Day 4 - Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Yesterday morning the noise of tens of birds in the backyard of the Pernik woke me up, today it's a rain shower at 6 o'clock. Even after the rain has stopped the sky still looks cloudy. I have a light breakfast and then walk over to the reception desk to try to cash a travellers' cheque, just for the fun of it - see how long it takes. While I am waiting for the cash to arrive a beautiful girl in what seems to be a pink wedding dress walks in, followed by a photographer. My initial thought is that they have chosen the Pernik lounge for a wedding shoot. But where did the groom go? As the girl climbs on tables and couches to have her picture taken I vaguely remember something about a common ritual when Cuban girls turn 15 and I guess this might have to do with it...

One brake HPI drive past Holguín university on the way to Guardalavaca. I thought it would be a nice idea to compare this tourist-ridden piece of Cuba with Playa Caletones, but while I am on my way I change my mind. After all, I kind of know what to expect and I will be visiting Varadero - something similar - in two weeks anyway. As I head back for Holguín I pull over to let in some people who hacen la botella. One of them finds a cap next to the front seat. It's Ricardo's cap and I decide to walk over to his house and return it to him right away.

One block beyond the bus terminal a rain shower forces me to seek cover. A man addresses me. Yes, I am travelling Cuba on my own. So you have a casa particular in the offering. Interesting, thank you, but I am staying at the Pernik. No, thanks, no cigars. No chica bonita either. Yes, I know they are muy bonita. Pardon me? They do not care whether or not I happen to be good looking? Aha. Well, thanks a lot...

Ricardo is not really surprised to see me return as he was having second thoughts about my plan to go to Guardalavaca when he saw the weather this morning. He appreciates it when I give him back his cap, though. We start talking about Cuban customs and traditions, the Spanish language, religion, politics, music. The way Ricardo visualizes a babalao performing a Santería ceremony is very convincing and very, very funny. From what he tells me I get the idea that Catholics in Cuba respect the Afro-Cuban religions but prefer not to get involved.

Outdoor facilitiesTime flies. I learn that Beny Moré is Ricardo's all time favorite Cuban musician. El Bárbaro del Ritmo must have been quite a lively performer, blessed with an excellent singing voice. I must admit I have never heard of the man before, and so Ricardo suggests that we go out and try to find some cassette tapes. It takes us about half an hour of asking people and going in and out of peso and dollar shops located around Parque Calixto García before we learn that there must be a girl selling tapes in front of the Casa de la Trova. Alas, she's not there but she will be tomorrow.

As we return to the house Sonia and Ricardo invite me to have dinner with them and I accept gladly. Ricardo goes out to buy tamale, which tastes deliciously. Later that evening I have one of my finest hours in Cuba when I see Ricardo and Sonia dance to a bolero son in an almost surrealist setting of the living room with worn furniture, cracks in the walls and faded paint on the woodwork, in the light of one bulb and a tube light.