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Mr Worldling - Lessons Learned Travelling

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  • March 14, 2019 12:16:56 PM
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A Little About Us

Travel blog focused on lessons learned travelling. The blog focuses less on the destination and landmarks and more on the journey itself. Posts aim to provide, besides travel stories, lessons, advice, tips and travel inspired literature.

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Songs About Home for Nostalgic Wanderers

Here's ten of my favourite songs about home I like to listen to when feeling nostalgic about this concept that has become so strange to me. The post Songs About Home for Nostalgic Wanderers appeared first on Mr Worldling.

Home digital art

Home digital art

Travellers often find it hard to talk about home since it’s a concept hard to define or understand when living in different places. Here’s ten of my favourite songs about home I like to listen to when feeling nostalgic about this concept that has become so strange to me.

1. Passenger – Home

“They say home is where the heart is
but my heart is wild and free
So am I homeless
Or just heartless?”

2. Phillip Phillips – Home

“If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home”

3. Backstreet Boys – No Place

“I’ve been all around the world, done all there is to do
But you’ll always be the home I wanna come home to”

4. Jack Johnson – Home

“Home is wherever we are if there’s love here too”

5. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home

“Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you”

6. Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home

“Cause, I built a home
For you
For me
Until it disappeared
From me
From you
And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust”

7. Harrison Storm – Sense of Home

“Tell your brother you’re listening to his dreams
Tell your sister she is all you need
Tell your mother she is the only one
And your father has made you all that you’ve become”

8. John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads

“Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads”

9. Zac Brown Band – Two places at one time

“And my heart knows a way back home
When the wind sings that old familiar song”

10. Veritasaga – Dor de Casa (Homesickness)

“Home is where your heart is
Where people do not let you fall
Home is where your mind is”


What are your favourite songs about Home?

If you liked this list, then also check out my other list on songs about travel.

The post Songs About Home for Nostalgic Wanderers appeared first on Mr Worldling.


Lessons Learned Travelling Alone in Cuba

1. You need proper planning before venturing to Cuba  Nowadays, technology has made it a lot easier to go on a holiday without doing too much research. As long as you have internet on your phone you can pretty much do the research and plan on the go. It’s easy to get around with Google […] The post Lessons Learned Travelling Alone in Cuba appeared first on Mr...

coloured wall green and yellow

1. You need proper planning before venturing to Cuba 

Nowadays, technology has made it a lot easier to go on a holiday without doing too much research. As long as you have internet on your phone you can pretty much do the research and plan on the go. It’s easy to get around with Google Maps and find good places for food and entertainment on TripAdvisor. However, in Cuba you don’t get that luxury. There is no 3G or 4G and Wifi is not widely available. Wifi is only available in certain hotels and parks and you need a special internet card that can provide you, for a cost, with a username and a password you can use to access the world wide web. If you don’t plan properly you will waste  time and money trying to find places or the information you need.   

So, before booking flights to Cuba make sure you do your homework and plan as much as possible. Plan accommodation, (either casas particulares or hotels) activities and travel and budgeting. You will definitely not regret it.  

2. Old Havana is a tourist trap 

Pretty much everything in Old Havana has been designed for tourists. Not only are prices ridiculously high but also you can barely see any locals in restaurants and bars to the point that nothing seems authentic anymore. Remember those ads you see in travel brochures depicting locals dancing salsa on the streets of Old Havana? Well, replace those locals with middle Aged European or American Tourists. The only locals you will see (apart from the bar staff) will be sitting around in parks or trying to sell you something on the streets. At night things might take a turn in some places. For example, I went to a ‘famous’ Salsa Dancing Club in Old Havana and I was actually the only foreign male there. But there was no local woman either. The only people dancing were the local Cuban guys dancing with their white foreign girlfriends. More than just a bit disappointed, I stroke a conversation with one of the guys at the bar and asked him where I could get a taste of the real dancing scene and was directed on the outskirts of Havana, away from the tourist trap.  

The problem was that, for a tourist, getting a taxi there was ridiculously expensive (about $30 one way) and the only feasible way for me was getting a ‘shared local cab’ – that basically meant hitchhiking. Although I speak Spanish and I’m quite adventurous, after one day of dealing with the constant anxiety of being deceived, hitchhiking to the outskirts of Havana and back at night was the last thing I wanted to do.  

Vedado is a way better option than Old Havana. While still quite touristy, prices are a lot lower and you get a lot of locals in the bars and clubs.   

3.There is a perpetual sense of anxiety on the streets 

Tourists are constantly harassed by locals who either want to sell them fake cigars, rum, or take them to some private restaurant (aka a random house) where they can pay for a meal. In Central Havana, I was constantly approached by young men trying to convince me there was a Cuban Cigars Festival ending soon which I definitely had to see where I could buy super discounted original cigars. Of course, the so-called festival happened indoors, in random houses, where several individuals sold counterfeit cigars. Out of sheer curiosity I did buy a box of 20 from one of them for 40 dollars (which I negotiated down from 100 he was asking) and they were terrible.  On the other hand, I did go to a so-called private restaurant (unaffiliated to the government), where the food was a lot better and three times cheaper than in restaurants in Old Havana. 

The paradox is that some of these ‘harassers’ actually have genuine good intention and you can definitely have a positive experience. However, things can go the other way as well.  The problem is that this constant harassment creates a tension and anxious feelings on the streets I’ve never experienced before as a solo traveller. You simply don’t feel you can trust what anyone says and you are sceptical of everything that comes your way. Since hostels are not really a thing in Cuba, solo travellers are on their own most of the time and find it hard to even interact with each other. Since there’s no mobile internet and Wifi is really hard to find and get, I’ve tried to approach other travellers to ask for directions or advice but I felt I hit a barrier I’ve never felt before in my 10 years of solo travelling. All the other travellers were sceptical of me asking them questions and one even refused to take a picture of me using my own phone when I politely asked him to do so. (Read more about my personal experience on this particular aspect here

4. There is a divide between locals and tourists 

Partly because some locals will harass tourists and partly because some locals will speak too much against communism, the police prefer to see the tourists and locals separated. Unless of course, the tourists are buying services by government-run or affiliated businesses. Not only have I been told this by the locals I’ve met in Havana and by my Cuban friends but I’ve also experienced it myself. I was having one random conversation with a local in the park in Spanish when out of the blue the police came over and asked for both of our ids. When they realised that I was a tourist, they asked me why I was talking to the local. I responded that I was asking him for directions and they just took him away. When I asked them why they were taking him away I was told to mind my own business.  

As there are many locals that either try to scam you or sell counterfeit products on the streets there is a rationale behind the police’s actions but it is definitely overly aggressive.  

5. Spanish can be both an advantage and a disadvantage

Speaking Spanish can be a huge advantage in Cuba as it can facilitate asking for directions, negotiating and getting around. Also, Cuba uses two types of currencies : the CUC, designed for tourists (Peso Convertible) and the CUP, the one for the locals. (Peso Cubano) One CUC is worth about 30 CUPs but they are used for different services and items. For example in some places I’ve been the prices of food were shown in Pesos only. The menu did not indicate whether it was local or convertible ones. Tourists would pay in convertible pesos (30 times more!) while locals or Spanish speakers like myself in local ones. If you don’t speak Spanish it’s a lot harder to get your hand on CUPs or even use them.

However, Spanish can also be a disadvantage when dealing with scammers. Sometimes scammers’ English might not be good enough to convince you to fall for their schemes but if you speak their language, it will be a lot easier for them to do so.

6. Nothing is for free 

If you stand out as a tourist, it’s almost guaranteed that most people will encounter will want your money or clothes from you. And this is understandable, since wages are extremely low in Cuba and basic commodities for Westerners such as toothbrushes, clothes and shoes are hard to obtain for the average Cuban. However, once you can put yourself in their shoes everything starts making more sense and conversations become easier. Some locals might ask you for money in exchange of them showing you a good time around local clubs or in exchange for genuinely teaching you about the Cuban way of life.  As I have experienced, this can go either way, as it’s hard to know who to trust so choosing to trust a random local that approaches you on the street is taking a risk.  

However, for a risk-free, but more pricy option, I would definitely recommend AirBnb Experiences. I booked two of them and could not be more content I did: A tour of Central Havana with an economics student who explained how ‘street economy’ worked in Cuba; and a photography tour with a photography student, who took me around the best spots of old Havana and took some great shots of me. Each 4-hour tour cost me about 35 dollars.  

7. People will surprise you 

I have encountered people who completely shattered my negative impression and sceptical mindset of the local Cubans. One random person I stroke a conversation with in a park offered to show me a glimpse of his local food culture (Copella) and he insisted he paid for everything. He didn’t ask for a single penny in return. On other hand, some locals I had known for a couple of days who pretended to be my friends, turned around and deceived me. (read story here)

Also, women are extremely straightforward. If you look someone in the eyes, if they are interested in you, they will maintain that eye contact until you say something. If you don’t, they will ask you what your deal is.  

8. If you want to taste the real Cuban culture, you need to take risks 

Going to Cuba and staying in a hotel or resort is simply not worth it because you will not get a real understanding of the Cuban culture. Moreover, you will also pay hyper-inflated prices. There are far cheaper and more luxurious options if you want to enjoy the Caribbean coast.  

However, if you want to really get an understanding of the culture, you need to take some risks. Risks include: staying in private accommodation (casas particulares) where conditions might not be up to Western standards; eating at private restaurants (basically local homes) where you are not guaranteed the hygiene standards you might be in a restaurant; trusting locals to show you around or sell you products as some might deceive you.  

If you are not prepared to take at least one of these risks, then you would be better of spending your money somewhere else.  

For a more detailed account of my experience in Havana you can check out the following posts:  

Part 1: Havana Hustlers Club
Part 2: The Right Place with the Wrong People
Part 3: Everlasting Cuba

The post Lessons Learned Travelling Alone in Cuba appeared first on Mr Worldling.


Cuba Part 3 – Everlasting Cuba

Blending in Havana My last 2 days in Havana were quite different to my first one. The sense of anxiety I got in my first day had disappeared completely and I was a lot more confident getting around Havana and talking to the locals. To my surprise I would bump into a lot of people […] The post Cuba Part 3 – Everlasting Cuba appeared first on Mr...

Cuban Coffee

Blending in Havana

My last 2 days in Havana were quite different to my first one. The sense of anxiety I got in my first day had disappeared completely and I was a lot more confident getting around Havana and talking to the locals. To my surprise I would bump into a lot of people I had met the previous night, thanks to Anaconda who would introduce me to their friends and so on. So, by the third day, if I were to walk from Central Havana, where I was lodged, to Old Havana (the main tourist Centre) I would probably say hi to at least 5 people that I had met previously. 

Around midday I met Manuel, a young photographer I found on AirBnb, who in exchange for about 30 bucks would take a small group around Havana and take photos of them in the nicest locations around the old town and alongside the Malecon (the embankment). Due to the rainy weather conditions and a small accident, he suffered during the tour we had to postpone the photo shooting for the following day.

So, for the rest of the day I hung out with a really nice couple from Guatemala, that were also part of Manuel’s group. We went to a few nice landmarks in old Havana, La Bodeguita del Medio, had some lunch afterwards, and then spent the evening at La Fabrica de Arte which is a really cool Art Gallery in Vedado that at night turns into a club.  I really liked this place since it offered me a good insight into the Cuban modern art and culture but also its nightlife, since a lot of youngsters filled up the bar/club after sunset. Although there were a few tourists here, compared to Old Havana, it was really refreshing as it genuinely felt as an authentic local place, at least for me. 

With the Feil and Ximena in Fabrica de Arte (FAC)

Towards the end of the night, the couple went back home but I decided to hang out in a park. I was hoping of finding Anaconda there but he wasn’t. I was told he might be back at La Rampa but that was a bit of a too far trek for me. So, I hung out with some guys I had previously the previous night via Anaconda. I chatted with them for a few hours about life and poverty in Cuba. One of them was telling me his wage is about 7 dollars per month and how we dreamt of becoming a rapper.  As I was still learning how to ‘navigate’ without google maps, he and another friend of him offered to walk me home, which I thought to be pretty nice of them. Only to find out the following night it was part of a wider plan, to be revealed at the right moment.

The people of Havana

My final day in Havana proved to be a cocktail of feelings. I met a lot of people and had to make a tough decision by the end of the night.  I spent the morning striking random conversations with random people. One guy that really impressed me was Juan Luis, whom I had briefly met via Anaconda but really got to know better after randomly bumping into him in front of a hotel. I was impressed to find out he knew quite a fair bit about the history of Romania and was also interested in studying Nordic languages. He had told me his dream was to leave the country and hopefully move to the North of Europe one day.  A few months after I left Cuba, he contacted me on Facebook to let me know had managed to ‘escape’ to Argentina via a 1-day boat trip and several days’ of coach travel. He currently resides there with his girlfriend. I still keep in contact with him from time to time. 

An hour later, I met Luis Eduardo, a young tour guide who had just finished work and his waiting for his coach that would take him home. He lived in a nearby city, called Matanzas, about 2 hours by coach.  He was probably the kindest person I met in Havana.  I told him I didn’t have a lot of time to hang around since I was supposed to meet Manuel for the ‘photo tour’ but he insisted to take me to Vedado to show me a truly authentic Cuban ‘lunch experience,’ which I simply could not say no to. 

With Luis Eduardo and Juan Luis

We took the local bus to Vedado and went to a place called Copella, the most famous place (and one of the few around) that sold ice cream. When we got there, I was surprised to see massive queues to different entrances of the place. We got in line and waited for about an hour. We had to wait in line to be given seats at a table. The place was operating in a truly communist fashion where all seats at a table were occupied, even though the seated ones did not know each other. We were seated with two couples. We were given some menus, which, as expected, only contained ice-cream and cake. To my surprise everyone at the table ordered 2-3 plates of Ice-Cream each. I could barely finish one since it was quite sweet and not the type of lunch, I am usually accustomed to eating. 

Ice cream at Copella

Luis insisted he’d pay for everything, including the bus tickets which really surprised me. It was a massive change in what I was accustomed to in Havana. Instead of him asking him for money, he was treating me to lunch and the bus ride. For this, I’ll be forever grateful to Luis and when I get back to Havana, I will definitely pay him a visit in Matanzas. 

As I had to go meet Manuel and he back home to Matanzas, we parted ways in old Havana.  I met Manuel and his new group and had a great time walking around the streets of old Havana and taking pics. The other guys in the group, a couple of Americans, one English guy and another Indian guy were also pretty decent to hang around with.  I had an interesting talk with Manuel as well, who was a photography student and had been set up a thriving business off AirBnb.

With Manuel and the Group at the rooftop bar

We ended the tour with a ride in a convertible car alongside the Malecon and a drink at a rooftop terrace in Vedado, with views of the American Embassy. The English lad, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, invited me to Fabrica de Arte that night, where he was meeting other backpackers. Manuel told me as well he was going to a local bar somewhere in Vedado too and I was welcome to join had I wanted to. However, I think my mind was already made up in regards to how I was going to spend my last night in Havana.

The last night in Havana

I went on a stroll to find Anaconda. As I didn’t have a phone that worked in Cuba I went to various parks and asked of his whereabouts until I found him. He was happy to see me and told me he was concerned he had not heard from me the other day. Since it was my last night, he said we’ll have a farewell party so I bought some Rum and Coke and went drinking from park to park for a few hours. My concern was how we were going to mix the Rum and Coke since I had bought no cups, but Anaconda quickly found a solution to my issue. He found an empty Rum bottle on the corner of the street, smelled it, said it smelled fine, and then mixed the Rum and Coke. 

‘Don’t be afraid Gato, drink! You’re one of us now, have no fear!’ Anaconda jokingly pushed me to drink as he saw I was slightly uncomfortable putting my mouth on a dirty rum bottle. The video below was taken shortly after I had a few sips.

After the pre-drinks session ended, we went to a few bars and ended up in a local club in Central Havana where they had a Jamaican theme on.  It was incredible how many familiar faces I saw in there. It was like almost everyone I had met for the past 3 days had ended up in that club. There were a few toruists as well, one who one of Anaconda’s friend liked.  

After the pre-drinks session ended, we went to a few bars and ended up in a local club in Central Havana where they had a Jamaican theme on.  It was incredible how many familiar faces I saw in there. It was like almost everyone I had met for the past 3 days had ended up in that club. There were a few tourists as well, one of which Anaconda’s friend liked. 

‘Just go to her and talk to her then,’ I told him.  

‘No man, I can’t do that, she’s come here with other Cuban guys. 

‘Yea so? They are a bigger group, it seems she is single’ I continued trying to persuade him.  

‘It’s an unwritten rule we have here. We don’t meddle with foreigners if they are already in the company of other locals. We don’t want to upset them or ruin their plans’ 

That was an interesting point he brought up and it somehow made me connect some more points when it came to the hustler’s culture in Havana. (the one I talk about in part 1)  

Towards the end of the night, probably around 3 AM Anaconda told me he was going to drop off two lady-friends home and then he would come back. Once Anaconda left, I bumped into the guys that had dropped me off home the previous night. They asked me if I had any money to buy some drinks but I told them I did not. To my surprise, they bought me a few drinks and kept on telling me how happy they were we had become friends. At the same time, they were trying to shun Anaconda off, and tell me he was being a bad friend by having left me in the club to take his friends home. I found this a bit weird as they were the second ones to draw my attention to Anaconda but I did not really pay attention to them.  

At about 4 AM he was still not back and the club was closing down. Most of the people had left so I decided it was time for me to make a move as well. It was a shame I did not get to say goodbye to Anaconda but my flight was at 8 AM and I could not really wait any longer for him.  The two guys offered to walk me home again as a farewell. On the way home we had a good chat about life and they kept on asking me when I would come back to party with them again.  

Everlasting Cuba

All was good until one them asks me if they could enter the room I was staying in to take a bit of shelter from the rain. This seemed a bit weird to me since it was already about 5 AM and the rain was not even as strong anymore. Moreover, I had told them I need to catch a flight at 8 AM. I told them that I don’t think it’s a good idea since the host would not be happy if other people came in. Their response was a bit aggressive, insisting that as long as I paid for my room,  I should have had the right to leave my friends in to rest for a bit. 

At this point, my 6th sense kicked in. I felt something was not right in their intentions and then it hit me. They were planning on robbing me. At least that’s the feeling I got then. When we got close to the house I was staying in, they kind of gave me an ultimatum. 

‘Are you going to let us in or no?’ one of them said on a fairly aggressive tone 

At that point a few scenarios went through my head. It was about 5 AM, still dark and raining outside. There was no-one on the streets that could have helped me had they tried to assault me, and despite me having curled two days before, I was hardly a match for any of them in a fight. (as they were quite well built, athletic guys) The conclusion I got to was that had I told them no, they would have robbed me there. I still had my phone, some money, passport and wallet on me so I couldn’t really afford losing any of that. After about 2.5 seconds of going through various scenarios in my head I decide to let them in. But I told them that they would have to be really quiet since if the house owners woke up, they would kick them out.  

When we entered my room, I realised the mistake I had made.  My professional camera, my tablet, my wireless Beats and some British Pound notes were on the bed, just waiting to be taken. As soon as my two ‘friends’ entered the room their radar turned on immediately and started scanning around for potential spoils of war. So, they sat down on a small bench in front of the bed, and I sat down on the bed, basically blocking their view of my items. Then, an awkward silence creeped up on both sides and for about 2 minutes, which felt like 20, we just stared at each other without saying anything. It was as if each other was waiting for the other to make the first move. In those 2 minutes I probably went through hundreds of scenarios in my head of what could have potentially happened and what the best course of action on my side would be. Black Mamba’s words echoed in my head: “You are in the right place with the right people.” “You’re god damn right I am”

The first move was made by one of the Cubans, who took out an old mp3 player and put his earphones on. The music was so loud that I could actually hear it as well. It was some kind of weird electro tune. At that time, I freaked out since this was like a scene from a horror movie where a psychopath unleashes himself. Shortly after, he grabbed my backpack and tried to pull it to his side. Without saying anything, I pulled it back from his hands.

At that point, I felt I had to urgently take action, so I got up and started thanking them for making sure I got safely home. On top of that, I told them that in order to express my gratitude I wanted to give them some gifts from the UK. And so I opened up my suitcase and started handing them Slazenger socks, Everlast T-shirts and Lonsdale shorts (usually the cheapest clothes you can buy in the UK). One man’s dirt, another’s treasure, I assume. I gave a few items to each and they were thrilled about it. So thrilled that they completely forgot about the rest of the items on my bed. Just as they were going to leave, one of them turned around and asked me if I could give him my toothbrush, as he had seen it in my suitcase. As my toothbrush was fairly used (almost yellow) I asked him if he really wanted it as it was dirty, to which he replied that Cuba is a poor country and he doesn’t care. I gave him my toothbrush as well and they were on their way. As they left,  a sense of disappointment gripped me and I shouted at them: 

‘You disappointed me, brothers!’ 

One of them shouted back:  

‘Peace and Love brother, Peace and Love’ 

I got back to the room and laid on bed, exhaling relief. I wasn’t mad at them, just a bit disappointed I couldn’t see through their intentions. But then again had I seen it, one of them would still not have a toothbrush. I had about 40 minutes until I had to depart towards the airport. My host lady came to check up on me and asked me if I wanted breakfast. I smiled and told her I really needed it. 

Three hours later I was on a flight back to Mexico. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved to be leaving a country. At the same time, I was already planning the date of my return.

The following day I sent one of the Cubans a message on Facebook :  
“Hope you liked the clothes, brothers!”.
A week later I got a reply :
“Very much indeed. Many blessings, brother!”

The post Cuba Part 3 – Everlasting Cuba appeared first on Mr Worldling.


Solo

All that we have in this terrifying lifeAre the connections that we make And the hope that they won’t betray usEven though we know no soul is pure. We jump into abyss Before we listen to our dreams. The bridges that we buildWe rush too soon to burn. Alone we come, alone we go. Connections […] The post Solo appeared first on Mr...

solo abstract art

All that we have in this terrifying life
Are the connections that we make

And the hope that they won’t betray us
Even though we know no soul is pure.

We jump into abyss
Before we listen to our dreams.

The bridges that we build
We rush too soon to burn.

Alone we come, alone we go.
Connections are illusions

Merely reflections of ourselves.

The post Solo appeared first on Mr Worldling.


Cuba Part 2 – The Right Place with the Wrong People

Escaping the tourist trap It didn’t take long for me to get bored on the streets of old Havana. It was all a bit too commercial for me – flocks of tourists everywhere and over-hyped prices. Instead of the locals I had initially pictured dancing on the streets of Havana, I saw middle aged white […] The post Cuba Part 2 – The Right Place with the Wrong People appeared first on Mr...

Cab in Cuba

Escaping the tourist trap

It didn’t take long for me to get bored on the streets of old Havana. It was all a bit too commercial for me – flocks of tourists everywhere and over-hyped prices. Instead of the locals I had initially pictured dancing on the streets of Havana, I saw middle aged white tourist couples Lindy-hopping. The bars were filled with American blokes smoking cigars trying to hit on the bartenders and the Salsa clubs were filled with white women tourists and their Cuban boyfriends.

The only proper locals I saw were sitting in parks, where the WIFI was available.  At about 11:30 PM I decided to call it a day and made my way back home. However, as I walked past a small park opposite Floridita hotel, there was a bunch of guys who drew my attention. They seemed to be quite a cool bunch so I just started a conversation with them. I offered to buy a bottle of Rum and some Coke and had some Cigars to share as well. 

This seemed to be a great opportunity to get some more insight in the local perspective beyond the tourist façade. The guys were a bit skeptical of my intentions and not everyone accepted cigars or the rum. “It is a big risk, they said, for us to be seen with you. If you want to stick around us you want need to learn to act like us, and not stand out.” I was told by one of them.  

“Why?” I asked. “Look behind you” he replied. Before even I managed to turn around to look behind, I heard this scream “Auxilio” “Auxilio” (which means Help in Spanish) As I turned around, I saw a man being chased by the police while screaming he had not done anything. Before he could say any more, as he slowed down, the police rammed him into a statue in the park and cuffed him. In the meantime, I saw one guy of the group standing up and going towards the police shouting: “no violence don’t hit him.” The rest tried to hold him back and tell him not to get involved but he wouldn’t listen. 

This guy was different, he was their leader as I later found. They called him Anaconda and he was my way in the gang. “See what happens if we talk to white tourists? We get arrested for no reason” he told me. “But you’re fine, you’re already half Cuban by the looks of it, but remember this, if the police stops us, don’t let them take us away! Follow us till prison brother, and shout that we’re your brothers, because if they take us we don’t know what’s going to happen to us.” “Of course, I will” I solemnly stated.

Next to us, there were two old Spanish brothers, in their 60’s who overheard our conversation and chipped in as well. ‘We came back to Havana to relieve some memories from our youth and I can tell that Havana is the same shithole I left behind 20 years ago. ‘ one of them stated with a bit of sadness in his tone.

‘I completely agree!’ nodded Anaconda.

After a a bit of banter, I asked Anaconda if he could show me around Havana a bit. I explained that I wanted to see how the locals have a good time and that in exchange I would cover all costs and give him a little bit of money as well.

Anaconda looked at me and smiled: “Haha, you’re just like me! Of course, brother, you found the right man” Right then, let’s move on from here and go where the real Cubans have a good time.” 

On our way to wherever he was taking me we walked through another park. We stopped by a bench three guys probably twice our sizes were sitting.  “Guys, I want you to have a good look at this guys’ face! Anaconda said on an authoritative tone to the three guys.  

“This is guy is Gato! He is my brother! And every time you see him you have to take care of him! Make sure he stays out of trouble. Look at his face! Remember it!”  All of these three guys were now in my face looking at it. Felt a bit weird but at the same time pretty cool. I shook their hands and we moved on.  

We got in a common shared cab which was a bit like hitchhiking. Common shared ‘cabs’ are not really cabs, bur rather locals driving around in exchange for a few pesos. If you are a foreigner, they will ask you for a lot more but this guy got us a ride for 2 local pesos each. The lowest I could get one by myself was 1 convertible peso (1 dollar – 25 local ones – 14x more expensive).  

La Rampa Nightlife

We got off along the Malecon (the seaside) and walk for a bit. “We’re going to this awesome place – La Rampa” Anaconda told me. “I will show you how real Cubans have a good time.” La Rampa was basically a street where a lot of people just came to hang out. The most famous place was a fountain opposite a gas station. There were quite a few musicians that would play their instruments all night long. When we got there, it was as if a big group of people were expecting us. 

La Rampa,Havana
La Rampa Petrol Station

Anaconda introduced me to everyone and I started handing out cigars and passing the bottle of rum to get myself acquainted with everyone. Everyone had their own story and was really interested to know where I was from, why I spoke Spanish and to practice their English. None of the people I met had actually heard about Romania or met a Romanian before so they dubbed me as the only Romanian in Havana. Out of all the people I met there 2 stood out: Black Mamba who asked me if he could have the cigar box and Shamalongo, a young, very talented musician whom I had a very interesting talk on life. Shamalongo’s story as a musician and young father touched me so I told him I’d really want one of his CD’s. He told me he didn’t have any on him and that it would take him time to make one. I offered him 5 dollars then and I told him I would get him another 5 whenever he can get me a CD, be it that night, the following one or the following year.  

“When are you leaving Havana?” he asked me a bit worried 

“In about 2 days’ time but don’t worry about it, whenever you can get it you get it, it’s not a problem.” 

Shamalongo looked a bit distressed at my “request” but then as he spotted 2 police officers he told me “Wait a second please.” and then he rushed over to them. He came back with one of his CDs and handed it to me. 

“There you go brother” he said it on a relieved tone.  

“You didn’t have to do that you know…Gato could have waited” Anaconda intervened.  

“Do what?” I asked a bit confused as I handed Shamalongo the 10 dollars.  

“I had given those police offers one of my CDs a while ago as a token of appreciation for them but I just told them I really needed it now for you, I’ll get another copy for them another time, that’s not a problem. Tomorrow I am treating my kid to something special with the money you gave me, thank you.” 

The second memorable character I met was Black Mamba. Never got his real name but he told me had worked in New York. He had a very deep and hoarse voice that almost made everything he said sound a bit scary and threatening. He reminded me of a character I knew when I was a kid, that always gave me the creeps (Petrica the Hoarse Voice). 

Anyway, after a few chats with the guys Anaconda asked me if I wanted to go with him and see if we could pick up any girls. I said sure so we just went along the road towards a the centre of Vedado (a less touristy quarter compared to Old Havana)  So we went for a stroll and encountered two girls that were sitting by a club. Anaconda was really straight up about everything so he asked one of the girls :

‘My friend here is visiting and he likes you. So my question is to you, how much is the taxi back to your place? ‘She looked a bit surprised, measured me top down and the replied:  

‘Why doesn’t your friend talk? Is he a cop?’  

At that point I started laughing and told her I am not, but that I don’t really know what to say since I am new in the neighbourhood.  

“60 dollars will do, including the room we will rent” she told us. “I am not charging him anything extra apart from the taxi and the room rent” she continued. 

Anaconda looked at me and said: “That’s a very good price brother, you in?” to which I replied “Sure, just need to get some cash out first.”

We told the girls to wait and then made our way to the cash machine. I had actually lied, I didn’t need to take money out but I just needed some more time to think through what I was about to do. I felt pretty uncomfortable as it felt like paying for sex. Anaconda reassured me it was not what I thought since I was not actually paying her for the act but just for the renting a room and a taxi, which was a very common thing to do in Havana. Still, the thought of hopping in a taxi with a random girl in a country and place I was not familiar with was still daunting.

After I got some cash out, we went back to the girls and discussed about the plan. The plan was that we went ahead and met 2 corners down the road, and then get a taxi. I would go with one of the girls, and Anaconda with the other one. The reasons we had to go separately was so that the police did not suspect anything. (as it was usual for them to randomly stop people on the street and ask them what they are up to).  

The Right Place with the Wrong People

I and Anaconda started walking just after about meters two police officers stop us. Surprisingly, they’re not asking me any questions but rather Anaconda. There seems to be some problem with his ID and they need to double check it. I can see the two girls walking past us giving us a worried look. Whilst the two police officers are still checking Anaconda’s ID, he comes to me and whispers 

“Gato, go behind that tree, take 5 dollars out, conceal them in your fist and then come back and hand it to me, I need to bribe one of these guys to let me go, otherwise they’ll take me away.’ 

While I’m heading towards the tree and looking for money in my pockets, Black Mamba, who had realised what was happening shows up. 

‘Gato, don’t get involved in this, it’s too dangerous for you, they might take you away too. Give me the five dollars and stay here, don’t intervene’ 

I gave him the fiver and watched him discreetly pass it to Anaconda. Then I saw Anaconda trying to bribe the police officer, who wouldn’t take it. As it seems they were getting into an argument I couldn’t just stay behind the tree and went over as well.  

Black Mamba took me to the side and started talking in English to me.  He gave me probably one of the best street mini-speeches I have ever heard:

‘Let’s talk English, so they don’t understand us. It’s going to be fine, the problem is sorted, no need for the money but listen to me: you are a good guy Gato, but you are making a huge mistake. You are in the right place with the wrong people’ 

‘How so?’ I asked, puzzled   

“You’re a smart guy too, you get it. Listen to me… I am Black Mamba, I only strike once, and when I do, it’s deadly!” He said it to me on a terse tone as he mimicked a cobra attack with his hand. 

“Why do you think they call him Anaconda? Because he will strangle you out of everything, out of your last penny” he continued mimicking the choke of an anaconda with his arms. 

I didn’t really know what to say so I just stared at him while I was processing the info.  

‘ As soon as the police leaves, ask Anaconda for your fiver back. Get your fiver back, Gato!’ Black Mamba told me once more as he walked away. 

I went back to Anaconda which seemed to have solved his issue with the police. There was no need for him to bribe them so he just returned me my fiver.  

‘Now, let’s finish the deal with the girls’ he told me grinning. At that point, I was not really in the mood for taking any more chances so I just told him I changed my mind and that I’d rather do something else with the 60 dollars I would’ve given that girl for sex.  

To my surprise, Anaconda was quite cool about it and his only reply was ‘Fair Enough, let’s just go back to La Rampa and have some Rum then.’  

Once we got back to la Rampa, whilst sitting down and sipping some rum Anaconda turned to me and asked me: ‘Gato, I really want to impress one girl here. Can you give me 50 dollars to buy some chocolate and alcohol? 

I had promised Anaconda I would pay him in exchange for him showing me around so I said sure, I took out a note and gave it to him.

It was about 2 AM and I was still reflecting on my talk with the Cuban grandma (read here) and thinking about Black Mamba’s words..’The Right Place with the Wrong People’ – it did not only seem to describe my situation but rather the situation of the whole country.

Shamalongo kept playing his guitar and one of his favourite songs (Mala Suerte – translated as Bad Luck) while the others savoured their rum and Chocolate Anaconda had just brought back from the shop.

“Si no fuera por mi mala suerte, yo no tendria suerte en esta vida loco”
[If it wasn’t for my bad luck, I would have no luck at all in this crazy life]
– Shamalongo

The post Cuba Part 2 – The Right Place with the Wrong People appeared first on Mr Worldling.


Worldling

Throughout my years of wanderlust and pain I’ve come to realise my greatest fear thus farI’m terrified to go away too soon Because I grasped the beauty of the EarthWhile dreaming of the Sun and Moon. And such a great shame it would be…To go away before I get to taste The salt of each […] The post Worldling appeared first on Mr...

wanderer above sea

Throughout my years of wanderlust and pain
I’ve come to realise my greatest fear thus far
I’m terrified to go away too soon
Because I grasped the beauty of the Earth
While dreaming of the Sun and Moon.

And such a great shame it would be

To go away before I get to taste
The salt of each of its capricious seas
And smell the scent of their eternal breeze

To go away before I get to see
The sunset paintings on the cloudy skies
And the refreshing glare of sunrise after night

To go away before I get to hear
Eternal poems of the waves
And fauna’s endless lullabies

To go away before I get to feel
The Bittersweet old memories
Of long desired youth

To go away too soon, a great shame that would be.

The post Worldling appeared first on Mr Worldling.


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