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Sent: 04 February 2001 23:15

Dear All,

Where else do steamy, tropical heat (beats London anytime) and Latin passion meet fiery revolutionary fervour ? Cuba, of course... This is the ideological homeland of the legendary Che Guevara (although he was Argentine-born and died fighting in Bolivia), Prophet of World Revolution. The spiritual homeland of Ernest Hemingway and where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. The land of the finest Habana cigars. Land of Barcadi Rum and moros y cristianos, the black bean and white rice dish so symbolic of Cuba´s European and African heritage. Cuba, land of passion and salsa, its Latin temperament undiminished by 42 years of communism. 

I arrived here on Saturday night, after a long flight from Madrid, sitting next to a Welsh dentist and a Cuban salsa dancer - or was he an acrobat or gymnast ? I couldn´t figure out, given his level of English and my level of Spanish - usually limited to words such as hola, si, and no.  In any case, this flamboyant artist, with pseudo-gold rings with each of his fingers, pònytail and an earring, soon fell into hibernation after an excessive drinking binge with other Cubans, who turned the crew area into an inflight makeshift bar. Of course irritating both me and the Welsh dentist, because we need to climb over him to get to the loo...

The plane arrived in Havana 45 min late and I took an amazing 2 hours to clear customs. I´m sure the officers of Cuban Immigration were doing a good job ensuring that the bourgeoise counter-revolutionaries of Miami supported by Yanqui-Norteamericano imperialistas (Yankee-American imperialists) do not slip into the Motherland. By the time I reached the homestay of Signorita Elizabeth, it was almost midnight.

Jetlagged I woke up at 6am and by 7am set off to explore Havana. I strolled along the windswept boulevard of Malecon, Havana´s equivalent of Shanghai´s Bund and Casablanca´s La Corniche. Atlantic waves hit the shore hard, giving me a well deserved salt water bath (and really waking me up). I had coffee at the famous Hotel Nacional, where before the days of Castro, American mafia chieftains and Hollywood stars rubbed shoulders with writers and romantics who tend to blew their brains up after they realised they have become old. Round the corner is what´s known as the American Special Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy - a huge new building pretending that it isn't the American Embassy over the past 40 years, after both countries broke relations. Heavily guarded by the Cuban militia, Americans working there amuse themselves by looking at nice and huge anti-American billboards in the surrounding area. 

Long Live the Revolution!  42 years of glory and sufferance...

The Jose Marti Monument - Cuba honors her heroes

The CDR - Committee for the Defense of the Revolution - aka neighbourhood KGB or busybody babushkas


Che Guevara lives forever ?


On a revolutionary pilgrimage ?


I walked around town, visiting key leftist revolutionary pilgrimage sites like Plaza de la Revolucion, the Che Guevara Monument, Museum of the
Revolution and the Granma (the boat that brought Castro and company to Cuba) Memorial where fragments of downed American fighter planes are on display. Comrade Fidel must be pleased with my revolutionary fervour. Perhaps I should open a branch of the CDR - Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (read " spy-on-your-neighbours bureau") in London, or do a buyout deal for Fabrica Partagas, the world famous cigar manufacturer, or a securistisation deal for Che´s famous portrait, since Comrade Fidel is short of cash these days.

Food is a problem in proletariat Cuba, since Fidel restricts private restaurants and taxes them heavily - to prevent the rise of another bloody
capitalist elite (those unhappy ones can leave for Miami - Bush Jr must pee in his pants if anymore Mariel and Elian are in the making...) As a result,
quality of food is low, variety limited, and very pricey by 3rd world standards and not value-for-money by 1st world standards. In fact, I could hardly find fruits in this tropical country - they are probably all exported or reserved for the 5-star resorts. All these are not helped by the fact that prices of most things are in US$ though they will give you coin change in Convertible Peso, a currency the Government pretends is equivalent to the dollar when it is useless outside Cuba. They further confuses everyone by issuing the Cuban Peso, which you can hardly buy anything with, and worth only 20 to a dollar. Needless to say, most Cubans earn the Cuban Peso...

Capitolio - 

Collectors of antique cars would love Cuba

Hotel Nacional

 One of Hemingway's favourite bars: La Bodeguita del Medio

On the Hemingway Trail: Photo of Hemingway & Castro at the Ambos Mundos Hotel

Hemingway: My mojito at Bodeguita, My daiquiri at the Floridita

 Castillo de la Real Fuerza

Barrio Chino: Havana's Cinatown

 Catedreal de San Cristobol

The Barrio Chino (Chinatown) was no help either. It looks anything but Chinese, except for an ornate Chinese gateway. Read somewhere that there
are a few hundred thousand Cubans with some Chinese blood, including a General Wong, Wilfredo Lam Museum in Havana, and there was a "El Chino" Chang who martyred together with Che fighting in Bolivia. Tried to speak to a Chinese man sitting at a corner, only to get the response "No habla Ingles y Chino" - can´t speak English & Chinese.

Tomorrow, I will explore the Western province of Pinar del Rios, the cigar country of Cuba (no idea why I´m going there since I don´t smoke) and Vinales Valley with its mysterious rock formations. 

Here I am, drafting this report in that legendary Hemingway hangout bar, El Floridita, sipping a glass of Daiquiri (which they charge an un-working
class price of $6)... trying to look macho a la "Papa" Hemingway - which is a hopeless effort given my lack of big beards in this land of big beardos
like Castro, Che and Hemingway. A hot Cuban babe looks this way with a subtle smile... I must stop this silly writeup now, for there are better
things to do than writing a mostly unread monologue in this earthly paradise.


El Floridita
Habana Vieja

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