Leaving the island

I didn’t want to leave Cuba again with that same “Get me the hell outta here” feeling… It was a lot better this time but still I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I left. It was a relief but at the same time a strange feeling. I felt good because I COULD leave but bad because 11 million Cubans are stuck there and sense of shame that I lived for 9 days like a king (relative to the rest of the population) and still that drove me crazy!

People in Cuba are REALLY, REALLY poor. The more I spoke to the locals, the more I realised how bad the situation is. Doctors make 40 CUC a month, which is absurd enough but a lot of other people working regular jobs make only 10 CUC a month. Prices in Cuba are cheaper but they’re not THAT cheap… Surviving on 10 CUC a month in Havana is like trying to survive on $100 a month in Sydney. It’s no wonder that everyone is out on the streets hustling.

Cuba has a tourism fuelled economy. There are other industries… Clearly the beer and rum industry is huge… But at times it seems that tourism is the ONLY money spinner and the heat is really on the tourists to support the economy. If you’re the type of person who has a heart in is sensitive to the needs of others, it’s hard not to get affected by it all. One night I gave a guy a few CUCs (in Cuba they pronounce it like “cook”) to buy some food… I bumped into him the next night and he was gushing gratitude because I had done this. I was happy that I could help in a very small way but it makes me sad to think that these people are so desperate that they have to beg strangers for their daily food or to buy them a beer or water or whatever. It’s hard to put it in words but it’s saddening.

I was happy that I could help the people I came across in a small way but at the same time I would be lying if I said it didn’t drive me crazy. It’s not about the money… The money I gave away has no affect on me whatsoever but just to have all these desperate people relentlessly hounding you for something is tough. But of course, it’s tougher for them.

Anyway, finally it was time to leave the island. I had already lined up Lisi’s husband, Ronaldo to take me to the airport. He’s is a nice guy… He also doesn’t have a regular job but is also hustling for work. The flight was in the afternoon, I had packed the night before and I had just the right amount of money for transport and some food and water at the airport, so no dramas there. I just had to wait for Alejandro and Karmin to give them back the keys. They didn’t show up in the end… They sent Karmin’s mother Milagros instead. Milagros means “miracles” in English but the only miracle there is that no-one has ever slapped her (maybe they have?) because she’s a bit of an old grouch. It turns out it’s her apartment.

Ronaldo is not a licensed cab driver… Obviously! I don’t know exactly what the law is there but it seems I couldn’t be seen handing him cash at the airport as I was getting out of his car, so Lisi kept drilling me all morning, “Don’t forget to pay Ronaldo the money BEFORE you get to the airport!” Sure no problem. We were standing out the front waiting for him to come by with the classic American car when Lisi says to me AGAIN, “Don’t forget to pay Ronaldo BEFORE you get to the airport”… So I thought I’d give her the money there and then. “Here it is.” I gave her 30 CUC … 25 CUC is what a taxi would cost plus 5 CUC tip. Suddenly something got lost in translation and she thought it was a personal tip for her. She hugs me and gushes, “Gracias mi amor. Te amo!… Now don’t forget to pay Ronaldo for the transport BEFORE you get to the airport.” Oh Dios! And then Ronaldo arrived with the car. The money wasn’t a problem except that it was all the money that I had and now I had no money to pay Ronaldo for the ride to the airport.

I got in the car and asked Ronaldo to stop at the ATM. There are very few ATMs in Havana but luckily there was one just round the corner from the apartment. There are two machines there… I used it twice and walked past it a few times. Both machines were always functioning and although they were constantly in use there was never more than about one or two people waiting. Of course in situations like this, Murphy’s law always applies. We got there and one machine was out of order and there was a queue for the other one so long it was like Leningrad in the eighties. I begged some of the women to let me queue jump… They were ok with it so I went to use the machine. Just as I’m about to insert my card into the slot a completely psychotic Cuban woman jumps out of the queue and starts screaming hysterically like I had just raped her daughter or something…. “THER’S A QUEUE AND YOU GET TO THE END OF IT”. A bit of a struggle ensued …. I exchanged knowing looks with all the other woman. You know, that look that says, “She’s psycho, right?” Anyway, we let her use the machine and then I used it after her

Back in the car, I paid Ronaldo the money and we were off. Normally it takes about 20 minutes to get to the airport but it took him close to an hour. I don’t know if he was trying to dodge the police or wanted to do a lap of honour but it seems like we drove around most of the island before we go to the airport. Eventually we did get there but time was a little tight now.

I saw the Avianca sign in the distance as I entered the departures area. I rushed up… It was a beacon guiding me to the promised land… I felt like I had been wandering the wilderness for forty days and forty nights and suddenly here was my oasis. It was the most beautiful sight ever. I checked in and then it was off to immigration control.

The scene is Immigration was crowded and chaotic, to say the least. There was an airbus load of hysterical Russian women, running late for their flight Aeroflot flight to Moscow screaming, “Time! Time! Time!” It wasn’t a pretty sight and there must have been a sale on home hair perm solution in Moscow before their trip to Cuba. I like to think of myself as an extremely non-judgemental and unprejudiced individual but the truth is that I am a bit judgemental and prejudiced. Had it been any other nationality wanting to queue jump I wouldn’t have had an issue. Even though I had been in exactly the same situation only an hour beforehand, I couldn’t help but pretend that I didn’t understand what these Russian women were carrying on about and made it a bit difficult for them to get through

All’s well that end’s well… We all made it for our flights. I was the last person to board mine and it was one of those phot finish boardings… I raced up to the gate and straight away they called out, “Are you Martin Koskins?” Anyway, I was through and on my way to the promised land.

It was a long and tiring day but once we touched down in Colombia it was smooth sailing. Colombian people are so nice and even airport staff are really nice and helpful. I’m staying in a gorgeous little cul-de-sac in El Poblado, Medellin just five minutes stroll from Parque Lleras. It feels like Paradise! I never want to leave.

The view from my room…


Last day in Havana

My last day in Cuba and I finally feel 100%… Thank God!

Meanwhile, I have a bin full of beans, rice and various meats and a kitchen full of bugs and flies buzzing around said beans, rice and various meats, me scouting around the streets like a criminal trying to find somewhere to safely dump the evidence and wondering how I got myself into this stupid situation. I think it may have all started with the soup… But anyway, “all’s well that end’s well”. The rice and bean nightmare is over for now.

Today was a great day… I was like a prisoner being released from my toilet prison. I feel sorry for the cleaning lady who has to clean up after four days of my diarrhoea.

I went and met the lovely Alejandro and Karmin and had a chat to them… Then, I just walked around the city, people watching, having some mindful moments and sitting in cafes drinking Mojitos (strictly NO ICE though… But I’ve got to say, warm Mojitos are pretty foul) and listening to the bands playing. At first I dismissed them all as being too touristic. Yes, they are put on especially for the tourists and it’s mostly tourists who go and listen but that doesn’t make them any less talented or any less amazing. The music was fantastic (well worth the diarrhoea) and seems to come so naturally and effortlessly for them.. It got me thinking about Australia and what we’ve got for talent… X Factor and the Minogue sisters??

It’s my second time in Havana so I knew exactly what to expect, and admittedly the biggest problem this time was just the illness but nevertheless I had a moment today thinking about the past 9 days and I thought if I had stayed home and gone to work for 9 days straight and painted the outside of the house in my spare time, then that would have been easier and far more relaxing! But anyway, it’s all about experiencing life… And even if it’s a bad experience, it’s all good because it makes you appreciate so much more what you have at home and how blessed you truly are.



Another day, another toilet

It’s Day 4 since the diarrhoea started. The medicine is working and I’m definitely getting better. Although it’s going frustratingly slowly and between the diarrhoea and the side effects of the antibiotics, I feel pretty crap! The last three days have been spent in my apartment just going between the bed and the toilet or sitting on the balcony staring out to the sky and sea. I’m starting to go a little bit “loco”.

The last two nights I managed to get out of the apartment for a bit… But the furthest I can go and still be within safe sprinting distance of a decent toilet is Cafe Bim Bom at the end of my street on the next block. Despite the name “cafe”, it doesn’t actually serve any coffee, only beer, rum and soft drinks. I saw a whole lot of people sucking on these little 200 ml tetra packs and I thought, “How cute, they’re all drinking juice”…. Turns out it’s rum. The other side of the road is Hustler Central and Cafe Bim Bom is where they come to drink. Across the road on the Malecon Sea Wall (the world’s longest sofa) again, is the same scene but feels slightly less desperate. 

Hustler Central by day with the Hotel Nacional in the background… It’s a vastly different scene by night.

Cafe Bim Bom by day…   

 Again, a vastly different scene at night.

The Malecon by night…

I spent the last two nights sitting in Cafe Bim Bom drinking water and chatting. As a single non-Cuban sitting there by yourself, you’re pretty much a freak magnet. The scene there runs the range from low-life drunk and desperate to freak show (we’re talking face tattoos) to regular decent people who are just doing a job to support their families. Some of them have their sales pitch firmly set on “repeat” while others, when they realise you’re not interested in their goods and services, will drop the act and chat about their families and the sorry state of the economy. Some have day jobs… I met one person who worked in a factory making sanitary pads for women by day and hustler by night… I thought that was pretty funny! Others don’t have any other job and don’t see the point. “If I doctor only makes 40 CUC in a month, what’s the point in working?” It’s really sad that a government degrades it’s people to the point where being a street hustler is a viable career option.

Anyway, hanging out in Cafe Bim Bom by night can best be described as a “character building exercise”

Meanwhile, Lisi keeps trucking in loads of fried rice, beans, lentils, pork and chicken. She doesn’t want to accept the reality of my situation that as nice as her food is, I just can’t eat it in my current situation. I tried to explain in my bad Spanish that I come from a long line of eaters so if I turn down food it’s because there’s something seriously wrong. I tried to educate her on the “less is more” approach so for at least two meals she made soup… But somehow she still managed to cram half an animal and a sack of potatoes and carrots in each bowl. The taste is very good… It’s mum’s classic hearty home cooking… Just not appropriate at this time. 

I think she is a genuinely very kind person but a large part of it is self serving. It’s her business and I’m her little cash cow. I’ve been agonising over what to do about this situation. I hate wasting food but I just can’t eat it. It’s too much and too heavy. Last night I ate her fried rice, beans and chicken and was on the toilet all night. This morning it was fried rice with lentils, fried pork and fried onions. I know she has a family to support and people are very poor here so I thought about giving her money NOT to bring me food, but that would just be too rude.

Cubans generally are into really ginormous portions of food. Even when you go to a restaurant, one serving of food in any other part of the world would easily serve a family of four. I guess it comes from being poor and not knowing if and when you’ll get the next meal. One person told me that because most Cubans can’t afford to go to a restaurant very often, that when they do go they want to feel that they’re getting their money’s worth. I would have thought half the portion at half the price would be the way to go because it’s impossible to eat that much food comfortably in one sitting.

So anyway, regarding Lisi, I decided that the best solution in order to maintain “face” with her, support her family, preserve my sanity and stomach, was to simply accept the food, pay her the money, toss it in the bin, return the plates an hour later with a big smile on my face and say, “Delicioso!!!!! Estoy llenisimo!!!” I hang my head in shame that I’m doing it and it’s not something I would do under normal circumstances but… desperate times call for desperate measures. I just need to find somewhere to dump the evidence because the lady who cleans the apartment also lives in the building and I’m sure she’ll blab to Lisi if she discovers it. 

Diarrhoea and the Cuban doctor

Diarrhoea is the worst thing in the world. With the flu, you feel bad but at least you can still do stuff. With diarrhoea you feel bad AND you can’t go anywhere or do anything. You just spend all your time on the toilet.  

The weekend started off promisingly. I went to a club called Cafe Cantante. Amongst other things, they had two Miami based Cuban musical acts performing, Arlenis and Jaymaly. The Latin American film festival is on at the moment so on account of that, there are more events than usual on in the city. There were hoards and hoards of people and a huge long line waiting to get into the club. Someone told me if a did the “golden handshake” with the bouncer I could skip the queue, which of course I did. I slipped him a fiver and I was in! When I got inside though, there was virtually no-one in there. I’m sure they intentionally make people wait for a long time to try and extort as many bribes as possible from wannabe queue jumpers. Anyway, eventually everyone came in and it was packed and seemed like it was going to be a good night. And then it happened… The dreaded diarrhoea struck!

I could feel the pangs in my stomach so I went to the toilet. Cuban night club toilets are on par with Mexican toilets… except that at least these ones flushed! Thank God for small mercies. Nevertheless, there was no seat, no toilet paper and the door wouldn’t close. You can imagine the scene but let’s just say me in that toilet was NOT a pretty sight. The show was amazing though and worth the discomfort and embarrassment of the diarrhoea. I stuck it out in the club till about 3 a.m. and then went home. From there on, things got steadily worse.

Once at home, it really kicked in big time. It was the worst diarrhoea that I’ve had since I was in Bukhara (I’ll pause for a minute so you can Wikipedia that)… the type where you literally spend every minute on the toilet and you dehydrate so rapidly that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to replace the fluids fast enough. Within a couple of hours my legs were all cramped, I had heart palpitations and I could barely get up out of the bed. I’ve been in that situation before so I knew I needed a doctor and medication. I called Alejandro and Karmin but they were reluctant to take me to a doctor because they didn’t want me to have to spend any money. I called another acquaintance I’ve befriended here, he came round and Lisi also came around with a big tray of meat stew, beans and rice.  

It seems a universal thing in this situation, that suddenly everyone is an expert on the topic and they know better than you or better than any doctor. They were arguing over whose home remedy was the best. Roberto was convinced that it was only the heat and that I would feel better if I only ate Lisi’s meat, beans and rice. Lisi was convinced that if I drank apple juice, my diarrhoea would go away. And they were becoming increasing annoyed that I didn’t have faith in their remedies and kept insisting that I needed medication. It’s frustrating in that situation when people are acting like egotistical dickheads…. If you become annoyed or frustrated then you are immediately the bad one. “Why are you so stubborn????” demanded Lisi. “Foreigners are so fragile!!!” exclaimed Roberto sarcastically with a big eye roll. So I caved in and went off to the shop to buy some pasteurised, processed, reconstituted from 50% apple pulp, sugar and preservative added, Cuban apple juice secure in the knowledge that now I would be cured. Lisi left and came back an hour later to check on her apple juice remedy.

I was becoming so desperate that I contemplated hiring the services of a prostitute just so they could take me to a doctor. On the next block down from my place, on the corner of Calle Infanta and Avenida 23, is “Hustler Central”. I always stop and have a chat to some of them. While some look obviously dodgy, a lot of them are decent people just trying to get by and support their families.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that though. Long story short, I got rid of Roberto because he was no help at all and finally managed to convince Lisi that I really DID need a doctor. In ten minutes Ronaldo, Lisi’s husband, had the 1950’s classic American car ready and we were off to the emergency department of the local hospital. My last and only experience with a socialist hospital was visiting Martin Greste’s mother in hospital in Riga in the late eighties and that was pretty confronting to say the least. So I didn’t hold much hope.

Once we arrived though, I was pleasantly surprised. The reception, the consultation rooms and pharmacy were all pretty nice and it could have been any doctor’s office anywhere in the world. There were a few people there ahead of me so we had to wait. While we were still waiting, Lisi turns to me and asks, “Martin, how do you feel now?” … The thing is, I was sitting in a comfortable chair in an air conditioned room… I was feeling calm because I was in the doctor’s office and knew I was going to get help soon… I was sick but I wasn’t terminally ill or had been run over by a bus… I wasn’t going to sit there and continually complain about my situation so I replied, “I feel OK”. She quickly yells out, “I told you the apple juice would work and we’re just wasting our time here.” Anyway, after about an hour’s wait and a lot of eye rolling and “O Dios” from Lisi, I got to see the doctor.

In Cuba doctors are paid very low, about 40 CUC a month which is what a lot of people in the developed world get paid for an hour or two’s work. Anyone working in the tourist industry makes easily about 20, 30 or 40 times more than a doctor and this guy’s attitude reflected this situation. Although to be fair, I’ve encountered doctors in Australia who are paid a lot of money and have been total a-holes. He did a quick examination and then sent me off to do a test for cholera. There’s no cholera in Cuba, nor have I been to any country that has cholera so for sure I needed to do a cholera test in case I had picked it up in one of the countries I had been to that doesn’t have cholera. I think it was just so they could charge me for another service and they probably didn’t record it either so they could just pocket the money. But before I could do my “stool” sample, I had to drink some water. Why? I have absolutely no idea. I had severe diarrhoea. Doing a poo was the least my worries and it was probably water that got me into this situation anyway. I think it’s just a form of socialist sport. “You can buy some bottled water at the cafeteria” said the doctor knowing full well that the cafeteria is closed. Off I went to buy some bottled water and sure enough the cafeteria was closed. I had been remarkably calm and hadn’t had any meltdowns but it was at this point I almost lost it. I already had the scenario running through my head, the one where I stand in the middle of the reception area and point to every staff member one by one and scream at the top of my lungs, “You…. You…. You…. You… And YOU are all a disgrace to the medical profession!!!!” Luckily I managed to hold it together till I got outside.

We went outside and got back into Rolando’s car and started driving around Havana looking for water. We drove around for about thirty minutes with me shouting all the while, “this is f***ing insane and that guy is a f***ing @$$hole”… “Tranquilo mi amor” says Lisi. Of course, we couldn’t find any water… Beer and rum galore but no water. Eventually we gave up and went back to the doctor and asked him if I could do my sample without drinking water first. He agreed and off I went with container in hand. Usually in Sydney when you do a urine or stool sample, the nurse gives you a brown paper bag to put it in and they’re a bit discreet about it. Not here in Cuba… I took my sample back to reception without any paper bag and the nurse promptly promenaded it around before she proudly put it on the counter on display for all to see.  

Eventually my sample came back from analysis and no, I hadn’t picked up cholera from one of the many countries I had been to that doesn’t have cholera. The doctor agreed to write me a script for some antibiotics. I got them from the pharmacy without any problem. The cost wasn’t too bad. The consultation and cholera test was 50 CUC, the medicine was about 20 CUC and I gave Lisi and Ronaldo 40 CUC for their trouble. With all commissions and exchanges etc, 1 CUC works out to be equal to about equal to 1 Euro.

I still feel terrible and haven’t been able to get out of bed except to go get some water and go to the toilet of course. Be careful what you wish for. I wanted to lose weight in Cuba and I got what I wished for!!


Day 4 in Vedado, Havana

I’m ashamed to admit that the past three days in Havana have been spent in a bit of a rum induced haze. Now that I’ve got the hang of my hood and know where to get everything (including large bottles of water) I haven”t needed to go outside of about a 200 metre radius from my place. The days have just been spent lazing around and the nights have been spent in the bars and clubs around here. One of my locals is The Cabaret Las Vegas.  It’s much better on the inside than the outside!!
I met another one the neighbours today, the lovely Lissi from apartment 406. She has a little business cooking breakfasts, lunches and dinners and doing laundry. I aksed her to prepare me some food and five minutes later (I’m not exaggerating) she was back with this feast: Three pork steaks, a kind of fried rice with lentils and what I think was pork belly, a plate of tomato and two little plantains!

Today, down on the Malecon was a free outdoor concert for a Puerto Rican singer, Olga Tanon. And that’s where I’ve been hanging today.


Getting to know Vedado

Vedado is not the main tourist area in Havana. It’s the modern city, mainly for local people and isn’t as pretty as Havana Vieja. I intentionally chose it though over Centro or Vieja because I wanted a more local experience away from the tourists. It’s also where the good nightlife is located and I figure it’s easier to walk to Centro or Vieja in the day than it is to take a cab to and from Vedado in the night. Taxi drivers are notorious the world over for gouging tourists and Habana taxi drivers are a hard-assed bunch. It would be easier to talk down a hired assassin than to negotiate a reasonable price with one of them. The only downside of staying outside of the tourist zone is that choices for food are much more limited and harder to access. All I could find in my hood yesterday was this hole in the wall selling burgers, so that’s what I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Since then I’ve discovered a few other places with a bit more choice including this place which is open 24 hours.  

Anyway, Havana Vieja is only a thirty minute walk away so it’s no big deal.

The other thing that’s difficult to buy around here is large bottles of water. There’s beer and rum coming out of your ears, but no water. The other night I had to hot foot it over to the Centro and lug back three large 2 litre bottles. The plastic bag they were in broke on the way back… and one of the bottles fell into a drain. I managed to retrieve it but it meant that I had to carry three dirty two litre bottles in my arms while power walking home. It felt like one of those challenges they do on The Biggest Loser.

One thing that is really refreshing is that because there’s limited access to the internet, there’s also limited access to Facebook and Instagram. Some people have smartphones but still there isn’t the “smartphone culture” … You know, people with the screen of their smartphone permanently attached to their face. It’s by default rather than design and I’m sure most Cubans are frustrated by the lack of progress and don’t get the same kick out of it that I do. But it’s cool… People actually talk to each other and live real lives.  

Finding out which clubs to go to the other night involved hanging out down by the Malecon and talking to the locals to get the information. It reminded me of what life used to be like before the world of internet and social media.

Getting to Havana

I checked out of the lovely Calle Havre in Colonia Juarez at 8 a.m. and taxied off to the airport for the trip to La Habana.
Overall, the whole day went smoothly without any major hiccups. I got to the airport, checked in and the flight was on time. Although, oops, Interjet did it again!! … At check in, they told me it was Gate 26 when in fact it was different gate. And oops, I did it again too… I sat at Gate 26 daydreaming for ages and wondering why there were so few people going to Havana. Eventually I realised I was at the wrong gate and had to do a mad dash round the airport looking for the right departure gate. I got there in plenty of time and everything was OK.

Arriving in Havana was fine too, although there was that “You’re not in Kansas now, Dorothy” moment.

I used to have a slightly smaller than average, bright red suitcase which was very easy to recognise as soon as it came up on the baggage carousel. There were very few suitcases that looked similar. But that suitcase broke so I replaced it with an average sized, black Samsonite suitcase with a combination lock. I realised yesterday that about 80% of all air travel passengers have exactly the same suitcase. I had tied a woven Latvian ribbon to the handle on the long side of the suitcase for easy recognition. Another thing I realised yesterday was that this is the handle that baggage handlers pick up the suitcase with. They then yank up the case and flip the base up, so the handle side ends up against the outside wall of the carousel and therefore the ribbon can’t be seen. And more often than not, they lay the suitcases face down so only the suitcase base is visible.

Picture it: Havana airport, two small baggage carousels, five international flights just arrived, baggage being randomly divided between the two carousels … and a sea of black suitcase bases!! It was three deep at the carousel and people were just grabbing at every black suitcase thinking it was theirs. After realising it wasn’t, instead of putting it back on the carousel, they just tossed it anywhere in the baggage claim area. Eventually everyone had left, every black suitcase appeared to have gone… Except for me! I had a mini freak out thinking that of all the places to loose my luggage for the first time, it had to be Cuba! Anyway, I scouted around the baggage claim area with one of the officials and eventually found it abandoned in some corner.

I changed my money and trotted off and got a cab with a guy who I think is the last surviving member of the original Buena Vista Social Club.

I told him the address: Infanta 51 – 53, on the block (and it’s a small block) between Humboldt and Espada and on the first floor is an office of Cubana Airlines with a big sign out the front that says, “Cubana”. In terms of easy addresses to find, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is very difficult and 10 is very easy, this must rank at about a 9.5. He looked completely dazed and confused but anyway, off we headed to Vedado

Soon enough we arrived at Infanta 51 – 53 and we see the big Cubana sign. “Aaah, Cubana!!” he exclaims… 

“Great, we’re here!” I thought. He gets out of the car and goes walkabout, returns 30 minutes later and asks me, “What number is your building?” “It’s 51 – 53 and I’m guessing that it could well be this building that we parked outside of that has the big Cubana sign and 51 – 53 written on it.” He goes off and checks and sure enough we were in the right place.

I went up to apartment 504 and rang the bell. Sure enough neither Alejandro nor his wife Karmin were there. Before arriving, I had gone through all the worst case scenarios and had come to terms with the fact that I might have spend at least the first night sleeping on the street. I figured the weather is warm, the rum is cheap, there are a lot of police on the streets and what’s more violent crime is virtually non-existent. I was OK with it so I didn’t panic too much that they weren’t there.

I went back downstairs and luckily enough I bumped into this lady, the incredibly gorgeous Silvia.

Silvia takes it upon herself to “man” the entrance to the building from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. everyday. No-one knows exactly why she does this but it was lucky for me because she knows everyone in the building, which apartment they live in and their phone number! As soon as I told her I was planning to stay in 504, she exclaimed, “Aaaah… La casa de Alejandro y Karmin!!” Straight away she was on the phone to Karmin and got her to come down. She lives very close by so she was there within about 10 minutes.

In true melodramatic Latin woman style, Karmin arrived crying and gushing, “Disculpa, disculpa, disculpa… I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived and you had to wait”. It wasn’t a problem at all but I was grateful for the show of tears. This has happened before so I know how it goes… I had corresponded with her husband Alejandro via e-mail and had outlined three times in great detail my arrival procedure and timing. I gave every detail of the process of getting to their apartment and how long it would take and what my ETA would be. Plus I did the same trip last year and I arrived in downtown Havana about 5 p.m. And that was the time I arrived. Karmin cries, “Alejandro is sick so I had no idea what time you were going to get here”. Presumably Alejandro’s illness is an illness of the hands and mouth and prevents him from communicating anything in any way with his wife.


She showed me around the apartment. I’ve been to Havana before so I knew what to expect. The apartment is very cheap, only about AUD45 per night for the whole place but it’s quite a come down after the Sacristy.

Anyway, I wasn’t worried at all. Karmin was lovely and I was happy to be King, safe in my own little castle with a rocking chair on the balcony and a view of the ocean.