Day 9 - Monday, December 6, 1999

¿Tienes novia?, Diana asks with a naughty look in her eyes. I guess it's the zeal with which she había la botella that made me pull over. Now, you must know that up until this day I have given people a lift whenever I considered it safe and suitable. Old people, a woman carrying a bag with groceries. A mother and her child - ten to one says they're on their way to a hospital. But I have avoided taking along girls who were standing by the side of the road by themselves, for the sake of their reputation, mine, and that of male tourists driving around in cars in general...

Anyway, this one in her bright white clothes tricked me into it. She and another girl got in and we spoke very little for the first few kilometers. At some moment curiosity gets the better of shyness and they start asking questions like what country I am from, how long I have been in Cuba, if I like it here. The other girl gets out at an agricultural school and Diana and I move on towards Trinidad. Diana tells me she had been studying computer science for two years when she flunked a test and had to leave college. She attends a catering school now and works as a waitress in hotel restaurants for two days a week. She dislikes her job very much but has no choice.

Cuba's beautySantería templeHaving experienced the overwhelming view from the Mirador de la Loma del Puerto we drive into Trinidad and park the car on the cobblestones of Calle Maceo. As I plan to climb the huge stairs that lead to the Museo Romántico Diana tells me that as a Cuban she is not allowed to go along with me and that she will be sent back by the police officer who is standing halfway. I decide to put this ridiculous rule to the test and convince her to come along. Nothing surprises me more than when she herself manages to talk the officer into letting her pass, leaving the man with a 'I know it sucks, but hey, I'm just following orders' kind of look on his face.

We spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon sitting in the shade, discussing every subject that comes to mind. Understanding her is not so difficult for me, but talking to her is a task in itself, since it all comes down to the little Spanish I speak. LP's Latin American Spanish phrasebook proves invaluable.

It's about two in the afternoon when time has come for Diana to go to school. I offer to walk her there, but she gently refuses. She explains that if her schoolmates see me with her, they will undoubtedly think she's become a jinetera...

Ivory towerSometimes it pays off not to follow the beaten track. On my way back to Sancti Spíritus I can see the watchtower of the Manaca Iznaga on my left.Best house on the block... Instead of parking the car in the yard and then entering the estate house I decide to leave the car next to the railway station. I walk up the sloping road and turn right in front of the main gate to find myself end up in a depressing barrio. Judging by the surroundings and the state of the houses, I cannot help but conclude that the people who live here, at the foot of the watchtower, do not really exist (the Cuban government takes the stand that there are no poor people in Cuba). I feel too embarrassed to take any pictures of the people.

The boy who offered to attend to my car points me to another hacienda, somewhat further inland. He shows me around and introduces me to a girl who sits on the porch. She is an engineer in agriculture. As the boy and me walk down the garden he asks me whether I like her. In all honesty I tell him that she looks really nice upon which he says that I can have her. Gets kind of annoying when you're not after it and when it's the zillionth time you are being made such an offer so I tell him my (imaginary) girl friend back home would not approve of this.

Instead we visit the house where he lives with his mother and sister; his father died a couple of years ago in a car accident. In the backyard is a pig in a one-and-a-half by one-and-a-half meter sty. It is being fattened to serve as their Christmas meal. Looking at the pig I wish it Feliz Navidad. My tour guide apparently relates to my sense of humor as he surprises me with a hi-five. He climbs up a palm tree to tear down some coconuts. An uncle of his, who is around to help paint the house, cuts them open with a machete. The milk is refreshing as ever.

We visit the local Santería temple and my guide invites me to attend a ceremony in honor of Santa Barbara, which will take place on December 17th. We move on into a caña field. I have already had the pleasant experience of a glass of guarapo, but here I get to know another way of consuming Cuba's number one agricultural product. When cut squarely to remove the tough outer part of the stem, it is remarkably easy to bite off a piece of the sugar cane and chew on it to enjoy the sweet sap that is inside. What remains is a bunch of fibers that you're supposed to just spit out.

It is dark when I reach Sancti Spíritus. This combined with the lack of road signs is sufficient for me to overlook the junction with the circunvalación . By the time I cross the Río Yayabo I have regained my sense of direction - for a minute or two. I guess I will never know the exact route I followed through the city back to Zaza, but it is my strong belief that I managed to boldly go where no man in a rental car has gone before.