Day 7 - Saturday, December 4, 1999

I feel a lot better now. Some bread and a lot of fruit will do for breakfast. When I leave the hotel to make a phone call I notice a Bi-Ci taxi driver coming up to me from the other side of the street. The dollar-hungry blue ETECSA phone provides me with a direct line to Holland and when I put down the handset I pretend to start walking all the way to the city center. The taxi driver will take me there for two dollars. I know from my Lonely Planet guide what the distance is and think it's a fair price. This particular taxi happens to be equipped with a car radio and loudspeakers. Salsa music along the Carretera Central.

The Banco de Crédito y Comercio cashes my travellers' cheque without any problem, but finding República - the main street - from there is somewhat harder due to the confusing street pattern in Camagüey's city center. My quest for Martí poetry ends successfully when I manage to buy a copy of Poesía Completa at Librería Viet-Nam on República.

Cuban inventityMiguel invites me to go and see a casa particular. I met him a couple of minutes ago and although I know he is a hustler trying to talk me into staying there, I'm curious what the place looks like. A girl with remarkable green eyes shows me around and the room is very nice and clean indeed, with a double bed, a separate shower, and any other service available. When we walk back to República Miguel tells me that Dutch guys prefer mulatto girls, because they are muy caliente. Well, well...

Marco, Miguel's buddy, joins us when we walk to the marketplace that is on the west bank of the Río Hatibonico. The stalls are loaded with fruit like bananas, oranges, pineapples, frutas bombas and many more.Pool of darknessTamale On our way back we do a sightseeing tour through the city. Amazing how confusing these streets are! We leave the fruit at the small apartment where Marco lives with his parents and walk on to El Ferro, a peso bar near the railway station. Some men are shooting pool, which is quite a challenge considering that the only light in the bar is the daylight shining through the windows. We have a couple of beers and I talk awhile with a man selling tamale. His parents are from Jamaica, which explains why he speaks English quite well. Although I am starting to pick up on the Spanish language and trying my best to bother Cubans with it, fluency in Spanish is a desirable goal for me at this moment.

His finest hour #2. I am about to enter the hotel when a seven or eight-year-old boy approaches me and asks me for a bolí. Up until now my experience has been that kids who ask for pens or other things start off by asking you where you are from, how long you've been in Cuba, whether you like the country et cetera. They quickly become a nuisance and you are left with a feeling that the only reason you have come to Cuba is to make up for the lack of supply of goods to the people. This one just tells me he would like to have a pen for school. I ask him why and as I understand it's a pain just getting the damn things. The look in his eyes is different from all the other kids I've seen and since I came to Cuba prepared I take a pen from my backpack and give it to him. I am truly amazed when he reaches into his pocket and gives me a one peso coin. This little boy is one of the people that impressed me most during my stay in Cuba. At his young age he understands that getting things you want is really a two-way process. Yes, I could give you something you want, but what do I get in return? What's in it for me? It's not a matter of returning something of equal value. It's a matter of being willing to return.