And on the second day of my old Havana travels visit.. . . I walk roughly five miles to a section in old Havana, across the malecon but, nearer to the port and cruise ship terminal. I duck into the first shelter available, a restaurant; literally missing a huge down pour by seconds. The small open air restaurant is almost all open air, except for the antique prison like bars that serve as walls on three sides.
Two dollar Cuban mojitos, on a chalk board menu caught my eye, while the pouring rain continues outside. My first stop after a pleasant five mile walk; where walking almost aimlessly also seems to serve as the national past time.
I soon start a conversation with a guy in the adjoining table. He tells me his name is Paulo and makes it clear that he is Brazilian. Paulo and I talk mostly about the weather, until he says to me that he is in Havana fulfilling his mother’s death wish.
Long before she passed away, she made him promise almost repeatedly, that one day, he would return to Cuba. She also wanted him to become a Cuban citizen before his death.
Paulo now further explains that when he was a baby in his mother’s arms, the revolution came; his family immediately fled to Brazil, leaving everything else behind. The family lived the remainder of their lives in Brazil; never once returning to see the Cuba motherland.
Coming back to your native land the first time after an absence like Paulo’s must feel something like waking up after a long coma. Only in Cuba, the entire island in fact in their own coma. Things probably don’t look any different than when Paulo was carried as a baby.
Cuba is stuck back in time for you to still see it like it was. What you won’t easily see are things like ATM machines, phone booths, or stores of any kind for shopping.
Paulo was now undergoing part of his Cuban citizenship requirements. To talk to a Yuma and to see if he could survive on the island for one month without getting into any trouble.
A Yuma I recently learned is Cuban street lingo for what they call an American or other foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries. Technically if you’re from Miami you still don’t qualify as a Yuma.
What the hell I say? I just notice that my mojito glass is much much smaller than Paulo’s. We both laugh it off. The waiter explains that Paulo’s mojito was ordered of the non chalkboard menu.
I say casually to the waiter that my chicken, beans and rice plate better not be any smaller than Paulo’s or “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!” He doesn’t get the joke or have a clue who Lucy, Ricky or Mr, Babalu is.
It’s now near 11:00 a.m. Cuban time, we’re on our second mojito, and still waiting on the rain to subside a little. The main course is yet to arrive. Perhaps they’ve just caught the chicken says Paulo.
Paulo also shares with me his culinary knowledge saying that there’s something like thirty thousand species of edible plants on earth and people only eat about seven in any quantity.
Of these, in Cuba people only eat beans, chicken and rice. An entire sea full of fish and they don’t have fish or shrimp on the menu. Maybe it’s cause they can’t keep it cold, I offer up.
Paulo then asks the waiter; “Do you have anything that once belonged to a cow?” Why yes he said.
So that’s the ticket he told me; there’s real food to be had here if you just speak the right lingo. “Well, I’ll also have what Paulo just ordered,” I said. “And I’ll have it with fried bananas. We don’t have any he says.
An entire island made up of bananas and they can’t get any to the malecon and into a restaurant. The word Malecón is used in Spanish-speaking countries to describe a stone-built embankment along the waterfront. It’s a form of entertainment and how to stay cool during the summer by walking or sitting on the malecon.
One thing about a visit to Cuba is, you don’t see a bunch of rules written all over the place. American restaurants are world famous for all the rules from the moment you enter the restaurant. One first notices an inspection sign that rates the place as an A, B or a C.
In old Havana you just look out for any observable things like rodent infestation or lack of food stuff to serve but, give lack of hot water or faulty plumbing a pass. Bottom line is, if you want good or great Cuban food, get it while you’re still in Miami.
Life has a way of slowing you way, way down old Havana way. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame but, I know, oh I know, it’s the second mojito.
The fact that no one seems to be glued to television or a cell phone may have something to do with it. We continue reflecting on both of our separate life’s curves and near misses as a result of a little revolution that took place sometime ago.
In history just about every nation in the world has experienced some type of revolution. George Washington took command of his Continental Army in June of 1775. He spent the next seven and a half years living with the dangers of war. And today, look at all that we have to show for it. A little simplicity and organization can certainly go a long, long way.
Today, we also get to witness a revolution taking place, mostly on live television. The world’s military seems ready to play, similar to the time near here during a 13-day military standoff, sometime during October of 1962.
Putin vs Zelensky and the rest of the world. When a country decides to do a little revolution, the idea is to modify the government, not pummel the entire country back to the Stone Age.
Some revolutions like the one in Cuba are short but, long lasting. Cuba has now been under an embargo for something like 60 years but, even communists like to make a little profit.
Paulo agrees that travel without an excessive amount of walking is not really traveling.
“With the notable exception of rum, drinks, black beans, fat brown cigars, the smiles of pretty girls, hot yellow sunshine, and fat men with guitars and bongos playing mambos, rumbas and boleros late into the night, nothing in Cuba comes easily.” – J. Miles