Back in Havana by early morning bus. I caught a cab to downtown with two French girls leaving that day. Cary and her husband welcomed me with open arms. She had warned me not to come back to Havana until Saturday or Sunday and now I see why. There was big international meeting here and lots of places were forced to close for security reasons and there are police everywhere patrolling the streets making sure no one steps even a toe out of line. Even the Prado, the big main street from the waterfront to downtown Capitol was closed. I headed out to run errands and also picked up a ticket to the ballet performance that night at the Gran Teatro. I got cleaned up and headed to the theatre. i was quite early so I hung out by the bar where i watched the bartender gracefully make a mojito. i just knew I had to have one so I watched him make it and it was in fact the best mojito I´ve had in all of Cuba thus far! I struck up a conversation with him and his daughter and almost didn´t realize that it was last call for seating. The first session was a new work based on the life of Freida Kahlo. It was more flamenco than classical ballet but he two principal ballerinas were up to the task. The second was based on the work of famous Cuban painter and was performed mostly by Ballet school students who were all terrific. I was on cloud nine when I left.
I had to drag myself out of bed the next day though. My back is still sore from horse back riding and I was just beat. I got a late start but I was still able to hit everything I wanted to. I walked to Vedado to the University of Havana which I can only assume is not in session as it was a perfect ghost town. I passed by the famous ice creamery Coppelia and was shocked to find hardly anyone in line. I found out who was last and claimed my spot and was seated in under 10 minutes. I had to ask the girl seated beside me to make sue that the prices really were in Cuban pesos and not Tourist dollars because the prices just seemed too cheap for such a treat. I ordered what everyone else ordered which was the ensalada, mine with vanilla ice cream. They were all shocked that I only ordered one. While I was expecting fruit of some kind, what I got was some chocolate sauce, 3 little cookies and a large scoop of some of the best vanilla ice cream I´ve ever had. The older couple at my table had ordered 2 each and the normal sized young girl beside me had ordered 3 and they all put their heads down and happily gobbled them down at record speeds.
Off to Maria la Gorda on Tuesday after a quick stop at a nearby bank to pick up the cash my mother sent. Ka-ching! Time to go diving! I had to make an overnight stopover in either Vinales or Pinar del Rio in order to catch an early morning bus connection so I chose Pinar as I´d already been to Vinales. While not even a large town, Pinar certainly feels big city like, dirty, bustling and unfriendly. Found a great casa though where I brokered a nice deal for a room, dinner and an early morning breakfast. I usually don´t eat at the casas because they charge a lot of money and give you 3 times as much food as you could possible put away which just seems ridiculous to me. Dinner was no exception, rice beans, fried sweet potato, avocado, salad, fish, fruit for dessert, on and on. I settled into a chair on the patio after dinner and chatted with two Spanish girls while enjoying some of my stash of rum. Jeez I love the rum here. It´s cheap ($5 for a liter) and you never get a hangover, I should know as I´ve had lots of practice;)
We arrived in beautiful Maria la Gorda at 10:30am and I was ready to hit the water. Low season has just begun for them so I got a great deal on a room including breakfast. That plus the stash of groceries I picked up in Havana (think cans with pop tops, cereal, juice and lots of cola for the rum) I was set for a somewhat economical splurge. I dropped my bags in my room and headed straight down to the on site dive center to sign up. So began four beautiful days for scuba diving on some of the most varied and colorful coral reefs I´ve ever seen. Absolute heaven. And to top it off, we even spotted a whale shark! Other than that I pretty much laid on a beach lounger reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac or relaxed in my little cabin enjoying the blissful air-conditioning and watching videos on VH1. The sand flies were killer though and by the first night I was covered in bites from head to toe. There was a harem of cats that hang around this little isolated point of the island and they each seem to pick a different cabin of tourists to suck up to. My cat was a little bit of a masochist and enjoyed slamming his head into my legs or the furniture or anything available really. Day after day of blissful weather and on the last night, a gorgeous sunset.
The bus transferred me back to Havana after another overnighter, in Vinales this time. I was really glad to be back in Havana, no matter how many times I come though here I always feel like there is more to do. I wandered to some of my old haunts and found my favorite roast pork sandwich street stall for a quick lunch before heading back to Cary´s house. She was booked solid so she found me a spot at a nearby place for the same price. Three Spanish guys were also staying there and they invited me to join them for a night on the town with the Cuban night manager at the casa. We headed out at about 11pm and 3 Cuban girls immediately made a play for the Spanish guys. They work fast here, what can I tell you. We weren´t allowed into the first club because they said our Cuban friend was too drunk, great. We walked a bit to another place called Las Vegas a few blocks away and the girls followed. We were allowed in to see the end of the cabaret show and then immediately everyone got up to dance. I do love to see those Cubans dance! Apparently the girls asked for money, the Spanish guys said no and the girls were gone in a hot second. We danced and enjoyed the music and finally headed out of the club about 3am to find a cab home. I love it here!
Two more days in Havana revisiting some of my favorite spots and pehaps a few new ones and then off to Panama. Central America, here I come.