1.3 Some of my favourite Havana shots

 



Written after the first semester:


I am almost seized by anxiety – for everything that I’m doing. It is 2018 and I am here, writhing in my seat, gnawing my nails anxiously. I have not changed for the larger part of it. 
What is at stake? A job I view with some displeasure. I can’t say great displeasure, because it is undoubtedly enjoyable at times. In this rather short, but also rather long escape from my toiling half of the year, what have I learnt? I certainly would not enjoy working as a museum guider, one who stands around and reminds viewers not to take photographs or touch artworks with their clammy fingers. I do enjoy what I’m doing — but? But what? I feel a bubbling frustration and a desire to reclaim my life, to reclaim my weekends, and the days after work. I find a sinking heart at the thought of my long 12-hour days, where I get home at 7+, dinner by 8+, sleep at 10 after some mindless scrolling of my phone. How can I seek a better balance of what i want? 
 
I know, I’m lucky to be able to foresee the periodic tides – high, and low. Maybe I just need better scheduling. But maybe, this is just not good enough. 
On this trip I’ve read: Of love and Laughter by Milan Kundera, How To Stop Time by Matt something, and the classic Old Man and the Sea. 
I’ve watched: Wonder, Taxi Driver, Logan’s luck(?) in Havana, Virunga, lots of Cuban history clips, The Greatest Showman, the Suffragettes, the Square… not bad. 
I feel so burdened by my displeasure. Why am I so unhappy? I think this discontentment could be due to my lack of exposure, possibly a lack of appreciation. or is it?
Dreaming of the aerial chunks I wanted to visit – Mexico and the USA, El Salvador, Turkmenistan, Guatemala, 

last few photos;

oh my gawd spanish grammar

 

 

the artsy lane near the cheapest hostel one can find in Cuba / Havana – Hamel’s Hostel at 5usd a night

On my last day in Havana, I caught a film for 0.04 cents, an old American film

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4. Trinidad, Cuba

 

Trinidad attracts hoards of tourists, and its not hard to understand why. Its lovely mix of cobblestone streets and coloured walls draw people in with its burst of colours. In the evenings (in Cuba), it is common to hear a Latin pop or an old canción playing loudly in the neighbourhood from someone’s radio, and to see neighbours sitting at the steps of their casas chatting, children kicking a ball along the streets in the soft evening glow.
 
There was a funeral at the casa next to mine. People were gathered outside all in the evening, and also this afternoon when I was back. I was rather curious, confused, about the crowd that had gathered outside around my casa. It struck me as strange that amongst this crowd of men, none had tried to say hi to me (uncommon indeed in the Latino culture) which signalled the sombre mood. My host, rather teary-eyed, came out after. She did not get much sleep last night, she was at her neighbour’s the whole night. It seems a difficult time. Mis condolencias, I offered. I excused myself and went up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The snapshot of lives lived out in the open



It is sad that in Trinidad, the most touristy thus far, I’ve experienced on more than one occasion locals asking me if I have a ‘bom-Bom’ (candy) to give their baby, or a pen, or clothes for their family. This is exacerbated by tourists who hand out these things to people on the streets. It encourages begging.



It’s crazy that in 2015, just 3 years ago, wifi was $4.50CUC (pegged to the rate of USD) per hour, and now it’s only $1CUC. How is the wifi situation going to be in a few years?



Government instituted programmes under Fidel to eradicate illiteracy and provide free universal schooling and healthcare.



The ubiquitous image of Che and how he strove to create El Hombre Nuevo – the New Man – who would work for the common good rather than personal gains. His likeness is depicted on billboards, walls of homes, buses, and perhaps ironically, material merchandise.





There’s actually quite a significant nationalist pride. The flags everywhere, ‘defendiendo el socialismo‘, ‘con Fidel revolucion’, and other murals of soldiers, doves, and the Cuban colours. Hasta la siempre victoria.



What I admired about what I’ve read about Fidel Castro as a leader is his seemingly unwavering, fierce belief towards his ideals. Him and Che both. And his request towards the avoidance of being a cult personality. There are definitely similarities between Fidel and LKY, their iron-fisted strategies that led their countries to rise to a new, albeit difficult, age, until their last breaths.
Reading these years of history, of hundreds of years condensed into these paragraphs, it always reminds me of the infinitesimal span of time I have on earth. These trees, these buildings, they will see far more generations of me than I ever find possible. How to Stop Time? Do I really want to? Let me relish the remainder of my days, to always find the spark of light even in the dullest hours. Life is too short to get too upset at things. At least I’m in a time of peace.


In a culture that discourages material ideals, is that truly possible? Why did he buy that pair of Adidas shoes, because he liked it? When you are given this amount and can get by this way, does it work? When you have free healthcare and education and a roof over your head, is your life necessarily worse than mine? I don’t really think so. So what if you earn lesser? You get to sit in the evenings with your family and kids. He has to work all day, Everyday. You get some food coupons. It is not enough, it is not delicious or fantastic, but you can get by. Why do I want to earn more money? If travel is eliminated and restricted, what would be my purpose? These materials are fleeting and temporal. What would make me happy? A sense of satisfaction and fulfilment is a far longer-term manner of sustaining happiness. Fulfilment. To leave an imprint on the world, with one ordinary, mortal man’s courage and vision to make a difference in the lives of others. That is one noble and important goal. I know I’m on the right track, but sometimes I get so tired.

 

He was an ordinary man, who stepped beyond his comforts to make a difference in the lives of the larger society. I need to develop a greater conviction of my vision of the world, and strive towards fulfilling it. An ordinary man can make an extraordinary difference.





my favourite peso pizza place. cries. it was the best. i was spending 3usd a day on food.

the wifi park where you’re bound to meet that tourist you met on the bus, or another corner in tiny, touristy Trinidad

 

3.1 Cienfuegos – Laguna Guanaroca

Finding my way to laguna guanaroca

 

local buses

Laguna Guanaroca had apparently experienced a massive flood last week. It had rained for 3 consecutive days and the place had flooded, the pier destroyed. They were closed last week and had only opened 3 days ago. ‘One of the most important things I have in my life are my computer’, the guide had said. I smiled, that was not uncommon. And you get the wifi card for 1 CUC too? I asked. Isn’t it expensive?

 

I don’t use the wifi that much. If I need something I go into one of the paladar and get a USB storage for the information that I want. Such as manga. Some information are more expensive than others. For example, one chapter of manga could cost 1 cuc. And you know these manga chapters, there could be hundreds of them! With the money I earn here I could probably buy about 2 chapters a week.



Actually, we were lucky enough to spot some pink flammingos taking flight for some time in the high skies, but the pictures turned out low quality. it was interesting to watch nonetheless, as i tried to communicate with my boat rower – who generally bemoaned the cuban economy, to garner sympathy / get more tips from me at the end, you think? i think? i don’t know

 

 

 

more peso food. my love
60 cents usd cries
every backpacker’s dream menu
pizzas for 50 cents usd and rice stuff for 60+ usd cents PESO FOOD

 

decided to treat myself to a casa breakfast at ONLY 2 or 3usd, my casa owner was so nice
local economy!

 

3. Cienfuegos, Santa Clara

I am now in Cienfuegos. I spent a day longer here than I thought I would. Actually, Cienfuegos was never quite in my plans. Neither was Santa Clara, where I was heading to the next day. I know I told myself to relax this trip and take it slow – but I still struggle a little to do so. I’m lying in my bed in my casa and it is only 12.30pm – I could have done so much, explored other places. Instead, why am I lying here? :O

I love the privacy of my casa though, even if it costs (almost) the same if I share. I say almost because they usually charge the same price, but because I was with Lissette yesterday, I guess I got it slightly cheaper. 10 cucs. 
I do wonder, however, how others deal with not meeting other travellers, and if they mind. I certainly don’t. 
i
If there’s one thing about me it is that I seem to enjoy my own company very much. I enjoy the company of others, of course, but I also relish my own. Perhaps it’s having the time and space to reflect, instead of the whirling questions that pounce forward in my mind in the company of another person. It was fun for 2 days, but after, I would rather explore on my own. Solitude to me is like taking a deep breath of fresh air in the valleys, like a blanket of quiet coolness that washes over me. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I appreciated that the mausoleum was free. And that they prohibited photography. It made me feel like they truly wanted Che’s story to educate, and to be a source of inspiration, not a spectacle, nor a commercial tool. It also strikes me that he was someone educated, and possibly middle-upper class, who could have led such a comfortable life. But he, educated, chose to risk his life to fight for the injustice. ‘Anyone who quivers at the sight of injustice is a comrade of mine,’ his conviction is powerful enough to raise the spirits of a nation. And he was young. Without him as a person like that, and without his team, Cuba may be very different.
 
I had just finished reading How To Stop Time, which got me contemplating how it must be, really, to live over hundreds of years and watch civilisations change in ways, but also duplicate its mistakes over and over again in different timeframes. In Cuba, I have read that one is almost transported to a time of the 1960s. I can picture that now – those cars, packed buses, horses as public transport, neighbours with open doors kicking football, in a time sans-internet.
 
As I read the Pocket-ed wiki article on Che Guevara and Castro, I find myself considering the fact that Che as a national hero seem to be part of a nationalist agenda to instill the idea of a national hero, to recite the pledge that celebrates the heroism of Che, a reminder of his sacrifices and the strength of his ideals in order to bring about the nation that they had today.
 
Reminder to self: ask Marianne to show me her libreta.
 
Funny. There’s no clear culture of queuing, but you ask ‘el ultimo?’ And you remember that person before you.

queuing for rations? 🙂

 

 

2.3 Vinales, Cuba





I walked to el Cuevo del Indio. It took me more than an hour, with my broken shoe I was strolling like I had all the time in the world, which, at this point, I kind of did. What a privilege! What a luxury, this feeling! Forever is composed of nows, I thought. How do we stop time? The scenery was well worth the heat. A farmer cuts some of his plantings. He was working, I wonder if he dreaded his job like I did. He surely must feel some resigned thoughts at some points. But unlike him, I had a holiday. Breaks I could foresee. Maybe all jobs make you feel crappy at some point, and grow dull, it’s your perspective. I would rather teach than work in a lab for 4 years, I thought.

I was half-relieved when I finally saw the Cuevo del Indio. The route, while beautiful, was rather tideous with my right feet dragging my broken shoe, and trying to shun the racing cars that computer osqueezed along the narrow road. The cuevo itself, costing 5 pesos for locals and 5 cucs for tourists, was… quite beautiful. I’ve seen caves in other places, but it was nice to see another anyway. It always sends a somewhat pleasant hum to think that more than 26 hours by plane, such a great distance from my continent, the limestone caves were still the same. I would never be able to witness its formation nor its crumble, I thought. Tom would. These trees would.
 
I would still like to live for centuries, I think. An Alba. I now had a word for it. What is the point of living if you had no one more to live for? A quote in the book read. Well, the answer is simple, I thought. Look for more people, or learn to live for yourself. Is that too selfish a thought? Are we just inclined to care for another person, another living thing? The idea that you were floating, floating, purposeless. What is your vision of the world? The Spanish traveller had asked. Does that matter, though? But I suppose it is. Your vision of the world determines the way you treat the people and the environment around you, and the way you live your life, because you act by these ideas. His vision of the world involved sustainability and empathy. Mine involves… I envisioned a world that was judgement-free, kind, and bringing out the best in others. Is that considered a vision of the world? Note that sustainability was not something that came to me willingly. That was something for me to think about.
 
When I finished the cave I walked to the car park, hoping to find a bus to catch a ride back. It was all tourist buses. I asked a driver and he said sure, hop on. He said it so casually, so immediately, as though it was the most unsurprising question he had encountered, that I stared at him for a bit before grinning and thanking him. Turns out this was a bus for a group of university GEOGRAPHY students on fieldwork, to see the limestone caves. I sat next to the professor, 28 years old. What is it like to never have left your country? My 13 year old teenagers are so privileged in comparison. He had explained that there were two types of economic activities here – state-owned and privatised. Privatised activities were like the paladares and casas. State-owned were like the medical field or education. Wouldn’t you earn more if you work in a private-owned enterprise? So why did you work as a teacher? I had asked. ‘Oh it’s so complicated, it’s hard to explain,’ they laughed. ‘It must be that your passion for teaching supersedes that desire for money’, I thought aloud. ‘Absolutely,’ they nodded their head in agreement.
 

I find myself checking a pretty girl out as she walks past. Linda, I thought. I thought about all the men who looked at me and told me compliments like that. Why not let beauty know where beauty is deserved? If I were a boy here, for sure I would be like that.
 
‘Hola!’ a voice calls out. I turn to my left. A man blows me a kiss. I smile and continue walking, before he can say anything else.


If you knew you could survive by begging and live on others’ charity, would you work? Why do we work? If you lived in a place where you couldn’t travel abroad, where healthcare and hospitals were free, would you want a lot of money? Why do we try to earn so much? Because we want better lives.

 

2.2 Vinales, tobacco farm

Most truthfully – I am really tired, and sleepy.
When I think of Vinales now, I think of the hours of conversations listening to life stories, and walking home past 11pm. As glad as I am to have met new people, I also know that a part of me relishes my own company. I came here to talk to no one, but I meet people anyway. It’s great, but I am also curious to know how I’d feel if I find no one to talk to for a week. After all, this trip, I’m not couch surfing. 
 
I’m also disappointed that I haven’t been painting. It’s not as easy, to fork out time to sit and paint. It’s really hard for me to. I’m still happy that I actually read a book, an e-book, and am pretty absorbed into it. It brought tears to my eyes this afternoon, a feeling I miss dearly. Reading words that evoke feelings. It makes me feel human again. 
 
After our short hike and tobacco farm tour, desperate for a cold drink, I bought some Fanta Orange and gulped it down as I walked back to my casa. When I got back, I sat on the chair and read.
Then I went into my room and took an afternoon nap.
 
Life’s simple luxuries. I could never do this back home. 
 
It rained in the afternoon. The gloomy weather had us seeking shelter. A casual conversation turned into hours-long storytelling. I listened to the story of her life and looked at the version that she had been shaped into today. What a story. 


 

2.1 Vinales, Cuba

 

A girl asked politely if she could sit next to me on the bus. I nodded, and asked if she was Cuban. No, she was from El Salvador, she said. That was how I met Lissette. 


Viñales is nature, fresh air and limestone caves. Viñales is listening to life stories of strength and growth over hours as it rains, and laughing so hard there’s tears in my eyes. Viñales is peso pizza, jugo de guayaba, tobacco fields and rocking chairs. 

El Salvador still feels like such a distant place. Distant enough to be more than 24 hours by plane, that is. I’ve never thought of visiting El Salvador, though admittedly, until now. We watched the hour-long documentary I had downloaded on my phone regarding the revolution. It’s smart media manipulation, a leader that can continue to raise the spirits of all, and speak of its victories with oratorial clarity. It makes me consider the lessons one can learn from History, from others. Ah, the discipline I had missed out on in Secondary school. Well, History is everywhere really. 
 
Asked a little about El Salvador after – Hearing about their situation – abortion, the condensed political history, the surrounding volcanoes, the monthly wage of 300usd on average (although a teacher makes about 800usd) makes me count my blessings in some ways. It’s interesting to learn that they use USD for their currency though, from 2001.
 
We spent the afternoon getting wifi card, walking around Vinales town, towards the valley, all in my broken shoe. 

 

 

Had peso pizza y jugo guayaba.  

 

el bocadillo de jamon y queso, my love

peso pizza, jugo de guayaba.

Walking around the little town of Vinales

 

 

 

 

 



I thought about the colonial master’s guilt felt by the Spanish guy, and how he felt almost guilty for coming over to his former colonies to see that they seem to not be doing as well as British colonies. I’ve never quite thought about that.



1.2 Havana, Day 2 – Havana Vieja / Old Havana

videos to keep:

al malecon

 

 

Where there’s music, there’s Cubans dancing. Along the streets a tent of sorts was set up in the middle of the square. The blasting music attracts a crowd, to which I saw many people – regardless of age, size, groups or alone – moving their bodies. Children, the greying. Strangers dancing together. It makes me feel like our bodies were made to move with the rhythm of the melodies, until cultures slowly tamed it down. I could never shake my hips like that. Like Lissette said, ’You mean you clean and wash the dishes without music and dancing? You’re boring!’ We laughed.

Best batido ever. cries

in the insane heat and humidity, the 15 pesos? 8 pesos?batido was the BEST THING EVER

Along the lanes of Havana Vieja, you find faded, grungy walls like this


la fruteria

ernest hemmingway used to frequent this bar

one of the most interesting part of the museum.

Cuban cigar

 

1.1 Havana, Cuba

Havana ooh-na-na

my first glimpse of the Caribbean

 

there was something i liked about this, a quiet quality in the way her wispy dress caught the sunshine in Havana

i stood at that same traffic light a little longer, my first glimpse of the styles (in some ways i didnt quite expect)

those faded walls

the  way the harsh light casts its glittering confetti everywhere

 

 
Each place teaches me something, and for Cuba it is the ubiquity of wifi. There’s something about the wifi parks though, seeing crowds gathered and sitting even in the evenings, with their earpiece. Who are they talking to? That happiness in their chuckles, their kisses blown at the screens as they wave bye-bye.//


Passing by wifi spots and knowing they’re wifi spots because of the phone screens and earpieces people have. She waves, blowing kisses passionately at the screen, and laughs; her bubble of joy catches her unaware that I – a stranger – was staring. Maybe it’s that raw bubble of happiness that I was seeing that kept me staring, almost like intruding on a private moment.

 
We do that too in Singapore, but not all together, in this space that ties the heartstrings of one to another miles away.


I hadn’t slept on a proper bed for 48 hours at this point, and had been on the plane for more than 24 hours

 

 

 

 

On Day 1, I found myself in this restaurant.

 

Day 2 was about exploring Old Havana and Parque Central which is indeed as beautiful as they recommend, but kind of too clean in some way.
 
Orlando dropped me off at the Viazul bus station. 
 
Serenaded by the musical duo along the Malecon. 
 
Shoe broke. 
 

 

Museum of the Revolution. 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

love these long beautiful columns

 

 

that funny old man, where i bought my peso ice cream

el capitolio

i didnt quite like that guava-jam-filled fried breadstick

 

1. Cuba

It’s been more than 2 months now. It’s lovely looking back, pictures of Che, Fidel, and this Caribbean island I had the opportunity to spend about 2 weeks exploring.

In these 2 weeks, I spent a lot of time reading, chatting, observing, sometimes immersed in the comfort of my solitude. On more than 1 occasion, I painted. I walked along the streets alone, curious, and conversed in Spanish in most parts that I went. I walked till my legs were tired, before I sat at a malecon and listened to the choral voices and the Cuban beats. Watched movies and Netflix (downloaded for offline viewing) in the evenings, sharing secrets with my Latina Lissette on some nights.

How lovely! As much as I liked my friends and my people, I still immensely enjoy the ease and comfort I felt when I went back to my big rooms, my cooling casas, all on my own schedule and space and the company of my book.

I still remained somewhat connected to wifi, almost daily.

My first thoughts in Cuba:

It took a long time to get here. Not that I minded THAT much – in my opinion it still passed really quickly, sitting there and doing nothing. That’s me I suppose, I quite enjoy having the luxury of spacing out, doing my own thing, though I had to admit that my second long-haul flight from Madrid to Cuba felt shorter because of my conversations with Zhi Rong. 
My first flight was via Norwegian Air, a 13-hour flight to London. It exceeded my expectations, with the legroom and the touchscreen movies available considering it was a budget flight. I watched Wonder and the Suffragettes, read a little and dozed off accordingly. 
I walked through the gates of London, felt a little nostalgic at the black-and-yellow signs that brought me back to my days as a student in Gatwick, had a meal-deal and waited for my London-Madrid connecting flight. 
It was midnight in Madrid by then. I washed my hair in the toilet, cleaned up and slept for awhile, before my next Madrid – Amsterdam flight at 6am. No regrets for such an arrangement – it just made time-and-cost-sense. It didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable either. I think I have become accustomed to the discomfort of my travelling style. The blanket I brought was a huge blessing, though. 
Using the toilet in Amsterdam’s airport brought back some memories. I thought of buying some stroopwaffles – just because I liked the idea that I could buy a meal-deal from London, and then something Dutch a couple of hours later, this connecting-flight thing is kind of fun – but then decided not to because I was rather late. The queue was long, but I made it in. On time!
I was seated next to a Chinese guy, probably the only other Chinese person on my flight – they probably thought we were related, hence the arrangement of the seating, I surmised. I forgot what a full-fledge flight does. There was so much food, even ice-cream, dessert. It’s great that I have such low expectations, I am constantly pleasantly surprised by better services. Hahahaha. 
From Zhi Rong I learnt about the subtle differences in our Chinese culture – they don’t give oranges during CNY, working adults (rather than married) gave angpows, their school system is pretty crazy, with cram schools from 7-10pm. That’s really 3 or 4 hours a day of freedom, and even Saturday they have these schools. He seemed nonchalant as he spoke about cheating attempts. Really nonchalant, used to this culture that seemed to be tagged to the large population. 
It’s interesting though, that he got a university scholarship to study Spanish for 4 years in Havana, as sponsored by the Chinese government due to the China-Cuba relations. Now he works as a business manager with partners all around Central and Latin America. 
I really enjoyed using my Chinese, though. I guess as I’ve learnt Spanish I’ve also wondered if I’m able to converse well in my second language, and this affirms me that I can do it, I can converse in my second language sufficiently. 

 

Havana is hotter than I thought, and humid. 

Some pictures to begin this series:

 

 

With each place I go, I carry with me an appreciation of an aspect of my life. In Tonle Sap it was the stretch of land to run on; in Albania it was the fuss-free visa waivers we got. In Iran it was the freedom of letting down my hair, and in Botswana it was the realisation that I did not need to have that creeping sense of fear when I cut my hand. In Cuba, it was the ease of wifi I’ve come to take for granted. It struck me when I was walking past all these people crowded in the park, staring at their screens. More significantly, it was seeing this lady, lying down with her head on a seat bench, staring into a man – I assume someone she loved – skyping him, that it made me realise how they had to go out into the park in order to speak to someone far away. Me? I had my air-con (if I wanted) room, the privacy and comfort of my space. Not coming out in this humidity just to communicate. 

coco taxi

Overall expenses in general: (2 weeks – 2ksgd inclu. flight)

3cuc on taxi

Dinner ytd 2cuc and 25 pesos

Water 70 cents cuc



Viazul 17 cuc



Drink – 10 pesos

The bread thing starts with c with guava filling – 2 pesos

Postcard 1.5 cuc



Ice cream 5 pesos

Cups and statue 6cuc total

Museum 8cuc



Dinner 7.80 cuc



5 cuc taxi for viazul



Peso pizza and drink 20 pesos

Wifi 3cuc

Viazul 32cuc



Tour Vinales 15cuc

Fanta orange 1.50 cuc

Ice cream 0.10cuc

Sandwich breakfast 15pesos



Dinner – bread and 2guayaba 25cup

Breakkie – 25pesos

Cuevo del Indio 5cucs

Ice cream 1.2 pesos

Lunch – 6.60cucs



Bananas – 50 cents cuc

6cuc for casa

Lunch 20 pesos

Postcard 1.50 cuc

Water – 1.25 cuc

6cuc for bus to santa clara



Breakfast – 18 pesos

Tip – 40 pesos

Entrance and laguna – 10 cuc and2 cuc for bus

Ice cream – 1.75 cuc

Lunchner – 20 pesos

10cuc accom



11cuc accom and brekkie

8cuc bus to Trinidad

1 cuc bicycle to viazul station

20 pesos for food, 15 pesos for drinks etc



Food – 11 pesos (8 pesos bread with egg and ham and cheese, fruit juice 3 pesos)

Souvenirs – 11cuc + 4 cuc = 15 cuc



Tmr dinner – 5 cuc



30 pesos for street food

25 cuc for viazul to habana



Movie ticket for 2 pesos

Hamel Hostel 5.25 cuc

Ice cream 2.50 cuc

Ice cream 0.40 cuc



Taxi to airport 20cuc