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Phespirit goes to Cuba
Havana     July 2000

Phespirit goes to Cuba and stays for two weeks at (appropriately enough) the Hotel Inglaterra, on the hem of Parque Central at the heart of Old Havana. This is the time to see and experience communist Cuba: whilst the legendary Fidel Castro is still supreme commandante. Plus, of course, there is the warm Caribbean sunshine, the sweet rum cocktails, the sunny music and the fine green countryside.

It is nine o'clock in the morning and Phespirit is a mere ten minutes into his first wander through the streets of Havana when he is approached by a young girl (12-13?), who begins: Where are you from? England.  Would you like to buy a cigar? It's a bit early for that.  I have a ve-e-r-r-ry lovely lady for you. It's a bit early for that, too .....

Phespirit pessimistically considered that if he was to be offered sex every ten minutes of his stay in Cuba then he would quickly run out of either patience or money. Happily, though, this proved to be an isolated incident, so either prostitution is not as widespread as is reported or Phespirit was judged too repulsive/parsimonious to warrant further trouble.

In general, the hassling of tourists for dollars is infrequent when one takes into account the extreme poverty of the people. It is clear that this poverty arises solely as a result of the oppressive, outdated U.S. embargo (last year the U.N. General Assembly cast 155 votes in favour of ending the embargo, with only U.S.A. and Israel voting against) rather than through Castro's communist policies. "Yankee Imperialists" - they're the trouble, right?

What better place to contemplate such global politics than the terrace café of one's own hotel, shanting a steady supply of Cuban cocktails? All mixes are based around Havana Club silver rum; Phespirit can thoroughly recommend: Mojitos, Daiquiris, Cuba Libres and - a personal favourite - the Havana Special.

And some music, perhaps. Live music is not too hard to come by in Havana, with terrace bars, cafés and restaurants almost invariably hosting a band. It's all good stuff with many different styles, none of which Phespirit can convincingly identify in spite of his best efforts to become attuned to son, guajira and bolero. Most gratifying musical moment was a first, unexpected, live rendition of the wonderful "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás".

Away from the capital, Phespirit sought out a few alternative faces of Cuba: the fertile land to the west, the beaches of the north, the swampland and lagoons of the south. Details accompany the map.

It's an interesting place, Cuba, and Phespirit has only dabbled.

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