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Published: February 10th 2008
Random coincidence - Corinna (my flatmate in Centro Habana) and I share the same birthday. We chose to spend it, together with 2 other German friends (Tomas and Katerina) on la Isla de la Joventud (the isle of youth). Perhaps ironic now we r starting to feel old, or perhaps a hope that bathing in its sweet waters would bring us the secret of eternal youth! Compared to past experiences with the Cuban travel system, the journey was smooth, easy and cheap as we were able to take advantage of our Cuban student/residence carnets. We got there by ASTRO and then the high tech catamaran.
Life in la Isla is basicly the capital, Nueva Gerona and most of the rest of it is agriculture (sugar cane or citrus plantations) or protected nature reserve and military zone in the south. I say capital… think small town. We stayed in a wicked casa, well we had 2 between the 4 of us but spent all r time in 1of them where there was a 2 level terrace, the lower level where we ate was enclosed, had lots of tropical plants and caged birds and a “Bar” (even with lights saying BAR but
disappointingly no drinks served! Cuba 4 u). I have no idea where all the furniture came from (its ridiculously expensive here) and there was even a (non-functioning) fountain! The 2nd level was open air and there were a couple of tables 2 sit and catch some sun or stargaze. We ate delicious food every night in the house, inc lobster 1 time, the 1st time in my life! Another nite there was the option of crocodile! I decided I draw the vegetarian line at reptiles. Rubbery apparently neway!
We visited the Presidio Modelo which is this massive prison where fidel and his rebel crew where held 4 a couple of years and he wrote his famous book; “La historia me absolvera”. It was the 1st time I’ve ever been 2 a prison and I found it really affecting and depressing to imagine it running. It consists of 4 huge circular tower blocks each with about 100 small “en-suite” cells which were built 4 1 person but ended up housing 2. Then there was another huge circular building in the middle which I think was the “dining” area. The prison was styled on 1 infamous 1 in Illinois. Think of
those death row movies set in the 40s and 50s like the Green Mile. The view out of the windows was stunning, I wonder whether that was the inmates saving grace or if it rubbed their nose in it.
As a bday present 2 myself, I treated myself 2 a DIVING trip!! Yaaay! I’ve been wanting to do it ever since I got to Cuba and La isla is supposed to be the best place. I went with Tomas and Katerina (who only snorkelled). We had 2 get a taxi at some ridiculous sun-rising hour of the morning to Hotel Colonia on the other side of the island. The hotel itself was odd - in the middle of nowhere, the workers are bussed in everyday from Nueva Gerona - and esp from the outside it was lost in the ‘60s. From there we arranged the diving - luckily1 of the benefits of Cuba is that it didn’t matter that neither of us has dived 4 about 1.5 years or that I didn’t even have my licence with me! There is always away 2 “resolver” a problem here. Once on the dive boat we headed towards “Playa el Francés”, within
the protected military zone which means its restricted access, therefore remote and unadulterated beauty. We did a morning and afternoon dive with a break on a deserted beach, which looked like it was the location for “Lost” - seriously idyllic paradise. The diving itself was awesome! Although I didn’t see as much variety of marine life as in Honduras (no turtles or sharks this day unfortunately!) the coral was stunning - psycadelic moon-crater-like ones, huge black fans, UV blue brain coral and luminous yellow phallic-like structures! And we saw lots of beautiful angelfish, a ginormous crab, and a moray eel (the evil ones in “Finding Nemo”) flashing its vicious looking teeth half hidden away in a hole. The only downer on the trip was the stupid Brazilian couple who me and Tomas dived with. The woman had no respect 4 nature, she kept touching the coral and even broke bits off and she had a camera which she kept scaring all the fish away with coz of the flash. I just wanted 2 shout at her through my BCD… me and Tomas invented some appropriate hand signals to express r frustration behind her back!
Back in Nueva Gerona, knackered,
we were greeted by Corinna keen to bring in r birthday… so we found a bar selling homemade wine in Moneda Nacional and then headed to the most popular disco in town (which converted in2 a stream room). Lets just say small town… the nightlife isn’t exactly what u go 2 la isla 4! On r actual birthday we didn’t do that much. Climbed a hill 4 a big view of the island and went to a wicked cave which u can swim in, proper deep water. I went to a similar 1 in Baracoa but only swam this time. Quite exhilarating to jump in2 blackness!
Back in Habana and reunited with the crew, we celebrated r birthday all over again with all r friends in the Catedra - the German institute which doubles as r frequent party venue. It’s a typical old colonial building with a big balcony which u apparently have2 be careful with - there’s a chance if 2 many ppl r on there at once it could collapse! Me and Corinna spent more than the average monthly Cuban wage each on booze and the whole day searching 4 stuff 4 the party (not always easy here, a few hours unsuccessfully searching 4 sugar (!… Something so simple!), eventually borrowed!). R good friend Ricardo who is the kind of live-in-caretaker in the Catedra was an ace host and made 2 5 litre bottles of Mojitos!! The party was wicked with plenty of salsa-ing, which I feel I have made a definite improvement in… at last!
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