I’m afraid, unlike last week, there is a bit of text to wade through before you get to the pictures, so without further ado let me take you back to the day of our departure for Cuba.
No dramas on the way to or at the airport - we were even within the weight limits for our luggage for once (well checked-in luggage anyway). However, The Beast had gone as hand luggage and brought his entire entourage of lenses with him, which managed to make my hand luggage at least twice and heading for three times the allowance. I just about managed to do the nonchalant stroll up to check-in, hiding the strain that comes with the lifting of excess weight. If you looked carefully the veins in my temple were straining and my feet were making dents in the floor if I stayed in one place for too long. I also had to lean slightly forward to prevent myself toppling over backwards. All in all a performance worthy of an Oscar – or possibly a Raspberry…..
Officially Cuba runs a dual economy, with much prized tourist currency being used to purchase anything, but at a high price while a local currency could be used to buy nothing but at a much more reasonable price. This leads to the locals being desperate to get hold of the tourist currency and so you see them trying to sell Cigars and the local currency (but not cake, see below) to tourists. Credit card usage is almost non-existent and ‘hole in the wall machines’ (ATM) are very rare sight indeed. It took us almost a week to track down a working ATM and we were running pretty short of funds at that stage. Despite the many warnings to bring lots of cash into the country with us, we thought we could get by, as we normally do, with credit card purchases and using the well hiodden ATM machine network.
It is an amazing place - trapped as it is in a time warp, caught somewhere between early 50’s America and late 60’s USSR (P.S. that is not a good thing, loads of concrete and very little in the way of design. We can probably thank the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90’s for Cuba not being entirely concreted over). This lends the place a certain charm, in that where else in the world can you go where there is hardly any advertising, no McDonald’s, no Starbucks? Any advertising that exists is almost exclusively for a revolution that happened over 50 years ago and a product called “Che Guevara”, some sort of Argentinean import. The closest the Cubans get to franchising is a charming little custom of wandering around carrying a cake. Really not sure what this was all about but in almost every town there was at least one person carrying a highly decorated cake with them. Is it a bit like 'Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy where Ford Prefect convinced Arthur Dent to take a towel with him on his travels?
'A towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.'
Quotation from The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Or perhaps the cake is an unofficial third currency, the Cuban equivalent of AMEX –
Cuban shop keeper – “How will sir/madam be paying for this cake?”
Cuban Cake carrier – produces slightly street-soiled cake
Csk - That will do nicely….”
* OK, I have no proof of this but the alternative is that the BS council is truly incompetent beyond all comprehension, opting for a 1960’s USSR concrete utopian nightmare look rather than trying to maintain a traditional old Market Town style.
The accommodation was pretty mixed, ranging from a five star modern hotel to Spanish Colonial influenced villas built in the 1800’s with ceilings so high there were probably entire solar systems hiding behind the lamp shades (or were they satellites?), to a couple of Siberian Gulag-style holiday camps that make Butlins look like a destination for the hip and trendy.
The majority of the island is full of friendly but fairly poor people; they seem to have enough food but little in the way of luxuries. We visited a couple of houses and were made very welcome. What we came across was perhaps a TV, some chairs, a ramshackle bed, a cooker but very little else. Almost nothing is thrown away but mended, recycled** and made use of. It does make you question the materialistic-driven world we live in. Do I really need all the electronic crap and dumb gadgets that I swamp my life with…….? Not even a slight hesitation
You bet your life I do…..
They might be happy in their simple lives but maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week but soon, very soon there will be another new box containing yet another “soon to be broken” dream that can’t hope to live up to the hype that made me buy it ….and I can’t wait. What can I say? I’ve been ruined already and to misquote Madonna – “I’m just a material boy…..”
** Although I never saw it myself some of the group claimed to have seen some of the bars/restaurants washing the straws to use again….
Where we tourists have already started to wear a typical holiday path you can see the detrimental effect already starting to rear its ugly head. Some examples:-
The people, who start dressing up for photos, then thrust themselves, uninvited, in front of your lens and demand an appearance fee***. We even saw a couple of Dachshunds which had been dressed up by their owner. I refused to take the bait…..although in a strange way it did work…..I had hoped Mrs B might take a snap of them but alas no…..
*** There was a couple in our group who managed to walk into a lot of photos but as far as I can tell this was not for any commercial gain (unless they were taking bets on how many photos they could ruin) but more of a general unawareness of their surroundings…..
Trinidad the city with the 125% expectancy rate
Almost every one of the inhabitants of Trinidad, who I came across, either had a small child in tow or patted their belly as I passed and claimed they were pregnant (this even included a couple of men). They then requested money, some of them being more persistant than the old Child Support Agency….
Cuban entrepreneur – “Senor, I have a gift for you” – producing a Grasshopper fashioned from grass
Me – “No thanks”
CE – “It is a gift”
Me – “Honestly, No”
CE – “I will be offended”
He forced a grass Grasshopper into my top pocket
CE - “What gift have you got for me?”
Me – “I have a grass Grasshopper you can have”
I handed it back
Next week I will actually cover the cycling aspect of the tour and hope to bring you a contribution from a couple of the people who were in our cycling group.
A couple of Gigs to report
Mrs B managed to miss both of these as she ended up at a work seminar. The Beast also failed to make them as I could not face trying to smuggle him in – Instead I borrowed Mrs B’s Mega Mini Beast which is excellent for video but not so great for low light photography of an indoor gig…..
OMD at Hammersmith Odeon Sunday 7th
This was a bit of an odd affair with a much older audience than I usually come across. Even without looking at them you could tell they were older crowd, this was because :-
- They were all excessively polite, no barging past but a shed full of “excuse me's” and “No, after you” were being bandied about.
- Lots of straining to read their tickets and seat numbers
- When they went to the toilet they all washed their hands…..
Marina & the Diamonds – Camden Roundhouse Monday 8th
I discovered that The Diamonds is not the name of her backing band but Marina’s name for her fans. Most of whom are under 5 feet small and come attached to a really screechy high pitched voice and at least one parent. With the enforced absence of Mrs. B I had talked my young friend Joe (clocking in at 23 he was much closer to the average age of the gig (about 14) than me) into joining me. I did have a slight problem with one of her stage pronouncements:–
“I promise I won’t ever take my fans for granted”
I take myself for granted sometimes so how is she going to manage not to take the whole of her fan base for granted? It sounded about as convincing as the time Boy George said he had never and would never take drugs…..I believe he was high when he said that, just as I felt taken for granted when Marina made the statement. Perhaps she only meant it for her under 5 feet fan base.
Other than this slight blip****, Marina certainly has stage craft and presence in abundance, leaving Joe and I mesmerised (Don’t worry Mrs B, at 25 she is way too young for me….or put it another way I’m way too old for her. Plus there is the whole Welsh thing going on, not that I have anything against the Welsh other than they are.... well, Welsh really.) In short, and I’m not having a pop at her young fans, it was a great gig.
**** Perhaps I’m over analyzing a throwaway line as I try desperately to recreate my angst ridden teenage years
Revolution – The Beatles
Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) - OMD
Are you satisfied? live - Marina and the Diamonds
Hollywood - Marina and the Diamonds
Some more pictures from Cuba - I'm really proud that,other than a bit of cropping, the pictures are as taken so no photoshop action on the sunrise....This week it's the faces, places and creatures of Cuba. I'm saving the cycle shots till next week.