The Viazul bus ride from Matanzas to Havana was gorgeous! It followed the north coast’s clear blue waters and white sandy beaches from east to west while passing stunning vistas of green valleys and lakes off to the south. I was surprised after we entered a long deep tunnel to come out the other side in Old Havana! Somehow I thought we’d be arriving at the bus terminal which is quite a distance from Old Havana, and that I’d have to take a taxi to get to my reserved Casa, but no! The bus made a stop in Old Havana and many of us departed there – myself included. It was a short beautiful walk to my Casa. However, this meant I would have to take the time within the next few days to walk to the bus terminal to investigate about my refund for the Varadero-to-Havana bus ticket I had not used.
While walking to my Casa I passed the large Italian cruise ship in town!..
…then saw my old coconut selling friend – he gave me a coconut for free to welcome me back! So unexpected and sweet of him!
After getting situated in my new Casa, I walked down to my favorite restaurant – Bar Monserrate – and had a delicous garlic shrimp meal.
Headed over to the plush Iberostar Hotel to check email, and discovered that even though I wasn’t staying there, they welcomed me to visit the top of the 9 story building to see the pool! What incredible views of Havana!
Later in the evening I went to a restaurant overlooking the Plaza Vieja. So gorgeous!
The next morning while strolling through town and gawking at the incredible size of the church doors (were these doors built for giants?) I met an Argentinian couple. They let me know that when I’m in Argentina this summer (our winter) it will be very hot and I should head south to stay cooler! Great idea. From Buenos Aires I will head south down along the coast and then turn inland to the Patagonia mountains and Lakes Region and then proceed north to the Mendoza region’s grape Harvest Festivals. But that’s January, February and March. Right now I’m in Cuba! The Argentinian woman took a photo of me in front of one of the church doors to give an idea how tall they are – close to 15′ high, I think!
Discovered a wonderful little breakfast buffet restaurant called 5 Esquinas Trattoria where I shared a table with a woman and two men I’d seen at Bar Monserrate the night before. Serendipity! The woman and I had a soul-sister connection! She and her brother were from Spain and the other gentleman was from Chile but now lives in Spain.
The waitstaff and kitchen cooks were all so friendly!
The rest of the day was spent sight-seeing, eating, visiting Art Markets and checking internet. There are many large metal sculptures throughout Havana.
One huge plaza has books for sale all around it. And also saw an ultra-large veggie cart – biggest one I’ve seen anywhere in Cuba!
Had a relaxing beer that evening at the La Pina de Plata restaurant and bar. While sitting at the bar, a well-dressed gentleman (we’re talking a suit here!) sat down at the bar just one seat over from me. Having worked as a massage therapist for many years, it’s not difficult for me to understand body language. His upper body appeared stressed and fatigued, and from what little I could overhear of his conversation with the bartendress, his energy was spent! I thought about offering him a quick upper back massage but then reconsidered – I might be overstepping my bounds. But the more I watched and heard, that little voice in my head (you know the one – most of us hear it but many times we do not listen) said ‘Don’t worry what they will think – offer him the massage!’
I leaned over towards him and asked if he’d like an upper back massage. He immediately and very politely declined. A few minutes later as he turned on his stool in preparation to leave, he started to thank me for my offer…and I suddenly realized from what he was saying that he had thought I’d meant a full body massage on a massage table which he didn’t have time for because he had to get back to work! I said, “No, no – aqui, aqui! Solamente uno minuto!” He started to take off his fine suit coat, and I again said no, he should leave it on. As he sat on his stool facing the bar counter I stood up behind him and began giving him a 2-minute neck, shoulder and upper-back massage, ending with the chop-chops along the Trapezius muscles. During the first 30-seconds of the massage he was stiff as a board, but then he began to relax. When the quick massage was over and he stood up, his posture was more erect and he actually looked a little more awake and alive!
He went behind the bar(!) (who IS this guy??), took a beer out of the refrigerator, opened it and set it in front of me, thanking me as he did so! Wow! I hadn’t expected that! Then off he quickly strode into the dark night. The bartendress quickly informed me that he had to work several more hours to complete his 12-hour shift as a standing-still security guard for a high-end hotel. He works three 12-hour shifts in a row, then has two days off. Even the bartendress has 12-hours in her shift! Ouch!
On the dark street walk home, a small Husky dog was making a cat’s life HELL! I called over to the dog, told him to STOP that behavior, how would HE like it if HE were the cat and the cat was treating HIM like that. As is often the case between me and animals – he seemed to understand. He trotted away from the cat over to a group of four men sitting on the street curb. One of them called out to me that he was the owner of the dog. I walked over and we preceded to have a very pleasant conversation – he wasn’t upset at all with my gentle but firm reprimand to his dog. This is one of the things I love most about the Cuban people – they are calm, friendly, considerate and kind. They do not seem to over-react or behave with extreme emotionalism, yet they’re fully engaged, open and communicative!
The following day was my last full day in Cuba! Decided to walk the almost 5 miles to Viazul bus terminal to see if I could get a refund on my unused ticket. My guide book map didn’t extend far enough to show the full route there, so by asking people on the street where it was located, I managed to walk a good half-mile further than necessary. Passed the capitol and other significant landmark buildings on the way.
At the terminal while waiting in line at the ticket counter, I met an interesting man from England who is here in Havana negotiating with the Ernest Hemingway Marina to develop a slip rental exchange program for the sailors who come from the marina he works at in the Straights of Gibraltar. Amazing what types of business deals are already underway, but Europe and Cuba have been friends forever, so this business deal has nothing to do with the recent opening of U.S. citizens to Cuba.
I DID get my refund but the ticket agent decided to keep 1 CUC for herself as a service fee! Only in Cuba! My new sailor friend and I walked across the street, sat down at a small outdoor restaurant table, and though we were never approached by a waitstaff, we did enjoy a relaxing visit for a few minutes. His meeting-time with the Marina people was coming up, we said our good-byes, and I walked back across the street to check with some people outside the bus terminal about a shorter return route to Old Havana.
AND HERE’S WHERE THE LIGHTS DIM AND THE PORTAL TO A NEW DIMENSION OPENS….
I’m standing in an area where a taxi can pull in…I’m asking for directions, showing my map, a taxi tries to pull in, I step aside to let it, my back is to the taxi, I’m talking with a couple guys, our heads are down looking at my map together….
I turn around, and stepping out of the taxi… IS A SWEET FRIEND OF MINE FROM AUSTRALIA WHO I HAD MET TWO MONTHS PRIOR IN OREGON!!!
I’m staring at her and her boyfriend (who I had not yet met but knew of) for about 1 second before my brain made the Oregon-to-Cuba connection!
What a hoot! We had a vivacious reunion! They were here to catch the bus to Varadero for a 6-day stay before flying onward to Madrid, Spain! We chatted, hugged, laughed, snapped photos. They even gave me their more extensive map of Havana which showed my afternoon’s complete return route! What a lucky, joyous, unimaginable meet-up! Total Synchronicity! Amazing Serendipity!
What were the odds of that chance rendezvous? Millions to one, if not BILLIONS to one! I had been within a couple minutes of leaving the Viazul bus terminal to start my long walk back to Old Havana and could EASILY have missed their incoming taxi! I had not even known they would BE in Cuba! The dance of life – full of magic, miracles and wonder! And delightful synchronicities – I LOVE it!
The long walk back to Old Havana via a different route took me past an amazing sculpture…
…before arriving at the port area of the Bahia de la Havana. Stopped in at a huge artisan port-side warehouse…
…and an Austrian beer brew house where I ate a scrumptious fish dinner washed down with a tasty medium dark tap beer…
…and then past another beautiful building…
…before arriving back to the Casa.
Now that the ceremonial procession for Fidel Castro was finished and the alcohol ban had been lifted, the streets were ALIVE again! Everyone was out and about, eating, drinking, making music, dancing, and all of it so peaceful, friendly, joyous, non-threatening.
My last walk through town that night found a fantastic outdoor pub event happening on a pedestrian-only street. Great band, beers, fun music, such delight! This small band had drawn a standing crowd of 50 people with its rhythms, laughter, singing, dancing and clapping. Wish to God I had brought my camera!
The next day I caught a taxi to the airport, waited forever to get checked in, FINALLY went through security to await boarding, and while seated at the only table with an extra chair I offered it to a European man whose plane had been delayed by two hours. Who knew how long it would REALLY be before his plane left? Two hours could turn into four. As we sat chatting he told me how startled he was by the poverty in Cuba and how much of his own money he had given to Cubans he had met during his trip. He was now out of CUC. I had spent as much of my remaining CUCs as possible on a Duty Free bottle of Cuban Rum, food and one last beer, but still had 5 CUC left. He wasn’t looking for money but I gave it to him anyway. It was time for his generosity to come back to him, and he might get hungry before his plane finally departed!
And then the boarding announcement for my flight blared over the loudspeaker…and I was off!
Muchas Gracias, Cuba! So glad to have visited! Thank you for the incredible memories! Hasta La Vista!
Argentina’s adventures are next!