Saturday, 21 February 2015

A week in Varadero (not long enough)

Time to leave Vancouver again.  And right away I am confronted with the infrastructure of this city again.  My plane leaves Vancouver International Airport at 8:00 am on a Saturday.  At first I want to be there 1.5 hours early to leave time for a leisurely check-in, security check, etc etc.  NO GO with BC TRANSIT; the buses from North Vancouver to downtown don't start service early enough, so I am forced to take a taxi to downtown, where I switch to the SkyTrain to the airport.
Fog and cold at 7:30 am

The destinations are an indication of where the action is
But I don't want action. I want peace and quiet. To get away from all the money THIS, more luxurious THAT world to where things are more real, where my misanthropy can subside because the reason for it is out of sight, and hopefully out of mind.
Arriving at 5 pm local time at Varadero Airport with my backpack-luggage containing neither laptop nor cell phone but 3 books printed on paper, I look forward to my internet-age-detox week with just a little of trepidation.  It has been 3 years that I was 'off-line' for a whole week.
Mirror-Selfie with pictures of Che, and a Cuban flag.  What else does one need?
The bus waits for the last luggage-collecting and currency-changing stragglers and 40 minutes later I am checked into my modest room. VERY modest, but since the rooms are contained in old HOUSES and my door is on the ground floor, it's not further than 20 meters from my door to the ocean. Nice touch.

I've been in Cuba 5 or 6 times now (at my age memories tend to fuse together) and it's getting harder to find something new to experience (Brain needs food !).But I find something. Halfway along the peninsula is this, the 'Muslim's walking path' leading to the 'Caves of the Muslims'.
No, this is not way to Mecca; the area gets it's name from pirates that hid in these parts long ago, which were referred to as Muslims. Barbary Coast Pirates?

I watch out for sudden movements in the mangroves. There is an alligator breeding farm not far from here !

It's NOT a tree!  It's a 300 year old cactus !

On the way back from the path, I see them.  After loosing sight of them years ago, I had assumed that they'd died. I was pissed of at myself to no have taken the chance while they were still there. Regrets are a very nasty thing; they tend to stick around for a long long time. So much so that it's worth arriving at daily decisions by considering the path of least possible future regret.  Some people use other criteria, like least amount of work, least or greatest financial expense, maximum gain in social status, or whatever a confused brain can come up with.

Something does not belong in Cuba !
After 10 minutes talking to various people in my atrocious Spanish, I have rounded up the owner/operator of the camel (Seems the pool bars around here attract WAY MORE attention that a camel).l
The ride costs 5 CUC (How expensive is that for something one hasn't done yet? ;-). Mr. Red-Shirt is genuinely cheery and friendly so I hand him 6 CUC. I'm here to experience the ride, not necessarily to document it, so I actually am at a momentary loss when he asks me for my camera. He deals with my speechlessness by repeating the word CAMERA more loudly and putting out his hand.  Behold:

OK, so Peter O'Toole WAS a GREAT actor. I takes more than a camel to pull off that Lawrence of Arabia look

And NO, this was not my main mode of transportation; there is a place that rents motor scooters for 25 CUC per day, a VERY GOOD deal in a place where getting around is restricted to the modes of taxi (if you find one), hop-on-hop-off bus (if it ever gets there), or walking.

Think of this next time someone tells you that sinking ships creates more marine eco-space. Garbage is Garbage!

Where's me mate ? ....

Hace frio !!!

Not what most tourists expected

I don't mind apparently

Want pelicans?  Feed them fish ...

Where dead fish go

There must be some dead fish here somewhere !

Not too bad for after embracing a toilet bowl for 24 hours; so far neither cafeeinated nor washed.

What the pictures don't show;
Daytime high temperatures in Varadero this week are 19 degrees. Combine this with the strong wind from the ocean, and for the first time I not only see Cubans wear long pants and jackets, but I see tourists wearing jackets and scarves if they were lucky to have brought any.  I was not one of the lucky ones.
Blame it on overeating or a food bug, I loose 48 hours being sick, and only eat 3 dry buns in all that time.
A lot of time is spent with Gunda and Jochen from Hamburg, who I meet after they get assigned the room right next to mine. Very pleasant company ;-)
Cubans are as friendly and cheery as every before; if one met a grumpy person, it had to be a tourist.

My first impression when I get back to Vancouver is witnessed in the taxi from the airport.

The world is passing quietly outside the windows of my taxi.
Around Granville and 8th maybe, I see 5 or 6 younger (25-30ish) men in their Saturday night do and clothes head to or from a bar. A split second later I notice a homeless person with a tuque and a grey blanket thrown over his legs at the next corner has raised himself onto his knees with one hand extended towards the rich young partiers and is shouting something at them.  From my vantage point in the car I can't hear a single sound the homeless man is shouting, but as the cab carries me away from the scene, I realize I have returned to a city where not only the outside temperatures are cold as hell and where the homeless person can scream his lungs out with little chance that anyone will help him. Within 30 minutes of having returned to Vancouver I want nothing more than to leave again.

 Time to change those beer commercials:  Almost as cold as people from Vancouver.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Varied ramblings on a Friday the 13th

Chicken feet
Playing THIS SONG will set the mood for this post ;)

Alan arrived in Vancouver on last Thursday. Food was consumed at Kirin Restaurant.  Food was good, company was fun, and for the first time in my life I ate chicken feet.  Quite yummy actually ;-)

Alan left again on Sunday, but not after watching me eat breakfast (He had to leave room for Dim Sum) at Cloud 9.  Food is still mediocre with a price tag of $16, which is actually a great deal for sitting as long as one wants at a table overlooking Vancouver with an absolute absence of car noise and even unlimited food thrown in ;-)

Again it's time to realize that most of us actually lead a quite decadent life, given how far our pleasures are removed from the basic necessities of life (see above) so it's time to remember the misery of most people.

Not my pic. The name we call these people starts with 'Refugees'

Apparently last week another 300 refugees from Libya died in the Mediterranean when their boats sank.  This happens about once a week and has been going on for years.  But apparently these lives are not as important as those of paying passengers on Cruise Ships or Car ferries, where the news coverage would be much louder and changes to avoid such a tragedy would be enacted swiftly.  Refugees from Africa apparently don't deserve that; their deaths are viewed and accepted quickly.  And everyone does that with a tiny bit of relief; Europe does not have to share its wealth with these 300.  
goes on with 'Migrants' or '

If you find that giving up some of your wealth to save some young Africans from drowning is a good idea, go to THIS WEBSITE. (A Maltese couple decided to do something and financed a boat to rescue people.  The Christening of the boat did not use Champagne but Holy Water while a priest told the crew that they were "On a Mission from God". ;-)   Thanks Francis !  And when you thinking about sharing, first think hard about whether YOU really deserved the 'lottery win' of having been born in the First World instead of some hopeless hut in Mogadishu.
The argument usually used to justify our 'First World' rank is that all other nations are LAZY and consequently don't deserve the spoils of this world.  Do you actually think that a person that somehow managed to travel all across Africa to take a boat to Europe can be called lazy?  I don't think many people in the First World would get their behind off the couch for such an endeavour !  
and ends with 'economic refugees. How about just 'Young people with Hope'? (Not my pic)
While I am thinking about issues on the larger scale, it occurs to me that on Saturday is Valentine's Day.  Some people hate Christmas and I think I might be avoiding Valentine's Day for a long while.  My Valentine died last year and February 14th also happens to be my Spare Mom's birthday.  Double Whammy they call it, I believe.  Ah well, all in all not too bad for a Friday the 13th ;-)

But there is another saying. It's always darkest just before dawn.  So it just seems fitting that Valentine's Day for me this year will mean driving to the airport and travelling to a country where people are happy to find just one type of shampoo/toothpaste/whatever in the store.  None of those bitter old faces with engraved angry wrinkles stalking the moisturiser aisle desperately searching for THEIR brand of miracle cure.  HINT: The most beautiful people are those that produce an honest smile.
Not my picture