Day 2 - Monday, November 29, 1999

No hay jamón, the waitress says. Oh well, just leave out the ham and make it a bocadito con queso instead. One minute later she returns to my table, apparently after having checked the most recent status of the Pernik restaurant's food supply. Hay jamón... The orange juice is fresh and the café cubano is what it's supposed to be: a highly concentrated sweet shot of cafeine. I can't help but noticing that the restaurant seems a tad overstaffed with eight or nine people waiting on the same number of guests.

I walk a couple of hundred meters beyond the rear side of the baseball stadium towards some kind of sports facility, which seems to be part of Holguín university. I sit down on the stairs that lead to a swimming pool and watch the people go by. Cyclists, a truck loaded with people, more cyclists, people walking. Most of them look well-dressed, nicely dressed. A worn-down Kamaz truck stops and someone gets out. Across the street a couple of guys are playing a game of field hockey.

It's about nine o'clock when I return to the hotel to buy some mineral water. I strap on my daypack and when I start walking in the direction of the city center a guy on a Bi-Ci taxi offers to take me there. No thanks, caminar me gusta. I am surprised that he accepts my refusal just like that.

Avenida de los Libertadores is crowded with people. It must be a breeze for the money changers to pick me out with my backpack, my white skin and my 1.83 meters. One woman approaches me with a handful of bank notes. I tell her I'm not interested and she too accepts this without arguing.

Homebrew box cameraRicardo tells me he's an English teacher. Maybe, I don't know. Says he knows a nice paladar where I can have fish and shrimps. He also knows of a casa particular, in case I'm interested. At the moment he's out of a job and he tries to earn some extra money by guiding tourists across Holguín. Free of charge, but if they want to pay some money then he welcomes this of course. I like the honesty of this man and I decide to walk along and let him show me around. We talk about things to see, about Cuban history, the current situation in Cuba, and the shortage of all kinds of goods. He shows me peso shops and dollar shops. In Calle Manduley about 40 people are waiting in line for the Cadeca office to change their pesos; 21 pesos to the dollar.

Sonia, Ricardo's wife, is at home when we come in. Her family belonged to the 'haves' in pre-revolution days. Time seems to have come to a halt in this house. Cracks in the walls, worn furniture, blinds that haven't seen fresh paint for a long, long time. It is clean, though. While we talk I notice something peculiar about these people; I know that they have very little money to spend and that they even have a hard time getting together their food every month but somehow they manage to keep their dignity under it all. It is in the way they talk, the way they look...hard to tell exactly.

1961 Ford ThunderbirdAt the foot of the Loma de la Cruz; rain cloud overheadRicardo and I leave for the city center again. Somewhere down Calle Frexes a sign on a 1961 T-Bird indicates that the car is for sale. We visit the modest museum in the house where Gen. Calixto García was born and then head for the Loma de la Cruz. My reward for climbing up the 460 steps that lead to the top of the hill consists of three kids asking me for a dollar. I try to explain to them that I have a problem with this. 'Yes, you're right, to me one dollar is nothing, but I have earned this dollar by working for it.' I ask them to pose for a picture and then give them the dollar, but I'm not really satisfied with the situation.

The sun sets as we climb down the stairs. By the time we have reached Parque Calixto García it is dark. The streets are only scarcely lit, but the sidewalks are crowded with people. Someone's hand touches my upper arm. I stop and turn around to see a girl two meters behind me, looking at me. Lo siento, bebe, that's not what I've come to Cuba for.