Thursday, June 15, 2017

Havana Royale

Casa Ivis, the place we’d stayed our first night is high on my recommendation list as the accommodation is lovely, location great and when we came into town without a room or any way of contacting one – they hooked us up. Thanks Ivis and Juan!
Now that we were back and knew how close we were to Habana Vieja and the correct direction in which to walk we were off. As much as I have enjoyed the residential hood – it was time to see something a little bit different.
Not 15 minutes down the road and I felt the camera in my hand, the weight and the urge to use it. It is an understatement to say the woes in my life have led to a decidedly dry spell in my creative endeavors and though I will always consider myself an artist – as of late there has been little physical proof of that.
It made me glad to WANT to take photos and to feel inspired by the streets of Latin America. It made me feel like Briana. And I hate to say it – but she is pretty fucking dope.
After watching shirtless children delight in a pair of roller-blades and a homie on an actual pay phone I saw an apparition. A dark skinned man with a shiny chain and cornrows, ie – my future husband. Fortunately Havana Hottie was standing in front a restaurant that offered a) excellent people watching, b) a delicious and affordable menu and c) a condescending and misogynistic proprietor. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

As I greedily consumed moro by the spoonfuls I watched children creating a game of their choosing in the alley way and literally ached for them. Never in my life had I wanted a brood, and on that day I wanted all 5 of those bad boys to have come out of my special lady place.

After dinner we made our way further into the belly of the beast, to what I believe to be the Central Park of Havana where cement benches face a triumphant statue and that classic car cold war feel is thick in the air.

As opposed to the dilapidated vehicles from 1950's America that run through the streets of Havana, here is where all of the pretty ladies line up to shine in the sun and be adored. I too fell prey as I attempted to seduce a curvy purple beauty and lure her into my web. As we were perusing a diminutive man named Raoul pointed out his turquoise Chevy and we were sold. Sold a 1 hour ride (though I think it lasted longer) for a reasonable fee.
After about 3 minutes in the back seat it was clear Raoul had a lot of wisdom to impart and I didn’t want to be rude, so I hopped in the front seat, selected the appropriate jams for a sunset cruise with a strange man in a foreign city and listened up.
Raoul weaved through the streets as he pointed out sights and gave ‘insider intel’ on the goings on in Cuba. I was a captive audience and once he told me that he thought I was my companion’s tour guide because I looked just like a Cuban woman he knows in my ‘happy eyes,’ I was his.
A leisurely cruise in a classic car listening to salsa and exploring the city – what more could a girl ask for – except maybe a cocktail. Typically not the kind of girl to jones for booze – ever – we felt it would be remiss if we didn’t at least sample the local rum infused fair and Raoul assured us that he knew of a little known spot that only hosted locals. I was hooked.
We arrived just after sunset to el conejito and shared a daiquiri and mojito (a sip or two both) and heard distinctively American accents on the corner before making our way back onto the street. At the front door were two young men wearing BK shirts and when I addressed them as such witty repartee ensued and I felt like cheeky Briana again, and it felt nice.

Back in the drop top and my mind turns to regret. I don’t possess a lot. Sure, there are things I wish I hadn’t said or done in my life – yes, I don’t live with regret. There are no major what ifs, because I honestly feel like when I want something – I go after it, at least in my adult life. I do however, always wish, always lament on how I should have studied abroad. Having had that experience sounds magical and as I ponder I realize, I have spent the past 10 years in Washington Heights – I have studied aboard. No wonder I am sporting colorfully floral leggings and a red tank top so unapologetically (with Chucks, of course), and no wonder I feel so at home here. In Latin America.
Wind in my hair and salsa in my ear. I could drive forever.

Raoul deposits us back in Habana Vieja and it is dark and we are satiated with our cruising together (Smokey, not Gwenyth). As we exit the Caddy we head toward Hotel Ingeterra where a poor man’s version of a former boyfriend who leads us down into the belly of da club where in a few short hours we are promised it will be turnt, en espanol. We bid adieu to fake Danny and wander down Obispo to try to maintain momentum and kill time before returning to live music underground.
Obispo is a main thoroughfare running through old town that offers a potpourri of communist book shops, souvenir shops and live music. The light is warm and yellow and the streets almost qualify as cobblestone. Just walking down the road makes you feel beautiful and romantic and like you have rouge on your cheeks, a rose in your teeth and some pep in your step.

A long square with a sleeping dog (I repeat sleeping, not dead) who wears a name tag proudly displaying his name and occupation – resident street tramp can be found at the end of this journey. We turned around with minutes still left till lift off and decide to do one of my most facotire things – people watch. Give me your airport, your train station, your restaurant and your town square – watching people interact with one another – or go about their business solo is truly one of life’s great pleasures.

At this particular juncture – what I was most certain was subtle gay sex solicitation was the watching that was worthy. Perhaps I will never know if the effeminate young man in the pink shirt got a Juan for the evening because as a pair of young men, one in tapered sweatpants and the other in a Bart Simpson t-shirt wandered by. Many times. The mating ritual was basic – I made my presence known. They sniffed around until my pheromones were strong enough to attract an attack – from the side. And  then we were done. We had friends for the evening.

As if often the case with me the pretty young thing in sweats with a neck tat was who caught my eye, yet it was Bart (ie Dennis) who came up to speak to me. After a couple of exchanged sentences, I declared him a liar in Spanish and my charm was too much to resist – we were lost in conversation. My fascination with Cuba is real, and deep and honestly – getting just to hang out with and talk to someone who lives here – not in any official or political role, but just a person, was a treat. The fact that they were kind and courteous and after only a few short hours were proposing marriage and co-parenting only played a minor role.

Shortly after meeting our new compatriots we decided to screw salsa club we’d been waiting out and head to Bar Roma per our escorts suggestion.
Bar Roma was a rooftop spot in a residential building that offers views of the capitol, spicy salsa and 1970’s pop and tattoos while you wait in the foyer to the bar. It was sticky and sultry and I felt like I was in ‘Dirty Dancing Havana’ night only with no Diego Luna and a copious amount of body odor.
It was magical.

It turned out Dennis and Angelo (neck tat) weren’t friends so much as the vaguest of acquaintances, but evidently it seemed appropriate to join forces when approaching a foreign woman. I respect.
The night was split between dancing on the roof and being lectured in a unique mix of Spanish, English and gestures about how I am strong and charismatic and should never cry over a man – they should cry over me.
With promises to go out once we reunite when we returned from Vinales my graffiti artist friend took the long walk home through the dusty streets of late night Havana and we arrived just before sunrise – and parted ways.

So rarely do I go out. And it is nights like these that always make me wonder why.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sandy Beaches and Sia

After a deep deep sleep, dreaming of turning one of the closested kids from Glee, I was awoken to the sounds of Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift from both my and my travel pals cell phones respectively.

Though their sleep was restless mine was the sort from which you never think you'll emerge and after a hot shower and a fresh pair of leggings I was finally ready to face the world.

We were still in need of currency exchange, the biggest obstacle thus far, and my suspicions proved true because as we arrived at el banco there was a line out the door. Communism in theory sounds so fantastic I am never quite sure why it can't work it out in real life. But what we saw was not Bernie's Utopian view of socialism but a line a mile long to hold a $20.

Back to Casa Ivis for an enormous breakfast of unidentifiable fruit and old toast and our car was already outside awaiting us.

Ricardo, a 40 year old father of two with a penchant for hair gel and American pop music had an immaculate cab with functioning air conditioning and enough Akon and Justin Bieber to keep us bumping all the way to Veradaro.

The circuitous route allowed us to spot a gigantic Christ statue overlooking the city and Che's house from the back of our yellow cab and all before picking up our cab companions by way of a giggly young Cuban couple still in the early throes of love.

Music unsurprisingly turned to en Español and we were back on the highway, dotted with rainbow colored Cadillacs for 122 more miles.

The highway was flanked by lush green scenery with a smattering of skinny cows.

Despite the house music that Ricardo was now bumping the ride felt quiet and my mind couldn't help but wander.

There is nothing more dangerous than a wandering mind with a broken heart and the melancholy washed over me as I drank in the scenery.

Finally, we made it to Coconut Villa, a tiny abode nestled into 3rd Avenue and hosted by a woman who greeted us with a friendly smile and silicon breasts.

After we got the bilingual breakdown we threw on our bathing suits and hats and I hoped a major injection of vitamin d would make me miss my former injector of vitamin d (insert dirty joke here - pun intended) less.

First Avenue in Veradaro is the happening strip, lined with tiny shops to buy crap made in China and restaurants offering an assortment of cuisine. On 47th street is the commercial center where we were not only approached by someone who asked if my travel friend spoke English - much to their delight - but also where we were able to cambio some currency -after a siesta, of course.

This provided the perfect opportunity for a dip in the Caribbean Sea, today reflecting two separate but equally beautiful shades of blue and offering the restorative properties only large bodies of water seem to be able to do.

My father used to wax poetic about most everything and I can attest to the fact that since June 17th 2014 each and every experience I have had, both had and good, I have longed to share with him - but nothing feels quite as Chris Heard as the ocean. Using creative license here as I know this is a sea.

The undulating waves. The ebb and flow. The salty calm. Immersing myself into the shallow crystal waters made me miss my dad. Made me miss the life I once almost had. Made me miss you.

With storm clouds coming in and tummies rumbling we made our way back to 1st Avenue and I made a couple cultural purchases by way of art for my home before we dined at Hotel Food Poisoning for one of the more repulsive meals of either of our lives...

Bellies still empty and regret looming large I felt it necessary to turn another shade of brown and enjoyed the more populated end of the beach - sunshine and American flag bikinis galore.

The skies opened up and wifi became a necessity as the realization that no transportation or accommodation had been made and the cash on hand was all we had to work with. Unsuccessful in our sojourn to the great equalizer we stopped at the Casa de Chocolate for a tiny bite of local fare, followed by a can of shared bootleg Pringles in the rain. Did I mention I'll be on the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover? Watch out Irina Shayek!

Never one to give up, an elderly woman with dyed red hair, an indistinguishable accent and a plastic bag cloak gave us some internet intel and the witch hunt began, up and down the main drag like two ladies of the evening looking to find the right Juan.

After much misdirection a we found the spot, a cafe in a darkened corner with a throng of zombies glued to their illuminated screens to the point of ignoring the Lisa Frank sunset happening right in front of them.

When I entered to inquire about wifi a man literally pulled me into the alley, slick with rain and pulled out a satchel to show me his goods.

If this isn't proof positive that technology is a growing epidemic I don't know what is.

We both procured a solid 30 minutes for a reasonable fee and shot up right there in the parking lot.

A good internet buzz gave us a few minutes to watch the sun set behind the cloudy horizon and locate some 'decent' eats for the evening where I needed to teach a cooking class on what tostones actually are - but 'Nsync en español was on the juke box - so it all came out in the wash.

The skies had dried and my comrade and I lackadaisically meandered home, discussing life and love before retiring to our uniquely designed living space for this particular night in our lives and it was hit the showers to wash the sand out of my special spots, and the hit the hay.

Buenos noches!

I rose in a sticky room with bright pink light and chickens having a squawk fight with the vagrant dogs roaming the hood.

I had just been dreaming of dating a Martin Skreli look-a-like and trying to like it and the morning was a welcome reprieve from this icky nightmare.

It was an awkward dream fraught with meaning, likely not so deep below the surface, but I chose to let it lie.

I lit a bit of a fire under my compatriot as we were burning daylight and I had some melanoma to obtain, not to mention we had bus tickets to buy, a room to secure and food to ingest.

Almost all marks were hit. Helpful hint - try to avoid breakfast menus at seafood restaurants.

With virtually nothing checked off of our today list, no proverbial ducks in a row – well, perhaps a lone mallard, I decided Carpe Diem and hit the beach. I needed it and I’d like to think it needed me too. We were fortunate enough to find a shady spot under a thatched roofed umbrella rooted deeply into the sandy ground and the only price we had to pay was to share it with a chatty young Brazilian upon who’s ass you could most certainly bounce pesos and who I could not take my creepy gaze off of. My youth behind me, I will always wonder what it is like to have a body like that – airbrushed by God.
Today’s sandy sojourn had a far more Jersey Shore vibe as the Caribbean Snooki and Pauly D brought the party, replete with cut out swimwear and a portable speaker bumping THEIR favorite jams at what was, in my opinion, an inappropriate volume. The day only got more Zen as a grandpa, usually my favorite type, tried to spit game in the shallow and then we both knew, it was time to go.

A quick re-up at the local Wi-Fi hot spot ala Chuck e Queso with rapid fire drug dealers looming near the entrance and it was a quick rinse off in our hostess’s own personal casa and what else but a horse and cart ride to the bus station.

I will say, I really do love the Whitman’s sampler of transportation I get to experience whilst traveling.

While attempting to purchase our bus tickets for the 4pm  Azul back to Havana Hustler McGhee came out of the woodwork, essentially setting up a private car with 2 other travelers, as soon as he could procure them. For $5 more I got shot gun and all people over 6 feet tall got to cuddle in the back of the family sedan for the next couple of hours.

Not long after the drive began the rain came in big heavy sheets and Sia serenely came on the soundsystem. Not only is my Spanish not good enough to explain deep emotional triggers to foreigners (which I was in the case here) but it seemed unnecessary to cause a scene so instead, I sat quietly and became overcome with emotion. When you cry as much as I do you know how to do it imperceptibly. If public displays of watery emotion were an Olympic sport, I would most certainly be Michael Phelps.
Sia in the rainstorm had me thinking of of my Ted, and my Dad (Holly, you're likely the only one who will get that one).

Clouds parted as if  a direct portal to heaven, and looking at the illuminated circle of warm inviting fluffy clouds I can help but think of what a nice concept heaven is - and how if it does exist I hope my dad is there.

I hope my other Christopher is too.