Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 07 2018

2/24: Havana

Our apartment is apparently haunted. Chenbl’s been acting, well, stranger than usual; this morning he dozed off in a chair and woke up to find that he’d accidentally formatted his camera’s memory card in his sleep, in what would appear to be one of the world’s first cases of sleepformatting. All of the shots and videos from the trip so far, gone (though I told him to stow the card for now so we can look into recovering the images later with software). My portable battery stopped working, and the air conditioning inexplicably shut down and just beeped at us all night.

We decided to walk to Eric’s other place this morning for breakfast, as he is probably sick and tired of taking us. We went the wrong way for a bit and wasted time going in a few circles, but fortunately I downloaded a phone app that shows your position on a map via only the phone’s GPS, which doesn’t require a Wi-Fi or phone signal. After breakfast, I read a piece in the place’s Lonely Planet about how the mafia basically caused the revolution by propping up a corrupt government (Good thing that kind of thing never happens these days, he added sardonically).

After breakfast, we set out south, away from the ocean, through the alleys. The light was brilliant, and once you’re here it’s pretty obvious why people take these high-contrast shots of people’s silhouettes against monochromatic backgrounds, a la Alex Webb. It also explains the horrible lengths some people go to with HDR to “rescue” such shots, god help them.

As we proceeded south, away from the touristy areas and Chinatown, the neighborhoods became poorer and dirtier, flowers and garbage piles lining the dirt roads. We walked all the way down to the back of the train station, where a man was collecting what looked like white dust from a field underneath the elevated railway tracks. A couple of little girls in a doorway, upon seeing our cameras, struck some alarmingly suggestive poses. One of them wore lipstick. “You’ll be an actress one day!” Chenbl told her.

The area in front of the station was obviously affluent at one time, but like most of Havana, has since fallen on hard times. The station itself is under renovation, and the one restaurant we could see on the map had closed long ago, algae clogging up the fish tanks in the dusty windows. We settled for some ham sandwiches while standing in another hole-in-the-wall joint.

The ferry to Regla leaves from the same port as the one to the big Jesus statue, so we had to make sure to be on the right one. Regla, across the bay from Havana, is a down-to-earth industrial neighborhood that reminds me strongly of the set of a spaghetti western. There is a strong African religious element here, which is a fascinating aspect of Cuban culture. We stopped at an impromptu amusement park set up right next to a large power plant; the operators were hooking up the rides directly to the power lines, which was a little disconcerting as they didn’t even wear gloves.

Up the street we were surprised to see “Chen’s Café” in Chinese (albeit in simplified characters) on a sign. We went in and had some chicken and pork accompanied by a drink that can only be described as spaghetti sauce. The boss, “Eddie”, was asleep, alas, so we didn’t have the chance to chat with him.

We kept walking until we came to a cemetery and turned back along another road, this one leading to a small baseball stadium. Back at the ferry, men were standing waist-deep in the water of the bay, fishing. We almost missed the ferry and had to run. I suck at running, but I made it.

The old quarter seemed cringworthily fake after an afternoon in Regla. We failed to buy any cigars due to ignorance in such matters, and the market was closed in any case by the time we got back. I was tired after a long day of walking. We got on a random bus, and my phone’s location app decided to pick that time to quit working, but we managed to get off more or less where we wanted to in Centro. For the first time since we’ve been here, it began to rain, so we took refuge on the balcony of a restaurant, but the restaurant was actually just the balcony. The rain increased, so we sat and watched the splashing old cars and buses in the night against the amazing buildings that are so ubiquitous in Havana. Of course there was no water. Or bathrooms. But I’ve found that Cubans seem to provide more personal space than people do in Taiwan, so there’s that. People create more space to pass on sidewalks, and cars here tend to get annoyed with us walking in their path more than they do in Taiwan. This might have something to do with the inevitably longer stopping distances of ancient, 50’s-era drum brakes and just a lot more mass to stop than more modern vehicles.

We took another extremely crowded bus back to our neighborhood. At certain points everyone on the bus would cheer, and often they would sing along to whatever was playing on the boombox someone had brought with them. As interesting as that may seem, it was definitely not a ride I wanted to last any longer than absolutely necessary.

Tomorrow: More rain? We’ll see.

posted by Poagao at 11:32 am