Thursday, May 28, 2009

@$*# hippies!!

I guess I should've read through the website more thoroughly... Because I sure wasn't expecting a HIPPY COMMUNE :P

I don't know, you tell me.
Does this (from the website):

Look like this (IRL)?

I guess, what I'm shitty about is that I paid a LOT of money and was totally unprepared for:
:: The lack of meat in my meals (I guess, one solar panel is not enough to justify a fridge);
:: The freaking cold showers;
:: The lack of heating in my tipi;
:: The holes in my tipi;
:: The freaking mossie invasion (I suspect because there's a pool of stagnant water closeby);
:: The numerous bugs in my bed when I woke up;
:: The freezing temperatures (lucky I brought my thermals, because those ended up as pajamas every night);
:: The beach that wasn't on my doorstep;
:: The lazyass surf instructor.

I wouldn't be so upset if I hadn't paid _so_much_squiddies_ for the experience. Where the f*ck did my squiddies go?

Even more upsetting to me is - at the time, I was reading about Fidel roughing it out in the jungles and sugar cane fields with his compaƱeros. He was a leader who would never ask more than he could give, from his team. Whilst me, the rest of the group and the
hippies (aka WWOOF'ers *blah*) were roughing it out in this valley in the middle of nowhere, the creator of this "retreat" was living it up in a civilised town. That's right, he wasn't living by his creed. He had internets :P This picture of him here, that's *definitely* NOT what he looks like now :P

Commendable aspects:
:: The eco toilet was suprisingly clean, albeit out in the open. I just had to remember to mark every bowel movement.
:: The Anusara yoga was awesome :) I never slept in because I wanted to make it to yoga in the mornings.

Oh, the surfing. No, I didn't stand up. I was too busy trying to paddle out!!! It was really nice to finally see an European beach with surf though :) I loved it, so didn't really care that I couldn't surf because I was still out in the turbulent waters. Finally!

Btw, Faro is the City of Geriatrics. I have never been on an Easyjet flight filled with OLD people before. All jostling to get onto the plane first. It's bizarre. I imagine this is where European grannies and gramps go "out to pasture".

Monday, May 25, 2009

The "Dinner Party" question

The last time I was asked, "Dead or alive, who would you invite to a dinner party?" I answered, "Fidel Castro". I got a look of surprise back from the Questioner.
Me: "What's wrong with Fidel? I would love to know what he's thinking."
Mate: "Well yeah, but it's a dinner party. He's not going to be very entertaining."

Next time I'm at a dinner party at this guy's place, I'm going to pull out a cute wittle bunny wabbit and feed it an acid-laced carrot...

I've spent the last week reading Fidel's biography, My Life, by Ignacio Ramonet. It's written in a Q&A format, with Fidel answering everything from his childhood, the battle at Moncada Barracks, the day Batista was overthrown, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, his friendship with Che, Cuba's relationship with USSR, Latin America and Africa... I can't put it down. It's been *such* a long time since I've been this engrossed with a book. I don't read non-fiction books that often either.

Fidel was only 27 when he started the revolution. At 32, he had led the revolution to victory. That's what I call a five year plan! Fidel is living history. Love him or hate him, it's really hard not to admire him for all he's lived through in the past 50 years; for his ideals as a revolutionary and for all he gave of himself for his country.

I've included excerpts from the book below. I really recommend you read it for yourself though.

(No cute wittle bunny wabbits were hurt in this blog post *grin*)

Did you and your followers use terrorism, for example, against Batista's forces? Or assassinations?
Neither terrorism or assasinations. You know, we were against Batista but we never tried to assassinate him, and we could have done it... The men who attacked the Moncada fortress could have assassinated Batista on his farm, or on the road, the way Trujillo and other tyrants were killed, but we had a very clear idea: assassination does not solve the problem. They'll put someone else in the place of the man you killed, and the man you killed becomes a martyr to his people.

They also engaged in biological warfare against Cuba, sending in unknown viruses, I believe.
In 1971, under Nixon, the swine fever virus was introduced into Cuba in a container, according to a CIA source. And we had to sacrifice more than half a million hogs. That virus, which originated in Africa, was totally unknown on the island until then. And they introduced it twice.

And there were worse things than that: the type II dengue virus, which often produces potentially fatal haemorrhagic fevers in the human being. That was in 1981, and more than 350,000 people were infected; 158 people died, 101 of them children... The virus serotype was completely unknown at the time anywhere in the world; it had been created in a laboratory.

Attempts on your life?
There were dozens of plans, some of which came very close to succeeding. In all, of plans that there are records of, there were over 600.

... Chance sometimes intervened against them. There was an agent who had a cyanide pill and was about to put it into a chocolate milkshake in this place I often went to, a coffee shop in the Hotel Havana Libre. Fortunately, the ampoule froze, and just as he was about to throw it in, he realised that it was stuck to the ice in the freezer he'd put it in.

... In another assassination attempt, they planned to use a chemical agent that produced effects similar to LSD to contaminate the air in a TV studio where I went to make speeches on the radio. Another time they sprayed lethal poison on a package of cigarettes that I was suppose to smoke.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


It's not just for old people. Well, it's for old people who want to feel hip and cool for attending something called "Underground Rebel Bingo" *grin*


And then there was the sausage chopping incident:

Think I'll leave out the messy end-of-night pix ;)

The People (cubana cinco)

My perception of Cuban people changed dramatically over 24 hours. On my first day in Habana, I was talking to anyone who wanted to talk to me. Everywhere I went, whenever I stopped, *someone* always wanted to talk to me. You know me, I'll talk to anyone... until I got hustled a couple of times. Unfortunately, the few who took advantage of my friendliness, ruined it for everyone else. After that, I refused to talk to anyone.

I guess everyone does what has to be done to survive in a bad economy, but I hate the fact that I'm forced to doubt anyone's intention.

This is me, minding my own business, with
Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" just infront of my hotel:
(Notice the white speck at the top right corner)

This is me, reading for a few minutes:

This is what I saw when I looked up:

Err, harro... weren't you a speck less than 10 mins ago?!?
"No, I don't want to salsa with you no matter how many times you ask" :P

Not all Cubans are after my money...
There's an ice-cream parlour called Coppelia in Habana Vedado. It's *the* place to go to for ice-cream. There are unbelievable lines into this place at multiple entrances. Groups are led in by security guards. Unfortunately, if you're a foreigner without local pesos (there are two currencies in this country), you're not allowed in. You're only allowed to order at the ice-cream counter outside. Guess who didn't have any local pesos? So after talking to the security guard in my pitiful Spanish, I ended up waiting in the foreigner line. After awhile, the security guard takes pity on me, shoves 10 local pesos into my hand, and tells me to go in with the next group into Coppelia.

What I see are stools lining a long bar, with large white freezers against the walls. Chuffed that I beat the local crowds, I take a seat at an empty stool and order fresa. Out comes a plate with five giant scoops of strawberry and something else *shrug* Hey, I got my ice-cream, I ain't complaining.

As I leave Coppelia, I find the security guard to thank him and offer him foreign pesos in return. He refuses my money and says it was his treat. That's a nice change :)

Then he starts asking me which hotel I'm staying at. Then he starts giving me knowing raised eyebrow looks. That's when I made my exit :P

Maybe not all Cubans are after my money, but my booty's a pretty high price to pay for five scoops of ice-cream!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Revolution anyone? (cubana cuatro)

(Note: If you can't see the slideshow in your reader, go to the post)
The timing of my trip to Havana was spot-on, with the 50th year of celebrating Revolution Day. Yup, Fidel has stood up to the US for 50 years. Did you know Fidel holds the record for the longest speech ever delivered at United Nations, clocking in at 4 hours and 29 mins. His longest speech on record in Cuba is 7 hours and 10 mins!! This is a man with plenty to say.
Fidel addressing the masses at Revolution Square in 1960:

With loud speakers blaring, "Viva Raul y Fidel! Viva Cuba!" over and over again, thousands of people parade through Revolution Square with slogans, flags and posters of Che and Fidel.
Revolution Square today:

Can you spot Raul Castro? :)

Here he is!

Viva Revolution! Viva Cuba Libre!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Someone famous

I was a bit bummed that he was sitting infront of the window and I couldn't get a good shot of him.

So I rushed out of the room when the talk was over and stalked him for a photo instead *grin* Who is he? CHARLIE KAUFMAN - screenplay writer for one of my fave films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! :)
(Look, he's even got his arm around me, hehe :) )

I was going to ask him what he thought about people downloading his films as opposed to watching them in the cinema, but didn't want to risk getting dirty looks from the man who created one of the best films I've ever watched! This time, he's written and directed a new film called, Synedoche, New York. I'm not a fan of Phil Hoffman, but I wasn't a fan of Jim Carrey either before I watched Eternal Sunshine, so who knows.

This city is like a random event generator. On any given day, there's always something on, and if I can make it, there's usually a happy ending :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Introducing (cubana tres)

(Note: If you can't see the slideshow in your reader, go to the post)
... my bicycle!!!

A little on the heavy side, lots of gears (which I had no idea how to use), no suspension, and... my feet could barely touch the pedals :P AND, even though it made me pee blood, I still fell in love with my bicycle *grin* After cycling 60kms for approximately 4 hours, I was in pain. That wasn't the worrying part. I started to worry when I stopped feeling pain. By Day 3, I was numb downstairs. I didn't think that was a good sign. I don't understand how guys do long distance cycling at all!

Was it all worth the nerve damage?

There were times when the road wound downhill amongst an almost jungle-like backdrop. I cranked up my gears, stood up tall on my bike with the pedals positioned horizontally, squeezed the seat between my thighs in a vain attempt to stop me flying off over potholes, and I went *zoOMMM* around the whirly bends! I couldn't stop grinning the entire time :) I wanted to stop for photos, but I wanted more just to make the thrill last longer. So I kept going, and I found myself crying out loud, "AWEEESOME!" to noone but the turkey vultures circling gracefully above me.

There were times when I felt the Cuban sun burning my back. When I looked up ahead, and saw the road shimmering like liquid. I was averaging about 1.5L of water each day, yet never felt the need to pee as the Cuban sun sweated it all out of me from the moment I got on the bike. Times when I thought I'd choke to death on fumes spewed out by lorries filled with people waving to me as they passed by. There were a couple of times, when I just toppled off my bike *sheepish grin* To be fair, both times happened while I was trying to change gears going uphill. Do you know how hard it is to get back on a bike on a hill?!?

I wanted a challenge, and that's what I got every time I hopped onto that bicycle. Everyday, I saw something new. So yeah, throw in Fidel's choice of Cohiba and I'd say it was worth it all :)

(PS: If someone could explain to me how to change gears on a bike without my feet flying off, I'd really appreciate it!)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The streets of Habana Vieja (cubana dos)

(Note: If you can't see the slideshow in your reader, go to the post)
... ring aloud with cries of, "Chee-na! Chee-na-Chee-na! Cheeee-na!!!!"


Each cry gets louder with each step I take, as each guy (only once from a girl) assumes I'm deaf for ignoring him. As I wander through the poorly lit streets of Old Habana back to my casa particular, Cuban guys whisper seedy nothings to me as they pass by. Seriously, you'd think a city with a Chinatown would be more used to the sight of an oriental? (-_-) I'm even impressed they could tell I'm oriental with my giant sunnies on

The funny thing about Habana is, my life couldn't be safer here. Violent crime is low and everyone is just curious. They're just curious in the wrong way. Mixed with bad street lighting, an almost slum-like atmosphere (2.7 houses collapse every few days), blatant stares and kissy kissy sounds, I can't help but clutch onto my bag for dear life.

I thought Cuba would transport me back to a frozen time. It's true what you hear about Cubans driving around in huge American Chevys and Buicks. Also Soviet Ladas *grin* What I didn't expect were the regular Japanese cars too. Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Mitsubishi, Mercs and Audis, all here. It's an odd mix.

The more days I spent in Habana, the more I felt confused about whether what I was seeing was real...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cuban wildlife (cubana una)

I'm back! With a weird tan, but a tan nonetheless. An impressive tan for Rondon anyway ;) Here's a taster of what's to come in the Cubana series. Believe me, I had plenty time to jot away on my wuvvy iPhone.

One of the best things in Rondon is that roaches don't really exist. Giant rabid rats yes, roaches no. So I almost screamed when I walked into the bathroom of my casa particular and saw this:

It was freaking HUUUGE. It made me soo paranoid, I kept poking my head out of the shower to check out where it was in the bathroom. Normally I'm not squeamish, but I just couldn't get the courage to do the Old-Wrap-In-Toilet-Paper-And-Flush-It trick with this guy. Especially since toilet paper doesn't really flush in Cuban toilets. Nothing creepier than sitting on the bowl and having a roach crawl up your buttocks *shudder* So I locked it into the bathroom for the night :P

Next up, we have the Cuban delicacy - Frito Fly *grin*

I uncovered the fly riiiight at the bottom of my pile of patatas fritas. I guess it's no worse than having my food handscooped when I was in Bolivia :)

Cuban food has been hit and miss. Lots of very ordinary rice and beans with chicken. Some extraordinary beef (ropa vieja), and even a sumptuous feast prepared on a farm by a 60 year old grandma who looked like she could wrestle a 300 pound sow.

All I can say is, I was shocked my tummy survived unscathed! I've even been regular like clockwork, which didn't happen to me in Morocco or Japan. Must be M-San jinxing me both those times ;)