Havana Bad Time (see note 1)

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]Times are exceedingly complex and anxiety-ridden on this side of the Straits. This is part of the reason I’ve chosen to accentuate the positive lately – both personally and generally. No one needs me griping about the small things and adding to the angst, I figure. Besides, here, like everywhere, you take the good with the bad, which is my stock answer for those who don’t believe (or cotton to) my choice to be in Cuba. And for me, the good has heavily outweighed the bad for 10+ years.

But these days, my life has gone a bit pear-shaped (see note 2), sending me to my surest, safest refuge: pen and paper (see note 3). Indulge me this one post and we’ll return to issues of more import, (not to mention fun), soon. Te prometo.

¡Apagones cojones! – Once upon a time, I was one of the 11 million here who withstood 10 hour black outs. Years later (before we’d hooked up with Hugo), the apagones were shorter – a couple, three hours – but still a fact of life. And in hurricanes, the electricity is cut when winds reach 40 miles per hour – one of the reasons Cuba suffers minimum loss of life compared to other places since many storm-related deaths are due to downed live wires. So I’ve known my share of blackouts.

But none of this explains why I came home last week after sol-to-sol meetings to a dead answering machine in my sala and defrosted pork parts in my freezer. Did my neighbors have lights? Yes. Had I paid my bill? Yes (see note 4).

‘Tis a puzzlement as the King once said and not in an intriguing, brain teaser kind of way, but rather in that ‘how am I going to cook dinner and keep cool?’ kind of way. The head scratching intensified once I located my meter amongst 18 others downstairs and found it in working order. Next, I went to the circuit breaker inside my house and found it in the ‘off’ position. I switched it to ‘on.’ A light sputtered to life, but I didn’t even have time to yell “Yay!” before it threw the breaker again.

I waited a bit before switching it again to ‘on.’ The light flickered and held. No electrician has been able to explain the mystery – I have no new appliances or anything additional plugged in – but I dare not turn on my old Russian AC. Send help if you don’t hear from me by August.

The concert that wasn’t – One of the undeniably greatest things about living here is the quantity of quality music happening almost always. So was the case last Saturday night when X Alfonso, Raúl Paz, Kelvis Ochoa, and Decemer Bueno were all playing at different, fabulous venues across the city.

How to choose?

For me, it was easier than most since I’ve seen them all perform multiple times and Decemer’s concert promised something special: invited guests included Israel Rojas from blockbuster group Buena Fe, plus Xiomara Laugart – an exile making her return to the Cuban stage. 

I highlighted his concert on my Facebook page. I invited friends and family and pedaled over some time after 10. I took my time: Cuba isn’t a particularly punctual place and these cats less so. I cruised up and ran into friends on an inaugural date, thrilled they’d chosen this concert over the others…

Once the clock reached 11:15 and the doors still hadn’t opened, my friends bailed. I hung in there and was relieved when they (finally!) started letting people in at midnight. I grabbed a Tu Kola at the swinging bar and headed into the theater where a full house waited. And waited. And waited and waited. At 1 in the morning, I bailed myself, my night of getting down, gone down – in flames (see note 5).

Yes You Can!=No You Can’t! – I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: my life changed when I got a bike several months ago. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s practical and represents independence and freedom – coveted states no matter where you live. But I still nursed a hangover from my first Cuban bike in 2002, when I had been stranded one time too many with nowhere to park my chivo.

Bike parking lots were as ubiquitous here during the Special Period as wannabe iMac users are today, but most car lots circa 2012 are reticent to accept bikes and those specifically for bicycles are few and far between. But so far, I’ve only had one run in – with a too-cool-for-school parqueador more concerned about his dwindling keratin supply than the vehicles he was paid to guard. Then I rolled up to the car/moto/bike lot adjacent to Coppelia. Here things took a fast turn for the douche absurd.

ME: Buenas tardes, compañera. I’d like to park my bike.

HER: Sure, put it right there in the rack. (She ties a chapita to the frame and hands me a matching metal ‘ticket,’ which I pocket).

ME: Great. Just need to lock it up.

HER: Oh no! You can’t lock it.

ME: ?!?!

HER: No, no. No locks.

ME: Compañera. I don’t understand. This lock provides added security for both of us.

HER: No. You can’t use a lock here. If you want to use a lock, do it on the street.

ME: But that’s illogical. Why wouldn’t you want more protection for me and you?

HER: Because we’ve had ‘situations.’

ME: What kind of ‘situations?’

HER: People have abandoned their locked up bikes here.

ME: ?!?!

So I wheeled Frances three feet away, on the other side of the rope from the official parking area, locked him to a tree and headed off for ice cream. Your 5 peso loss, lady.

Doggin’ me – This last was really the icing on the cake, the ill effects of which I’m still suffering. Last Sunday afternoon, like those before it, I was making my way to play bike polo. But this time I was escorting a friend, which is good news: our league suffers from a chronic shortage of bicycles. We had just made it around Havana’s hairiest rotunda at Ciudad Deportiva and turned onto the access road to our court. I glanced behind me to make sure my friend had made it through the rotary and when I turned around, there was a stray, mangy dog directly in front of my tire. 

I had no time to react – no swerve or brake or little hop was happening. I ran squarely  over him, passing with a thud over his flan-colored midsection, first with the front tire, then the back. He yelped. I fell. Folks nearby gasped. The dog ran off, leaving me with a badly sprained ankle and a serious hitch in my giddy up. If I wasn’t a dog person before…


1. This post was suggested (somewhat tongue in cheek) by Havana Good Time user Annabelle P after a visit here. Thanks chica!

2. And what follows is only what Politics, legal considerations, and my personal ethical code permit me to air publically.

3. For all two of you who were wondering: I still do all my first drafts the old fashioned way – by putting pen to paper.

4. The electric and phone company here are merciless when it comes to non-payment, cutting service one day past due. I experienced my share of cold nights and interrupted phone service growing up due to unpaid bills, but I don’t ever remember ConEd or AT&T being that cut throat. Ironic, eh?

5. Turns out they took the stage at 1:30am, having had to wait for the sound guy who was working one of the other concerts which also ran late. To boot, there was a short in Decemer’s mic, so he was getting shocked through his six song set before calling it quits. Friends tell me they’re going to make it up to their pissed public with a free concert soon.



Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Expat life, Living Abroad, Uncategorized

26 responses to “Havana Bad Time (see note 1)

  1. Missing Habana

    I love your posts! I just left Havana and been in love with the place (and a guy there) since I left. You make me feel connected!!

    • it DOES do something to the heart this place…I suggest a good cardiologist por que !no es nada facil ese amor!

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Clarita

      At first I was frequenting this site for a similar reason. Except now I’m in love with Conner’s words. Good luck with getting over Cuban guys! 😛

      • Hey Clarita – thanks for making my day! love when people come to read and then write in. By the way folks, stay tuned for next post in the queue (or the one after, it’s in the running with More Cuban Fashion Offenses) The Love Doctor – SO many people are in love w cubans and write to me about it, I feel its my duty to write about it!

        (PS – for those wondering: YES, they are that good in bed….)

      • Clarita

        hahahah you made my day too. Can’t wait for your new ones~ they sound delicious~~ Please post soon. 😉

      • Ay m’hijita. I would love to post more but I have to try and make a living and this blog, although people seem to like it, hasn’t been very helpful in that department – la luchita and all that.

        Im on double deadline right now but put pen to paper a bit yesterday waiting at the polyclinic, so Ill try and get something up soon. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. ofoab

    black-outs- pick up a few solar lites stateside . ” Bikes For Cuba ” Jeff has certain airlines giving free shipping for donated bikes . I have had an affair with the bike for awhile and just started on Cuba . Caught a few of your posts on LP. My theory , Cuba takes your heart , the bike keeps it going !

    • Hey! So whatcha sayin: you have some bikes you want to donate to our burgeoning bike polo league??!!

      • ofoab

        A bicycle packed in a box, after languishing in a dirty Canadian whatever, would be grateful to tag along , is a idea we have to promote . I’m trying to interest 3 others , 4 bikes , 2 car -bike racks+ gear . Rent taxi , strap on racks , casa to casa spending a few days using bikes to cruise the area. Leaving bikes + racks . “Bikes For Cuba ” gets racing bikes to high school groups. I went for a couple of club rides with Joven de Jaguey Grande . These kids rock , bring back the Vuelta! Revolution is at the heart of cycling . Use your blog , one bike at a time, It can happen .

  3. Colin

    Thanks Conner as ever for your posts, it brightens up my day when I see a new one.
    I’m still laughing at the dogs flattening incident (not sure I should be actually, i was going to say, no one got hurt right but I’m sure your ankle says otherwise).
    I can’t wait for my next trip to Cuba which could be sooner rather than later as summer as yet to start in the UK.

    • Yeah, yeah. Many people have been more concerned about the dog (to wit: my mother asked: “did you kill him?!”). Thankfully no and foot is on the mend, thanks. Should be back pedalling Frances in no time! Thanks for writing in.

  4. Chamaquita

    My cuban husband is in the middle of immigration process (oh well, I guess our whole family is in the middle of it..) and your blog is so comforting, I found it few days ago and now everyday when la niñita is sleeping I make myself cafecito cubano and sit down to read. Your postings make me laugh, bring tears to my eyes and help with home sickness, though I’m not cuban.. 🙂

    • Comforting? Im so glad. I often view it rather as a cautionary tale! Good luck with various bureaucracies.

      • Chamaquita

        I’m focusing on the positive, reading your posts makes me feel a bit closer to Cuba 🙂

        Before I got pregnant we actually toyed with the thought of living in Cuba, but then decided that it’s better for our kid to live here in Finland, at least for now. But still, it’s nice to read about your life there and think that maybe we can live in Cuba someday.

  5. ime free


    I’ve just seen this blog, but have read a few posts & some last year, where you seemed to be panicking about the ‘new changes’, that it will become nasty capitalist stuff.

    Look, I knew nothing about Cuba, and I was invited to a wedding holiday this April, and I checked out some information, which was difficult, but found another blog, where she couldn’t even post, but had to send SMS to someone else to post it.

    I did learn quite a bit from that blog. Pity that I didn’t get your’s..

    Well, just to say, this is my ten cents worth.

    I had quite a job finding out if the hotel had an internet service, as the hotel didn’t have a website, and there were some amateur sites about it and youtube stuff, but didn’t give specifics. My son did bring his notebook but we learned that it was costly to get some form of limited internet connexion in the hotel.

    In fact I didn’t even bother.

    I (being interested in other countries and their politics and life tried to find out a bit about the employees lives. I spoke mainly to three people.
    1st – a guide who worked with a taxi driver who took us to a local market. When he was standing well away from other locals, he told me tons of stuff and I recorded him. He was thirtyish, divorced with a daughter of 12. He had two jobs, guide and musician. He had saved for a year to buy a computer. All he wanted was to get out and give his daughter a better life. He had applied three years ago, and was still waiting. He had done a years prison sentence because he had no job and had done a stall along a street selling things and the authorities had warned him. He continued, because as he said he had no choice. So he got his house taken, that he’d paid for for 12 years and a years prison. He was pretty bitter. He told me that all the taxis in the hotel belonged to the gvt but were run by a middle man who got quite a cut. He said there was rampant corruption and some were quite rich in the country. Otherwise everything belonged to the ‘gvt’. He gave me his email, but I haven’t contacted him.

    2nd – my maid, who was 40 and originally an accountant. She was very nice and we got a good relationship even with her limited English. She told me a few things about her life. She had to travel quite a way everyday to work. She looked after her mother, her brothers’s daughter’s daughter and her own daughter, otherwise was divorced. She had a house that was being built for several years little by little. She didn’t have a computer. She was a Jehova’s Witness, and kept giving me little notes with god written everywhere. I said I didn’t like religion, we managed to joke about it. She asked me if I could send her some medication for her mother as they couldn’t get it there.

    3rd : a seller of postcards, CD’s and books in front of the hotel entrance, he had a tourist diploma, and I used to stop by as he liked me to talk French to him. He gave me his address and phone and begged me to send him a Mothercard for his old computer.

    General impressions : From the Airport to the hotel it was like a shock for everyone who hadn’t been to Cuba before. I didn’t think it would be so poor. Or what that sort of poverty looked like. Nice roads, but empty except for a few modern cars but otherwise ancient cars and lorries, horses and carts, and lots of people waiting for lifts. Banana fields and some goats and cows in the fields otherwise very little farming, and run down houses lining the road.

    We did a couple of trips, Santiago and Gardalavaca. I didn’t do the Santiago trip but my son did and took films of most of the area, with the ‘rich’ quarter, and others.

    Now, what interests me most at the moment, is the fact that I promised the guy on the postcard stall to send him a mothercard. We exchanged lots of emails but it was impossible to know what exactly was compatible. He even managed to ‘steal’ 10 minutes time in the ‘computer room’ of the hotel where he could actually access Google to find motherboards. He even sent me a photo of one, but that was too blurry to see clearly. He hadn’t really a clue.

    I decided to finally send him a cheap laptop but needed to know so much more for it to be useful to him. He needed a modem. Which was good ? It needed a phone adapter, only very few sites (did find one) with correct information. Need to know how to set this laptop up, knowing that he can only get emails and nothing from the web. What can I put on it that is useful or interesting for him.

    I have to pay at least £70 to send by DHL, that apparently might be safe for door to door delivery.

    He sent me photos of their town ‘clubs’ that allow people to use computers or learn, as he says, ‘all thanks to our great leader who planned for our future’. The computers in the photos are ancient, I don’t know what OS they have, and if they are spied upon. I make sure I never say anything against the regime on my mails and even praise it.

    Well, that’s my impression. I don’t see much change since all these ‘reforms’, there are, no doubt, as the tour operator kept saying, ‘ah, make the most of it, these lovely old cars won’t be around soon’.

    Well maybe they won’t, but as the driver on one explained they aren’t the original engines but japanese ones coming from Brazil that costs a fortune too.

    I was also surprised by the naive remarks of these people, they were like children, they hadn’t a clue about the outside world, they were very religious, (I told the postcard guy to stop talking about god to me in his mails), when I tried to explain what you can do on the internet, (in the hotel), his eyes were huge and he couldn’t really understand. I said, ‘I can use a translation in seconds for any Spanish article’.. I can see over your house with a satelite photo’, I can buy any article on an internet shop’.. etc.

    It is totally cruel that Cubans are prevented from this ‘normal’ service and that it’s all political and ideological as it’s not just because of USA sanctions. I spent years on dial-up internet but had access to everything. You don’t, for political reasons.

    I can’t see how I can help this poor guy who hasn’t even a phone and has to borrow a cable from his neighbor, yet I’m sending him the state of the art computer that he won’t even be able to use fully, I feel such pity, and wish that people here would stop talking about ‘preventing capitalism’, with vague ideas.

    The rubbish is rampant on Youtube comments. Some go so far as to call any democracy ‘fashist’ or whatever.

    For heaven’s sake, surely even the poorest in the USA are better off, not that the US has the best system, I don’t think. I’ve live in France for over 40 years, whilst born in the UK. In neither countries are people so poor as in Cuba. In France or UK there are or have been socialist gvts, but not communist, and it’s a very good balanced system, welfare is far better than in Cuba, yet its open market etc.

    Cuba boasts about free education and health but it’s not true, their services good, compared to European countries as we have really good pensions, health, other things for elderly and we pay taxes, sure, but not if you don’t earn enough.

    Cubans deserve so much better, and I totally agree with anyone who is against the US sanctions, I don’t see the point, WTF to America, why do they deprive themselves of business because it’s true that it won’t, (as it hasn’t got the people to take out Castro. How can they when the whole system prevents anyone from saying anything ? As in Irak. I do think that the US sanction system is wrong.But it’s not that that prevents Cuba from progressing, it’s their stupid backward communist system. And the simple fact of the fall of the Soviet regimes. It’s written all over the hotel I was at. That since 1989, they lost 80% of all their trade, exports. It was written on the wall !! So that’s the truth, from the horses mouth.

    I do wish commentators (not just here) would stop saying that the capitalist system is failing because of the financial crises in the last few years. IN fact, even though it’s true, I see only Greece and Spain who are suffering because of their outstanding corruption and tax evasion. But look at Iceland who one day was bankrupt, but managed to get over it in a few months.

    All the countries are doing their cleaning up, with bank regulations and new laws. But don’t think that any country will go backwards towards communist type policies. Never. So please on this blog or anywhere don’t think that Cuba can get out of their awful poverty and backwardness by clinging on to communism. It’s impossible.

    So RAoul thinks he can copy Chinese policies, well maybe, but people might not like the continuing repression on freedoms. I hope that there can be a total opening and just let people be free and creative, just as in the newly liberated muslim countries, Libya and Tunisia and Egypt, as they discover what it’s like to be free from spies and torture. They will also need a long and hard time to adjust but at least they have tasted what they couldn’t for 30 or 40 years. I hope Cubans can do this in a short time with no deaths at all, and with foreign help because they do need help, but that they can choose the best help.


    • You said it best here:

      Look, I knew nothing about Cuba, and I was invited to a wedding holiday this April…Well, that’s my impression. I don’t see much change since all these ‘reforms’

      Hard to see changes in a place you’ve never been before.

      Thanks for stopping by, but since you like to write at length, maybe you should start your own blog? (this is a Cuban way of saying: if you get this verbose in my comment section again, I will not approve)

  6. ime free

    Sorry about my rant.

  7. Julio

    “No es facil, verdad?”

  8. John

    ime free – sounds like you were in a resort somewhere?
    Some resort workers are quite adept at tugging at the heart/purse strings of short term visitors.
    If Conner will allow me to make a just few very brief comments – either way why don’t you post the same “rant” on say Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor as a ‘trip report’ and see how other Cuban travellers respond?
    1/. internet access is more dependent on access to money than anything else (speed quality is another issue!)
    2/. “they aren’t the original engines but japanese ones coming from Brazil that costs a fortune ” – not true of the many I have examined under the hood
    3/. “For heaven’s sake, surely even the poorest in the USA are better off”
    Really? – tell that to the homeless/chronically ill and as for much iof central/south america…
    4/ “Need to know how to set this laptop up, knowing that he can only get emails and nothing from the web”
    See point 2/.
    Ta Conner!

  9. andrew

    hello my name is Andrew. I love your post. Are you American or Canadian?

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