Saturday, February 8, 2014

Horse carts on the Highway

Wednesday, January 29

Leaving Havana this morning we see a man plowing his field (well, probably the government's field, but...) with oxen...and it's in the middle of a highway cloverleaf.  There are sheep grazing in another cloverleaf.  And horse carts on the highway.  This is out the front window of the bus:
And yet they all manage to get along.  No road kill.

"What ever happened to Alexi - you know, the driver who got a horseshoe stuck in his tire?" our A & K guide asks Hector.  After the oxen and the sheep, we know it could happen to us.

At the rest stop on the way to Pinar del Rio there is a Viva La Revoulcion rally.  Yesterday was Jose Martí's birthday, Cuba's first national hero.  He would be 161 - if he hadn't died young.  Makes me feel better about my upcoming birthday.

There is not much to buy at the gift shop - lots of flags and Che Guevara t-shirts, not many snacks.  Two cans of Pringles - I buy them both to share on the bus.  I'm sure they think I'm a philistine - no Che  t-shirt.  I think I'm just happy to live where I do.

The rally is strident, harsh.  Reminds me of the pissed-off delivery of the North Korean news anchors.  If communism developed a sense of humor, maybe they'd have more takers...or maybe not.  It helps to be an island; the borders are not easy to cross.

And that's something we notice is missing - all that water and no boats.  Except for one shiny white one this morning, moving slowly along the waterfront.  Border patrol.  The waterfront is eerily quiet.

When we were in Cayo Santa Maria our guide asked a local "Hey, don't you have a Boston Whaler?" and he answered "I did.  I loaned it to my nephew.  It's in Miami now.  "  Happens a lot.

At the cigar factory in Pinar del Rio, Delin's home town, no photos allowed.  I don't think the way the cigars are made is a secret, maybe the flash is distracting.  

The factory is jammed with American tourists, their buses lined up outside, blocking the small streets.  Can't be making the locals happy.  It's the first time I've been aware of other tour groups, and of the now obvious fact that we're all seeing the same state-sanctioned things.

The mountains look like something out of a Chinese painting, beautiful and surreal.
There is an ox with truncated horns tied in the parking lot.  An old man offers a ride for what ever I want to pay. No extra change for the hat.
Oddly, there are no other takers.  What happened to foreign aid?  Or a sense of adventure?

From Seed To Cigar
In just 15 months.  Benito, the Cuban Marlboro man: 
takes us on a tour of his tobacco drying barn:

Not a place to seek shelter in a hurricane, but the air circulation is great and the tobacco seems happy:
Benito hand rolls a cigar for Wally:
And lights him up - in the tobacco barn.  No OSHA.  Also no Fire Department.  No Problem.
We ask and Hector translates:  "He sells 90% of his crop to the government and 20% on the open market."  Benito smiles.  He probably has a PhD in math.  About half our group doesn't get it.

On the way back to the hotel we are stopped for a convoy of diplomats' cars.  CELAC - a confab of Latin American Heads-of-State has been taking place here.  Plus Ban Ki Moon.  And they are all staying in our hotel.  Might explain why we only got coffee packets in our room the first day - they must have run out.  Late night negotiating sessions, perhaps?

They are not in limos, these heads of state - they are in little Hyundais.  But the traffic police, with wands like Air Traffic Controllers make their point, and we stop.

When they finally let us go, we whack our way along the boulevard, leaving leaves and branches in our wake.  Our A&K guide says buses are the only tree trimming program in Havana. Surprisingly effective.

We have dinner on the waterfront and drive home along the Malecón.   It is crowded with young people - anywhere else you'd be thinking riot, unrest, Tahrir Square.  Not here.  Here things are completely peaceful.  Might have something to do with the Government minders we spotted on nearly every street corner on our Havana city tour - you can recognize them by their government issue pants and pastel dress shirts.  And the shades - they all wear sunglasses.  In every country they wear sunglasses.  I bet they don't take the night off.  And I bet they're still wearing their shades.


  1. This is among the most brilliant commentary I've seen or heard on Cuba from a visitor in the two-plus years these people-to-people programs have been running... I applaud you, Ms Appenzeller...!

  2. You made my day. And if I understand Cuba at all, it is because so many have shared their insights, their joys and pain. Thank you Ralph. Not easy, totally worthwhile. xoJ