced entertainment in which people have to choose which "you" to use, risking insult. The pronoun can even change mid-conversation. Personally I don't feel comfortable with either. When someone calls me "usted," I think it sounds too formal, when I'm just another person. When someone calls me "tu," I think it can sound condescending. Also, people in different Spanish-speaking countries use these words differently. Some countries even have other pronouns for "you," which makes it all quite confusing.

English just has "you." Easy.

In general I feel that English is a more straightforward language. That makes it more convenient, but uglier.

Day 10 in Havana!

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 13:01

The artisanal fruit wines are delicious, although they do kind of taste the same to me. Maybe the process of wine-making removes some of the fruit flavors.

I'm still unsure what to write this book about, besides travel. Now thinking maybe something like Latin & Caribbean culture. That's part of travel, though. Does it need anything more?

Not sure how general or accurate this is… Seems like Cubans start the around 8 AM (some earlier, some later), have a relaxed day with some work & some eating & drinking, dine around 7 PM, socialize etc. until 11 PM (some earlier, some later). I think it's spread out more throughout the day than in North America… The latter seems to work harder during the day (esp. 9-5), then shut down earlier. In part perhaps because of the weather, in part perhaps because of the culture (which depends at least to some extent on the weather).

It's so noisy in Havana… Every street, every corner… It's full of people… Different noises than in the US… In the US, there are large trucks, sports cars, dogs barking, yelling… Here, there are old cars, dogs barking, people yelling… Maybe I'm just extra-sensitive…

I want my capitalism back…

Another night in La Havana. Tomorrow I'm supposed to go to the next place, if I rented it correctly…

Travel is hard, things generally don't go according to plan, especially in Cuba. You have to think on your feet, handle your emotions, etc. Also, figure out which activities to do, while navigating a foreign culture, language, streets, etc.

It's fun, but it's hard. But it's hard (for me anyways) to fit in back in one place. I get bored so easily. For me, travel gives me a chance for constant novelty.

In one place, getting bored quickly is a huge disadvantage, as it means that you run out of places to go. While traveling, getting bored quickly can be a huge advantage, as it keeps you going. Gives you motivation. Instead of just getting tired, giving in… you get tired, go on…

Travel is about one thing: going on.

A human is a remarkable device. Able to survive much. Able to move through much.

Came across a street where almost every building seemed to be a bike shop… Prices were somewhat higher than I'd hoped, ranging from around $100-500 US. One vendor said he'd get me a bike for $60. The bikes looked decent. I said I'd think about it, maybe come back to the street.

I think that Cuban people, like at least some other Latin people, have an aptitude for mechanical work. Even far away from the city center, the buildings are beautiful. I'm not sure whether Havana just has had a few talented architects, but I think that maybe it's part of the culture. Other Latin areas also seem to have beautiful architecture.

The city has some noticeable altitude, producing gorgeous views:

Maybe it takes a crazy kind of person to write. It's like thinking or talking about what you've done, but instead of just thinking or saying it, you write it down so that other people (or least yourself later) can read it. That seems like kind of a crazy thing to do.

This weekend I hope to get to the beach if there's a chance. I still haven't been to the beach yet in Cuba. I've been by the water, where there are buildings. I've seen beach pix. But I want to go.

The communism does seem to keep the population somewhat more cohesive. However, it also slows down development. I think that soon the revolution will become distant enough history.

There are tons of cafeterias (cafes). Instead of an expensive commercial establishment, as in the US, they're basically just front entrances from people's houses. There are a few different types, most have five cent (US) coffee, under a dollar ham & cheese sandwiches, & a few other items. Some don't have coffee, just juice. Some serve rum & cigars.

People often walk through the streets eating & drinking. I didn't realize that there are societies where it's considered acceptable to drink alcohol at any time of day.

Maybe being on an island is like being on a ship.

In addition to the cars, people drive around in motorcycles, many w/ sidecars, as well as three-wheel vehicles. There are a number of bikes on the streets.

The state organizes the economy, but there are also tons of independent vendors.

Cuba is quite large, for an island. It's around a thousand miles from Havana to the eastern side…

Walking is different than biking, it's slow enough that you don't speed by, while sometimes getting frustrated not going faster. I thought the same about biking before, compared to cars. Walking's about as slow as you can go, especially if you're hobbling around…

I've been throwing in some running, despite my feet, also some exercises, to keep in shape.

Cuba likes things sweet. My teeth have been feeling gross during the day, after eating so much sugar.

Finally managed to finish a quick load of laundry, rush out the door…

Cubans often speak & make loud noises… I guess because so many people are in the streets… It's common for people to call out to each other by name, or by making whistles or other sounds. I'm not sure that I've figured out exactly what all the sounds mean, but sometimes I hear a sound & realize that a person's calling me. Also, I've noticed that people sometimes send items up or down from the street to a second story apartment, using a rope & bucket system.

Generally I like being in Cuba, it's a cool country despite its setbacks, but it can be stressful. Not sure how much of the stress is adapting to being here, dealing w/ travel challenges, & other personal stresses, versus stresses particular to Havana…

Day 9 in Cuba!

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:59

Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. It feels small. It's a small region.

Today was sort of a beautiful exercise in futility, which is how I feel about Cuba in general. I was going to buy some more wifi cards, & try to return the one I had previously bought whose password didn't show up. After walking a long while, I found a place with tarjetas (cards). I bought $10 worth (10 hours). After lunch, I tried scratching off the password cover (like a lottery card. Again it didn't work! The $5 cards I've bought have all had expiry dates in 2017, failing to scratch. Now I have $15 of failed cards.

On the way, I came across a shoe fixer. He quickly fixed my sandal, which I've been struggling to glue together almost every day. Almost back to the apartment, one of the sandals broke, not sure whether an area he fixed or a different area. My feet have healed to the point that I could walk & even run without much limping today! I have to say that I'm more impressed with my body healing than with human artefacts healing!

Ate some comida criolla… a big bowl of rice, beans, & ham, & juice, for like 25 cents…

I like some parts of Cuba, but it's not a fit w/ my personality… Looking forward to next destinations…

Now sipping on some rum, exhausted…

I've been eating ibuprofen… Also, suffering psychologically, maybe in part from the weather…

Check out is tomorrow. The next place is supposed to be for next week, but Airbnb shows another reservation for this last week. Not sure yet whether to expect more problems there…

Week 1 in Cuba!

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:52

Wrapping up my first week in Cuba!!!

In my first week, I have observed a country far different than I had expected… again. My preconceptions involved Elian Gonzalez, rice 'n' beans, & a few other things. The facts on the ground include a decent Latino people, a kinda-sorta communism that involves shopping malls & social media, & way more beautiful architecture & geography than I had imagined. This is one of the more beautiful countries I've seen.

It's been a busy week. In part I've felt rushed to secure places to stay, food, basic information about the country, etc., as I arrived far before I had expected, not having had much chance to research. It's exciting to arrive in a country without much in the way of expectations, because it frees you to experience it for yourself.

Some of the drawbacks of Cuba include the difficulty of getting ordinary things done. Partly that may just be because I'm new. Maybe for people who've spent a while here it's easier to handle.

I'm falling for Cuba, although I don't plan to stay here too much longer. I already feel (since the first couple of days or so) that it's somewhat small & not exactly a match for my personality. However, if for any reason I had to stay here longer than I plan to, I think I'd be fine.

My feet are still killing me, esp. my right foot. My left foot has largely healed. There's still a blister on the side of my foot that's covering over, but it doesn't bother me when I walk or stay still. My right foot still has a few trouble spots. I've been hobbling around, which makes me feel like a local. :) I've seen tons of Cubans struggling to walk, I think in part because of the questionable streets & sidewalks, also because people here still walk, not everyone drives around like in the U.S. I'm guessing that my feet will feel fine again in a week or two. I've walked almost non-stop since Miami! Jejejej. I'm worrying somewhat about long-term foot injury, but there's so much to see that I keep telling myself "just a bit more"… Maybe in the upcoming period I'll settle down some more…

I'm still unsure about this writing project… I plan to do a series of blog posts, turning into a book. There's not that much science or technology that I find interesting in the places I'm planning to travel. As of now I'm thinking of just writing about crazy travel adventures. Is that interesting enough? I know that there's such a thing as just a travel story, I'm more worried whether it's already a saturated market. With the scitech in combination w/ the travel, at least I feel like I'm fairly unique. Any other ideas…?

Finally bought some insect repellent, here's hoping…

It's still funny for me to have such comfort in Cuba. After a while of traveling in more expensive countries, I became accustomed to camping out, having few resources. Here, I'm in one of the fanciest parts of the country, with tons of resources. Feels terrific, but still has challenges.

Asking ppl is generally a good way to get things done… in Cuba as elsewhere.

I feel more comfortable asking people for help while traveling. It's easier when you're (somewhat) obviously foreign.

After applying the insect repellent, I think I received far fewer bites… Still some, not sure if just in spots I missed… It feels like the mosquitoes here are larger…

Last night I started a load of laundry, with all my clothes, thinking I'd dry them in the morning, even wearing some wet into the sun. The machine didn't finish them properly, so they were a dirty mess. I tried to run the machine again. It's still running, far after the amount of time I'd set. I tried opening the door to remove some clothes, but the door is locked. Gah.

I want to reserve my next place. The wifi hardly reaches into the apartment. I'm not going outside in just underwear. If I connect now, I could get disconnected, without a chance to log off. That would run down my wifi card, which is hard to replace. A $1 resource, interfering with a task. So it is in Cuba.

The Cuban constitution, which is linked to from the national wifi login page, starts off by dedicating itself to natives, slaves, & others. I hadn't realized, but was curious about the extent to which the revolution overlapped with poverty defense. It's anti-imperialist, against both the Spanish & the Yankees. It's kind of a touching document, putting power in the hands of the people.

They seem to think (at least out loud) that their system will last indefinitely. I think it's already leaving.

The communist/socialist constitution seems to consider people an undistinguished mass, except for bad imperialists; seems to consider countries an undistinguished mass, except for bad imperialists. It fails to notice differences among people & nations.

BTW, whether I'm in rich capitalist Miami, or poor communist Cuba, there seem to be loud construction sounds, etc.

Another day in Cuba

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:43

The internet intermittently stops working. Most sites seem functional. Cuba seems to be censoring my website. My American bank is unreachable…

Cuba smells delicious… Coffee, roasting and smoky flavors, etc.

Today, bought some artisanal wines… one bottle each, made from papaya (fruta de bomba), guava (guyaba), and canistel, the latter a tropical fruit I've never heard of before…

There are tons of electric motorcycles in Havana… They seem low-power (which is fine to get around town), probably because of how expensive batteries are…

Cuba continues to grow on me… & to annoy me… maybe it depends on how much rum I've had… or guava wine…

I've met a few kind Cubans who have made me much happier… For the most part, Cubans do not seem interested in tourists such as myself, which is understandable. I think also that Cubans seem to have a somewhat barbed disposition. I suppose it's just something of a mismatch between me & the local culture. However, I do find much to appreciate.

I appreciate the sense-oriented parts of the culture. There's tobacco in most places, gracing the air. The food is growing on me, there are numerous non-bland items. The cheese & meat have flavor. The beverages have flavor. There are numerous tropical fruits. I think that the flavorless items tend to be some of the staples, & some of the local variants of international foods. Maybe it just takes some trying to understand the local culture. This is different for me in part because I did not have much exposure to Cuban culture outside of Cuba until recently (in Florida). By contrast, Traveling through the United States & Mexico, I already had considerable (often false) preconceptions.

Today I went to the capitolio (capitol), by accident. Over the last few days I've gone by most of the major national museums. Not really my thing. I appreciate the architecture, & the historical/cultural significance. I consider it a somewhat important part of visiting a country to understand its larger social context. However, I often prefer to see how most of the local act in common situations, rather than the formal signs of a country.

For me, visiting a country is an opportunity to feel a new culture, a new style of going through with things. I like to try the activities that people do, eat the local food, listen to the local music, hang out. To me, that's more interesting than visiting a museum showing the historically important artifacts. Not that I oppose that, I think that different people have their own ways of seeing a country. For me, I prefer to walk among random streets, meet random people, and get to know what a country is like today (& where it's heading tomorrow), instead of seeing presentations about where it has been. I do also like to do some background reading, before or after, to put my travels in context.

One thing I like about traveling is the chance to be deferential… In one's own country, at least in North America, acting deferentially seems weak, and people often try to take advantage. While visiting, however, you have not much knowledge of the local culture. Some visitors, such as short-term ones, often act "normally" i.e. arrogantly, inadvertently offending locals while missing out on interesting things. Maybe it's just part of who I am, but I like the chance to pay attention to how other people do things. Often I prefer the "foreign" way, which really isn't foreign for some people. It also makes for a convenient meeting point, so I find it easier to have random conversations in other countries, or with people visiting wherever I happen to call home.


Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:40

Lying in bed overnight, a hot night. Mosquitoes came in, maybe because I had (intentionally) left the window open after putting out the sleeping bag laundry to dry. Hard to fall asleep. Thinking of travel plans, thinking of the Cuban revolution…

This morning, went to use the internet. No wifi in the apartment, but yes outside. Connected. Required password. Scratched off the password on my internet card (sort of like scratching a lottery card). The password numbers themselves came off, so that I couldn't see the password. Also, noticed that the card says "use by 2017" (in 2019). Gah. The wifi briefly came on for free, enough to check the weather.

Went to get another wifi card. "We don't have any. Go to FOCSA." FOCSA is a Cuban mall. Went to FOCSA. Funny to be in a communist shopping mall. At the telecom store, a guard wielding a gun pointed to the line. At least, it sort of looked like a gun, maybe an antique gun. The line was long. Went for a walk, then came back. Still a long line, but not sure if it was still a line or just Cubans waiting around. I went inside and asked if they sold the cards. "The system's down." I asked if they'd have any cards tomorrow. "We don't have any of the $5 ones. We only have the $1 ones." OK, maybe I'll try again tomorrow.

It's hard to get anything done in Cuba. People say no, most items are out of stock, systems break. For directions, Cubans seem to say "go down there," or "go around," or some other relative direction, without indicating how far or to which landmark. If you ask for more precise directions, they angrily repeat the vague direction like you're stupid.

I'm happy that at least Cuban people get annoyed at my inability to understand some of their rougher speech. Instead of acting like I don't speak Spanish at all, as they often did at first, they now seem to treat me like a semi-comprehending idiot, as far as I can tell.

Maybe Cubans outside of the heavily touristy areas don't expect (or care) to have many visitors. They seem to lack the inquisitiveness that I've seen when meeting people in other countries.

On the way back, bought some produce, including a huge papaya, & some vegetables. In Cuba, they call papaya "fruta bomba."

I'm still not sure what this book is about. Maybe just adventures…

Walked around some more… Found that there are a number of places that sell wifi cards for more expensive, $2 for one hour.

I've met some international people here… In the old city...

A few facts arising from the heat here… It's often nice out, so people are out throughout the day, even on weekdays… It's hard to find a quiet spot, in Havana there are so many people! It's hard to stay hydrated, I keep drinking water yet remain thirsty…

I don't remember where I've seen insect repellent here...

It seems like just taking care of the basics is a hassle here…

Another day in Havana, Cuba! :)

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:38

Feeling better, after a long day, slept in today for the first time in a while, woke up after nine.

Not sure yet what to do today, my first Sunday in Cuba. Think I'll see what Cubans do on a Sunday. Also, take care of a few chores, including seeing if I can post any of these through wifi, or check e-mail. Doing a load of laundry now.

Things feel so new! After a while, I suppose I'll get accustomed to life in Cuba. For now, there's so much to see and do! I'm already starting to think of next steps. It depends on whether they extend and/or renew the visa. Maybe tour more of the country, otherwise probably a detour to some other island country, then return to Cuba again later.

I had wanted to watch some television, more to see what Cuban TV is like than for the sake of watching. There are two remotes here, I tried one and turned on the TV. Fencing. Not my favorite sport. I pressed the channel up button. "No disponible ("Not available"). Jajajaj.

Another day that I wasn't going to walk much, but wound up walking around the city more. By today, I feel like I've seen much of the city center of Havana. I now feel comfortable with the culture generally. I'm even starting to understand the Cuban accent, although it's still difficult to make out. I don't know how people can settle down in a place for years. After I've seen a city for the weekend, I feel like I'm getting anxious to leave!

More foot massacre today… My feet hurt so much, yet I'm still hungry to see more, so onward I walk. I hope they heal up fine, as of now there are layers upon layers of blisters. It could become an archaeological dig…

Did some shopping today… Bought some queso blanco (white cheese)… soda, imported beer… Ate some more local foods… Bought & ate a chirimoya, a tropical fruit that I didn't know… It's sweet & bland, like Cuba. :)

New day in the city!

Submitted by eagle on Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:27

I'm now starting to feel more comfortable with the Cuban culture, language, & people. The accent is still often hard for me to understand, & I don't think I can readily imitate it, although I'm now significantly better at speaking in such a way that Cubans understand me. Cubans seems to use the letters "C" and "G" a lot. The speech seems slurred, I think they pronounce fewer consonants than in other accents. (In Spanish, it's not as important to pronounce every syllable as it is in English.) The intonation is different than other accents, and I still haven't learned it fully.

The city is so walkable, it's such a pleasure to go outside. One can walk for miles, seeing beautiful (shade-giving) architecture. Vendors sell food and other goods in the streets (although it's a pain to find certain goods). The weather is generally nice, the people generally friendly. It's the opposite of walking in a large American city, where you can go blocks/miles without seeing anyone, there are no street vendors, people just walk about unhappily, but when you find a store you can buy anything you want (for a large price). It's more fun to be in Cuba, it's more productive to be in the US.

The pharmacies still seem to sell primarily herbal remedies. I think it's part of the country still being basically agricultural with some industry, rather than a more developed country.

My feet are killing me!!!

I said to myself I'd stay in today, to rest my feet, or at most go out for a short bit. Woke up early, at around four AM. Decided to walk to the sea to watch the sunrise!

Later walked around for a while. Havana has block after block of beautiful buildings. The city thrives with people out at almost all hours of the day, at almost all parts of the city. Makes it fun to walk, but hard to find some peace & quiet.

The days are hot & humid, often best just to stay in the shade. The nights are cool.

Had some more local food today… More delicious, now that I'm figuring out some of the different shops & restaurants. Bought some "bijol" spice. Also, finally bought an internet wifi card. It's $1 per hour. Later in the day, I found possibly the only bottle of sunblock in Cuba!

Kept walking. After seeing tons of the city streets, decided on a side road. It went through the countryside, just outside of Havana! Tons of banana trees! Horses!

After covering a significant chunk of the country road, I got to a barbed wire fence. Preferring to chance it, I snuck under. A short while later, another barbed wire fence. In for a penny, in for a pound. After ducking under a few barbed wire fences, I got to one next to a building with people hanging around. They asked me what I was doing there. Sheepishly, I asked if I was heading towards the city. They kindly let me through.

Walking back into the outskirts of the city, I was extremely thirsty from the long walking in the sun, the difficulty I had in getting enough to drink. A street vendor had a giant bottle of a dark drink. I bought it for one peso (five cents US). Unsure if I would survive, I decided to drink a small amount then, despite my large thirst. I did survive, sort of. Later on, I had to go to the bathroom. By this time, I was hobbling around with a plastic bag holding my broken sandal on my wounded feet, walking with a stick.

As such, people were reluctant to let me use their bathroom. I was looking around for a quiet hidden spot by the railroad tracks, not finding any, when a local asked me what I was looking for in rough, hard-to-understand Cuban. I explained, and he pointed to the empty structure of a building, where I was about to go. I was attacked by diarrhea, as a crowd of Cubans stood around watching. The lad explained that he thought I was just going to pee. Hurrying up before I was finished, I thanked them and walked away. They kept after me, trying to help me find my way back, since I probably looked like a lost hobo. (I haven't seen hobos around Cuba.) I thanked them again but declined, preferring to walk the rest of the way back and soak up some more of the night life, on my first Saturday night in the city, despite feeling like shit (literally).

Cuba seems like a safe country. I generally don't feel threatened by police, military, criminals, stray dogs, or other dangers of some countries. Partly it may be due to Cuba being an island nation. Also, I don't see nearly as many police on the streets as in the US or Mexico. Maybe just because Cuba has fewer resources. So far some of the few, moderate dangers I've felt have included people possibly trying to take advantage of my initial ignorance of the country/currency/etc., which I'm not sure was the case; falling or slipping in the questionably maintained streets & sidewalks; …

I'm not sure that it's fair to call Cuba a communist (or socialist) country. I see way more people selling goods than in the USA! I think it's something like a combination of Latin cameraderie, and Cuban poverty, making communism an approximate match, but that it's just a label and not that descriptive of the facts on the ground.

So many more observations, thoughts, etc., although many as I've been in a rush to get water, food, bathroom, etc., not having stopped to write.

I'm getting to like the country more, it's growing on me. At first I was curious, and liked it moderately. I still have some qualms, although now I've seen more of the positive side. The people seem generally decent, despite facing hardships.

Getting back to the apartment, I've had like a gallon of water (I've heard that you can drink the tap water safely, not sure if that's true.) Also, some leftover food, & rum.

Shopping today, I learned that there's a shorter version of the common phrase "no hay" (there isn't any): "no." I lost count of how many times people told me "no" today. Cubans are not warm like Mexicans, & Cubans don't eat spicy food like Mexicans do.

The people in Cuba eat tons of fruit & sweet foods & drinks. Despite the general shortages, you can find plentiful sugar, alcohol, coffee, & tobacco. Like in other countries (hola, USA), it's easy to get fucked up!

It's now midnight, & I'm wrapping up writing, about to shower (finally!), etc. Long days, so much to see!!! :)