The perfect Cuban BS experience – Part 1

30 Oct

The perfect Cuban BS experience – Part 1

Renzo and I laughed at the young German couple’s tales of their first day in Havana.

They had been accosted by hustlers, plagued by jineteros and finally fell in on a story by a young couple who pretended to know them from their casa particular in Neptuno, central Havana, and took them to a “guided” tour, to overpriced Mojitos (24 CUC for 4), offered them fake cigars and finally pulled a picture of “their” baby child and managed to persuade the German into buying them 5 packets of milk for 20 €.

Renzo has been coming to Cuba for 20 and I for 10 years, we felt the newbies’ pain and frustration.

Sitting by the pool on the roof terrace of the chic Saratoga Hotel overlooking central Havana it was easy to laugh while sipping a drink and smoking a good cigar.

Our only problem was our rental car – Renzo had experienced technical problems with the piece of junk called Peugeot 206 he had received at the airport. A broken suspension, a faulty automatic gear shift that refused to accept D and would turn N even in D, a defective steering veering left, a jammed rear door, well not much else.

So we went to the VIA Transgaviota rental agency in at Hotel Panorama Miramar and were told to proceed to the airport agency where the car had been issued.

OK, we drove to the airport – to be told to proceed to the National Terminal as they were in charge of the car.

So we drove the 3 kms to the terminal to be told to drive the car to the Transgaviota  technical services back in Miramar Playa the next day, where we would have the car serviced or exchanged.

Pissed off by half a day of wasted time & effort, sure – but hey, it’s Cuba, socialism, government enterprises, nobody feels responsible, no free market, right ?

My other problem was a more private enterprise, offer & demand kind of thing.

The casa particular Renzo had taken for us was a bit basic and limited my cigar smoking pleasure by a lovely 5-month young  baby girl grandchild to the small driveway, while offering a perfect & down-home service courtesy of grandma Rosalia, a Santeria spiritists’ expert from the Oriente province of Santiago.

I had found a perfect apartment on the corner of 9-th Ave and 84-th St offering more space, a L-shaped beautiful shaded garden and a large bed for my long frame. The price was settled at 35 CUC with Sra Marlene, whom I thought to be owner down from the exorbitant 45 she first asked.

After all I was staying long term …

Next day I moved my stuff into the new casa and was greeted by Marlene’s mother with the words : You really pushed things. Thinking she meant I was too early at noon to move in, I replied : Marlene told me to move in anytime today as the apartment was free. She curtly corrected me : I’m the owner. You pushed the price too low, we can rent it higher, after all it’s the trade fair week in Havana.

Well ma’m, your decision, your daughter agreed to rent it at 35, you don’t like it, I move on and find another casa, no worries, I don’t enjoy starting my stay having discussions with my landlady.

Generously she backed off and grinding her teeth agreed to accept me.

Unpacked, settled in, and then we drove to the Transgaviota maintenance depot in Playa.

We were not allowed into the depot grounds and had to park in the sun outside until the guards passed the message to Jorge Luis, a mechanic who came and heard our story. Half an hour later, I had enough and walked into the depot despite the guards telling me I was not allowed in because I was wearing shorts and whistling at me like I was a dog.

I found the Director General’s office and passed my great gratitude at the friendly and dedicated customer service we were receiving to the young sub-director Sr Ruso. He accompanied me back to the car, promised to find us a driver to take the car to yet another undisclosed  place and have the car serviced or exchanged.

Easy task but not in Cuba. Half an hour later I asked again.

Hey, if this takes longer you might provide us a table, 2 chairs, a sunshade and some coffee – while apologizing profusely, Sr Ruso told me he had trouble finding another piece of rusted junk for us. But : after phoning around some more, Bingo ! We were told to drive to the Hotel Panorama where that piece of rust would be delivered after a careful check. I had promised Renzo lunch at the La Moraleja paladar to check it as a possible venue for his birthday party coming 4-th Nov and felt lunch disappearing in the distance.

We agreed the car would be delivered to my casa at 2 pm.

Happy to have only wasted 2 hrs in the sun and telling the custodio (guard) to go whistle at the dog of his father, we drove back.

After a shower, feeling the happy end of a lousy half day was near, I went down to register and pay with Marlene sr.

I handed her my visa and asked her to charge me the entire  8 days – when she delivered her finest revenge blow job to me : I couldn’t stay until the 5-th as agreed, her daughter was arriving from Maiaamy in La Flooridaa and needed the apartment, I could only stay until the 1-st.

No way the bitch would get a cent from me.

I turned my heels, went to see my friend Toby’s landlord Jose Mario, a perfect gentleman and most helpful soul and told him my predicament ( I had visited him earlier in the morning to greet him and explain howproud and happy I was to have found a casa without bothering him ).

He took me around the corner to a lovely casa with a garden and 2 rooms plus a kitchen and a terrace for my use and the most serious Sra Daisy was happy to accept me at 35 CUC for the use of the entire house. Albeit as of tomorrow, as it was presently occupied.

I quickly drove back to Rosalia, who told me that her spirit Santo had told her I was coming back and she would see me again very soon. Of course my room in the casa was free, she was following her Santo’s advice to just wait for me.

I went back to the now quite silent Marlene sr where a Transgaviota Peugeot was waiting for me, hey my luck had turned and I could see the light at the end of the BS flooded tunnedl !

The light I saw was the headlight of an incoming locomotive as the car was not for me, just Sr Raul from Hotel Panorama’s TG office enquiring about my car’s troubles.

Listening to my suave, sweet, respectful and very subdued tone of voice full of praise and deleted expletives in my Cuban street slang he quickly  surmised the seriousness of the situation and offered to have the car ready for me after I had solved the logistics of re-packing all my stuff and moving it back to Rosalia’s place.

Two car trips later, drenched in sweat, I was back in familiar surroundings and ready to face the remaining fateful day in Cuba’s jungle of BS, lies and deception.

Back to the car issue – Raul had the new Peugeot waiting for us. But, oh the paperwork !

Doing it, he found out that the contract said Renzo had taken over the car on Oct 18, when he had only arrived on Oct 22. Now, nothing easier to solve than that, as we had the original voucher, German paid invoice, Renzo’s air tickets and his entry visa all stating arrival on the 22-nd.

Sr Raul looked at us like naïve schoolboys – we would never be able to prove it simply with those documents when returning the car. The date on the contract was far more official than all those pages of worthless documents. The airport office would charge us 4 more days. Simple as that.

He woke up some reserve of undisclosed personal and very private motivation from a hidden part of his personality and decided we had suffered enough by now. Picking up the phone and wasting only another 20 minutes he called the airport office and by having them check the date of the credit card charge of the car’s deposit payment, he accepted Renzo’s claim to have arrived on the 22-nd. After all, the credit card slip attached to the contract in the office said 22 and that was official now.

He corrected the pick-up date in the contract so we should expect minimal problems on return and proceeded to exchange all 4 tires on our new carriage from the now officially discarded other Peugeot as a gesture of regret at our discomfort at the mercy of the great customer service provided so far.

An hour later, 5 pm by now, we finally left the Panorama towards La Moraleja paladar and the expected pleasure of their great octopus salad.

We had hardly passed the Miramar tunnel towards the Malecon when we noticed the new piece of junk behaving oddly, stuttering & sputtering, not taking on gas or speed, doing hiccups with a plugged carburetor stalling us at every red light, forcing the car to snail speed, a line of honking buses and other cars behind us and making progress almost impossible. I saw us returning home in a Cocotaxi.

We somehow managed to reach La Moraleja.

A warm welcome to a changed place. The green plants and flowered patio roof has been replaced by a timber roof taking away all the sun and light. Ernesto, the genial cook has left, Ingrid, my favourite waitress is in the Hospital. OK, what else can go wrong today ?

Well, the octopus salad that arrived consisted of thin slices of chewy squid plastic, not the fresh chunks of earlier and was covered by a load of greasy cheese. Almost edible if you’re starved and don’t care.

No venue for Renzo, we’ll have to continue our search.

Renzo drove back, his gas pedal foot is smoother than mine. Italian smooth vs German brute. Regardless, we barely managed to reach Rosalia, whom by now I am suspecting to have put a spell on me for daring to leave her quarters and was thanking her Santo for the job.

We even found a street stall selling tomatoes for the Pasta sauce that we’ll have tonight, plus onions, peppers, garlic, Papaya, oranges, avocadoes – life’s good.

While Renzo is preparing the Pasta dinner I’m smoking a Siglo II, sipping a Cristal and wondering about tomorrow …

What’s in store for us in this sea of brown ?

And in the back of my head I know that our worries are a luxury problem that no Cuban can understand in THEIR immense sea of brown and that THEIR problems are a whole different magnitude of real, genuine, 100 percent Bullshit that they have to swallow – while we will be leaving they have to stay.

At least we can bitch and complain and might get results.

Watch this space for continued coverage of our adventures in Cuban reality …








3 Responses to “The perfect Cuban BS experience – Part 1”

  1. Hamlet 31/10/2012 at 15:14 #

    Man, did this bring back negative feelings about past trips to Cuba. You went through a lot of BS.

    Great piece of honest writing, I do not see too many articles on Cuban reality. I called it Cuban Theatre, they are all so immune to it since it is part of their daily life.

    The trip will get better.

  2. Yean 31/10/2012 at 20:30 #

    I laughed reading your article till I cried.Thank you for reminding me about the reality in Cuba.

  3. Arild 01/11/2012 at 11:24 #

    Nino, very interesting to read about your experiences during a day in Havana. Luckily you speak the language and have years of experience staying in Cuba for holidays. I wish you better luck in the days to come, and a great vacation!