The sky was dark gray as I approached Habana, which didnt bode well for the rest of my time there. Nostrils bearing the sweet but poisonous smell of the insecticide that Cuba requires to be sprayed inside the plane, but we are assured does not contain DDT, we land.
I don my green combat fatigues, grab the complimentary assault rifle, fire a few shots into the air, and step into the habana afternoon.
Habana is, as most people know, full of really old cars, and my taxi was one of them. It was also leaking petrol, if the smell in the back seat was anything to go by. I wasnt sure whether to wind down the window, and inhale the fumes from all the old cars, or suffer the petrol smell. But I made it to my destination, which was some nondescript door in a nondescript street that had no markings or anything.
It was pretty dodgy, as night was falling.
So I went up, trying to see where I was going in the dodgy light. When I got to the 3rd floor, it was even darker, and the way was barred with a steel gate. Dodgy.
So I called out “hola” a few times in a somewhat desparate yet still calm and collected voice, and some woman took pity on me and let me in. In any case, it all turned out fine, which just goes to show… something. Probably meaningful.
Habana is, I guess its been said before, a city stuck in a timewarp. It has lots of beautiful old buildings, but they are pretty under the weather. Like Fidel is under the weather I guess. But there is always music playing, often from the old cars that seem to double as 3 tonne, global warmer, pollution belching, jukeboxes. The noise from the old cars is incessant, and you see old ladies smoking cigars as big as Fidels rocket launchers. Its an odd place.
I wandered Old Habana, getting dusty and sweaty and avoiding being road kill for the old yank tanks that fill the roads. This of course, is not that difficult, since they make as much noise as a 747, and no one seems to drive fast, maybe because of the ever present danger of something falling off, and disappearing forever into one of the gaping potholes that litter the streets.
I wandered aimlessly, looking in shops that seem to have more salespeople than items for sale, while at the same time avoiding said potholes, and piles of … insalubrious material that you probable dont want stuck to your shoe. I must admit, after a while, I was a touch unsure of where I was, but after I narrowed it down to the nearest hemisphere, I found myself outside the rum museum, which is exactly where I wanted to be. I just didnt know at the time.
I snuck in the back door, and jumped on a tour. I wasnt very impressed with the communist security, until I was jumped a little later by a burly security guard. I coulda taken him, but in the interests of international relations, I went meekly downstairs and paid.
So I learnt about rum, and found out that white rum is new, dark is old and older is better, and more expensive. However, since you cant tell after a glass or so, go with the cheap stuff. I sampled some rum, and my energy and faith in communist security restored, went back to the apartment.
I shook my shirt briefly, which as most men know removes all traces of dirt and sweat with the effectiveness of an hour in a washing machine, and took to the streets again. I decided to take in a tour at a cigar factory. I knew I was going the right way, since every few steps I met some guy who “worked” in the factory and had “stolen” a “cigar”. Since I have no interest in smoking in general, and even less in smoking some rolled up wad of toilet paper mixed with some of said insalubrious street material, I told them that “smoking was very bad for the health”, and they left me alone.
We were led in the tour by a cigar smoking lass, and we watched the workers sort and pummel and roll and cut and all those things you need to do to make a cigar.
“Oi there, guvnor”, I said in my best oliver twist impersonation,”jist ow many bods in dis ere dodgy sweatshop?”.
“700” she replied.
It was pretty interesting, imagine steep staircases, holes in the roof where the rain from the latest thunderstorm was dripping like a shower (but never near the precious leaves), and hundreds of people rolling, sorting, compressing, cutting and packing the cigars, with a kind of a sweet aroma in the air. Industrial England revisited.
I was considering breaking everyone out in a mini revolution, but since they probably would have drowned anyway, and they sorta looked kinda happy, I didnt. I was kinda tired too, and revolutions take effort.
In summary, they say you either get Cuba and love it, or you dont. I kinda… didnt. I guess if you like old yank cars, and cigars, and rum it might be your kinda place. Since I hardly drink, dont smoke, and loathe old yank cars, it might have been easy to forsee. But it was still pretty interesting.
so… back to mexico, to hang out in mexico city and eat dunkin donuts, and to try and sort out a new business deal in my eternal search for unbelievable wealth, and then home…