Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Cuba, Part 9

The five of us walked down the gravel road in the dark, saved only by the full moon.

"I almost forgot about that," the leader remarked.

"What?" I asked.

"The Hotel Lido is right there!" he said, pointing ahead of us and to the right.

I looked in the direction of his finger. A few blocks down, light issued from a window, faintly. Still no streetlights, but I was encouraged.

"It looks like you are in luck!" the Cuban continued, "They have electricity!"

The four men continued walking with us, chatting in Spanish, while Danielle and I said virtually nothing. We had no energy left at this point. If, by some chance, we arrived at the hotel and it was closed with no concierge person, I was fairly certain that we were going to lie down next to the door and sleep on top of our luggage.

But when we arrived and looked through the window, we saw a pleasant looking, middle-aged woman at the counter watching a very small black and white television.

"Have a good time in Cuba!" the leader said, extending his hand to say goodbye to us.

"Thanks for walking us down. We appreciate it," I answered, also shaking hands with the three friends as they wished us luck in Spanish.

Four pairs of dusty cowboy boots made their way back to their post, up the road, presumably to knock out at least four more beers before sleeping.

Danielle and I made a monumental effort to drag our heavy suitcases up the few stairs to the entryway of the Hotel Lido, and I propped the front door open so that we could make our way in with our stuff.

"Can I help you?" the concierge woman inquired in Spanish, turning down the volume knob on the television.

"Hablo Ingles?" I asked, knowing that my Spanish was in no shape for a conversation.

"Si, un poco...but just a few words."

"Gracias. Do you have a room?"

"Yes," she said immediately.


"But...we only take CUCs. No American dollars," she clarified.

Oh no!

"No dollars?" I repeated, hoping that she would magically change her mind.

"No. I can't. Sorry." she frowned.

"What if we pay a little bit extra?" Danielle suggested to her.

"Que?" she replied, her forehead wrinkling with the difficult translation.

"How many CUCs per noche?" Danielle asked in her finest Spanglish.

"Four zero," and she wrote the number "40" on a piece of paper in front of us.

"I'll offer her sixty and see what she says," I told Danielle.

I peeled sixty dollars out of my left pocket, being sure to go for the fatter bill roll, where the twenties were. I put them on the counter in front of her.

"Para este noche? Si? Esta bien?" I asked, going for my first bribe in Cuba.

She looked at the money and thought about it for a few seconds.

"Si. Yes. I will take you to your room," and she took the bills and put them in some sort of box that was underneath the counter. She'd made an extra twenty because there was an exact one-to-one relationship between CUCs and the U.S. dollar. I wondered whether she would pocket the money or whether she would turn it all over to the owner (and the government). I was pretty sure she would turn it all over. Unless she'd made up the fact that they only took CUCs. In which case, she could very easily pocket the money, which, at that moment, I did not mind one bit. Hell, for all I knew the price was twenty dollars per night and she was going to pocket forty. That would be two week's salary for a lot of people in Havana.

She led us up the long, thin stairway to our room, opened the door, and said goodnight.

I closed the door on her. It had a decent lock on it, and I clicked it shut.

"Thank God!!" I exclaimed.

"It's been a long day, hasn't it?" Danielle agreed.

I looked around the room. The walls were a dingy yellow, and the paint was peeling. It was white underneath. There were two very thin beds placed right next to each other with ugly green and yellow sheets which looked uncomfortable just on sight. The "bathroom" consisted of an old, slightly rusty sink and there was a crudely fashioned wardrobe next to it. Randomly, I remembered some advice from the guidebook: 'Don't drink the tap water in Cuba or it is very likely that you will get sick.' It was the worst hotel room I had ever seen in my life and I was quite happy with it. At least it was reasonably clean, and the ceilings were very high, which always helps. The quality hardly mattered.

Danielle and I crashed on the bed, in our clothes, and slept like rocks.



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