Saturday, 6 August 2016

In which we mostly hire a car

When I wake on Saturday and open the little window in our full height shutters, I realise that the sun rises directly in line with the street outside, so I watch that and take some photos. We had been told to meet at the car hire office at the Hotel Sevilla at 9am so we leave at 8.30; Alex stays behind. As we walk into the hotel the Pink Panther theme greets us -there’s music everywhere in Havana but not usually this surreal.

The car hire office is in a shopping gallery attached to the hotel and our rep is already there. She explains that the manager has not yet arrived and will be another hour, so on her advice we walk back to the street between Hotel Inglaterra and the theatre where there are many local shops. The supermarkets have a limited but eclectic range of goods on offer priced in both CUCs and MN. 1 CUC is worth approximately a US dollar and 23 MN pesos.

We pass a barbers and Simon decides to have a haircut; we agree on a trim for CUC5 and the barber turns on the TV so he can watch the Olympics. The haircut was thorough but speedy, including a sideburn trim with the cutthroat razor. We were there just long enough to watch the Cuban gymnast do much less well than the Canadian. Alex has forgotten his comb so I ask the barber where I can buy one; he says he doesn’t know. You have to buy what’s available here, in anticipation of needing it later, rather than when you actually need it; the barber’s comb has seen much better days.

We return to the car hire office and the boss still hasn’t arrived; we buy some postcards and go to a pleasant terrace bar in the hotel to write them. The obligatory live band entertains us and eventually the rep returns to say she needs to go back to the office and can we please stay where we are so the car hire staff know where to find us. We exchange numbers and agree to text in case of developments. At midday (3 hours in!) she’s back to say that the manager won’t be coming and that she has put plan B in motion; we are to get on with our day and she’ll call when she has news. I had begun to suspect that, this being Saturday and the car hire company being government run, the manager probably had better plans, so this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Back at the casa Alex remarks on how long we have been and we confess we still have no car.  We’ve also had no lunch yet, but I had seen some street food places opposite the Capitol which is not far off our route, so we agree to eat there on the way. I pop out to post some postcards and Simon gets the call while I’m out so I rush back and we set off; the places I saw yesterday selling roast pork rolls and pollo con arroz today only have hamburgers so we skip that and go straight to the car hire office. The news is all good – we’ve been upgraded, we can leave the car at our hotel in Cayo Coco rather than an adjacent one and both the CDW and the drop-off fee were less than we’d been quoted. We have an orangey-red Peugeot and all we have to do now is fill it with fuel and get to our assigned parking place next to the Hotel Raquel in the old town.
We’re directed to a filling station along the Malecon but when we get there it’s closed. They direct us to another 2km away; the fuel warning light is already on so this is somewhat stressful. We get there and successfully fill the tank; now the challenge is to get back to the old town as Simon’s GPS doesn’t understand the one-way system. We know we need to get to Calle Cuba but it’s one way and we end up on the wrong side of the pedestrianised old town. Even the local police we stop and ask don’t really know the way, but finally we get to the right end of Calle Cuba; as we drive along it to the car park I spot a decapitated chicken on a doorstep.  We leave the car and pay CUC 5 for one day’s parking; it’s a short walk back to the casa where we make jam and cheese rolls from leftover breakfast ingredients Ines has left for the benefit of Alex. It's past 4 and our dinner reservation is for 6pm.
The boys have a quick game of crib while I have a shower then we leave for Dona Eunomia’s for dinner. We arrive a little early so I photograph the cathedral in the evening light with fewer tourists. We make the mistake of ordering starters (given that we had lunch only a couple of hours ago) so we can’t finish our main courses, but the food is good and reasonably priced. Three young guys are singing, playing the guitar and percussion, it’s less intrusive than the music at other places we’ve eaten and I buy a CD. We reserve a table for our final night in Havana.
Before going back to the casa we stop at the Hotel Conde de Villanueva for a nightcap; it has a pleasant terrace with peacocks but the previous guests’ drinks haven’t been cleared away and there is peacock poo everywhere. We manage to order drinks but it takes ages to get the bill as the staff are more interested in making crude overtures to the female staff. When we get back to our casa there’s a terrific thunderstorm, but we’re too tired to go out and watch it.

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