At half past nine in the morning the sky is cloudy. I am walking near the Hospital Calixto García when a boy and a girl cross the street. The guy carries a book in his right hand and tells me he is a student in economics. He goes on by telling me that his girl friend suffers from asthma, and looking at her face I believe that he might be telling the truth. To corroborate his words he shows me an inhalator and says that the medicine she needs is available only for dollars. So if it's not too much to ask, could I just come along and buy her the medicine? My reply comes naturally, Lo siento, pero no es mi problema. They stop walking. He says he understands and wishes me all the best.
I strongly believe you have to draw a line somewhere regarding who you will help in any way. The girl suffers from something that probably affects her life in a serious way, but it is her problem. It is the problem of the Cuban government that she does not receive the medicine she needs. Antonio (whom I met in Santa Clara) of all people told me 'you must not feel responsible for solving all these problems we have in Cuba'. Antonio, who suffers from an ulcer and loses weight over it. Antonio, who definitely could use dollars to buy the medicine that he is being denied.
After a short stop at the Plaza de la Revolución to take some pictures I head for Centro Habana. There is a lot of activity going on in Av. Simon Bolívar and I am amazed that this street is not mentioned in my LP guide in any way. Highly recommended to just plunge into the crowd on the sidewalks and experience the busy street life from up close.
'Two million inhabitants in Havana. One million policemen. Don't worry about your safety', says the guy who claims he's the best guide there is in Havana. I agree with the 'don't worry' part, but I'm not in need of a tour guide, so I walk on and climb the stairs to visit the Capitolio Nacional as recommended by my passengers yesterday. My next target is the house where José Martí was born. The attendant warns me not to touch the woodwork, since the paint is still fresh. The blue color makes a nice contrast with the yellow walls. I must admit the Cuban government does its best to keep sights like this in a perfect condition.
I am about to turn right past El Floridita and into Calle Obispo when contraband smokes are being offered to me for the millionth time that day. 'Amigo, you want cigars?' I reply with my usual, 'No thanks, I don't smoke'. The chuckle of a woman walking two steps behind me goes to show that sense of humor is a universal thing.
More cigar offers as I walk along Obispo. Cigars and restaurants. And tour guides. And yet more cigars. I am starting to get annoyed by all these offers of stuff and services I don't want. I realise I have to watch out not to fly out at the next one who tries to sell me something. During my stay in Cuba I have come to learn that if you make it clear to the hustlers that you're not interested, they will leave you alone. Sometimes you have to be very clear about it, but they do not deserve to be treated without respect.
The map of Old Havana in my LP guide enables me to walk around and not get lost. Loud music coming from a doorway draws my attention and I decide to have a look. In a two-and-a-half by three meter room a drummer, a bass player with his tube amp, a keyboard player, a percussionist, a trumpet player and a male and a female singer are going through a rehearsal session. Swings like hell...I wish I could dance.