Published: September 2nd 2008October 30th 2008
A hurricane is something we all want to experience. The power of nature. Mr. Fay was in the house but Jessica and I just missed him by a few day unfortunately. I really did want to meet my namesake!
Alas when we were in Cuba, another came knocking, Gustav. Only thing is, Gustav was much bigger, stronger and left a right mess as we were about to find out.
Jess and I awoke, had a snooze and awoke again! That day (Saturday), we needed to find a casa particulares (accommodation in a private home with a family) in Vedado (one of Habana´s ´barrios´ or neighbourhoods) which is the far side of Habana and the area where a cousin of mine once lived. We had a letter from 1949 and an address to track down. Ellen McGrath De Galban lived there till the revolution.
We decided to walk along the waterfront, know as the ´Malecon´. It runs almost the length of Habana´s harbour. At this point we knew nothing about a hurricane. As we walked, there was a breeze - the type you got on your face as a kid running down a hill when you can´t stop and your legs seem to belong to someone else! Loved that! It started to rain, but years of training in Ireland had made us immune.
After about an hour of walking, someone flicked the setting on the hairdryer from setting I to setting II. "March On". Its just a strong breeze, isn´t it? Half an hour later a policeman on the far side of the Malecon runs across the road and orders us to move at least one block away from the seafront. In his very fast Spanish, we had no idea what his problem was or what he was saying - something about a "see clun"? We were to hear that word many times beofre the day was out.
Before we left the sea view, we did notice white foaming waves hitting the pier and water reaching for the sky in anger. Before I move on to the next part of the story, I must say the buildings are some of the most beautiful, intricate and walk-stopping facades Jessica and I have ever seen in the world. That goes for the entire city of Habana.
We walked for another hour before we came to the first casa particulares on our list. Full up! We walked another forty five minutes to a casa which belonged to Jesus (said "hay-soos") and his funny witch doctor mother. Dark room, dark house, strange vibe and a woman with really really mad hair, which I´m sure was off a horse or donkey and just stuffed under a hair net. She obviously had some voodoo power. Why a voodoo woman would call her son Jesus is one for a beer! Moved on...and fast.
Wind now on setting III of the hairdryer!
We got to the third casa twenty minutes later. Lovely woman, room available, booked in for a week starting the next day (Casa de Idania Lazo Rodrigues, Calle 25 no. 1061 e/4y6, Vedado). Idania´s brother was frantically waving his arms around and telling us to stay off the streets while the landlady herself made us well needed yummy warm rice pudding with cinammon. We were understanding the policeman now!
Rain was coming down so heavy now that we could only see a short distance ahead. Trees were bending over and branches were snapping all around us. Jessica and I were gigling up to this stage about it all. But giggles were replaced with just a tad bit of worry. We had to get back to the other side of the city ASAP before the roof lifted off this city!
There is always someone out to capitalise on life´s events and while we were trying to flag down a taxi, Densel Washington pulled up in a Fiat 127 from the seventies that had been set on fire, ripped apart and looked like it had at least a year on the stock car circuit. The accelerator was a bar going from foot striaght to the engine (that´s one for the boys!). All the inside was burnt out but with ´new´seats put back in. Having said all that we were delighted he stopped. Five minutes on we pick up another fare, no probs. I must mention his front wiper was operated by him sticking his arm out, leaning forward in his seat and pushing it over and back himself. STAY CALM. We were also drenched and had our hoods up as the front side windows appeared to be absent. Ever the movie star, Densel got us back to our hotel where we found men boarding up windows and the like.
As we walked into our hotel it was being evacuated. Talk about timing! Jessica and I packed our stuff in ten minutes and were on a minibis heading away from the coast. At the new hotel, the wind was throwing things all over the place. Just as we got out of the bus, a big street lamp came crashing down. It was about 3ft by 2ft so glass shattered everywhere. RUN! RUN! We got inside safe. There was a curfew and no one was allowed outside the hotel. Hurricane Gustav was a category 4 by now.
The next morning it had passed and blue skies were back. All in a day´s travel!