I arrived in Matanzas yesterday in the late afternoon, after a short taxi ride from Varadero.
Once in town, it took my driver and I an hour to figure out where my casa particular was – a journey that included one man getting in the taxi with us and trying to direct us and later (after he failed), a short stint in a stranger’s living room with her timid Chihuahua while she tried to decipher the directions I had been given.
I was glad I had not haggled too extremely with the taxi driver, who accompanied me and my luggage through all of this. And I did give him a tip of two pesos although I am almost out of money. (Thankfully, a friend of mine is arriving tomorrow with cash reserves; although some things are extremely cheap here, other things – namely transportation and the hotel I had to switch after my first one was cancelled – have been far more expensive than I anticipated.)
When I finally found the casa, it was quite nice. It’s pretty obvious my hosts are rich; their towels are of the quality of U.S. towels, they have hot water and everything looks new and nice.
In general, Matanzas is beautiful and seems more wealthy than Santa Clara at first glance. The food seems to be of much higher quality (or at least better technique) and the city is more expensive and much bigger than Santa Clara, which is very walkable.
I’m still trying to get the lay of the land. Apparently a map of the city is impossible to buy; I really wish I’d bought a better guide book. Exploring based on the limited instructions of my hosts yesterday I found the Parque Liberdad (the only place in the city to access wifi), had lunch at the beautiful Restaurante Romantica San Severino, a beautiful colonial-style loft with white curtains between every table and gorgeous tiled floors and then wandered around the bay a bit.
Later, my hosts recommended one of two places that were next to each other for dinner. I haven’t been able to figure out what the neighborhood is called – I’m having trouble communicating here – but it was out of the center and required a taxi to get to. Both places were full with a long wait, but otherwise it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to wait an hour outside for dinner so after asking three people for directions, I started to head for the discotheque my hosts had told me was nearby. Walking there required going down this creepy dark road next to a ditch. That was the third time on this trip where I wondered if I might die (the first being when at the airport I was escorted into a small room with two men and the door was shut and the second being when I was puking up my organs in Varadero). OK, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but it didn’t necessarily feel like it in the moment and the 15-minute excursion featured a lot of “WTF” exclamations out loud.
The club turned out to be a sweat box with strobe lights and chicks in very little clothing and dudes trying to put their arms around me, and so I slugged one drink and left. It was a far cry from El Mejunje in Santa Clara – such a beautiful venue and with such a great variety of live music, from choirs to singer-songwriters with guitars to rock bands. Santa Clara seemed so full of culture – the orchestra played in the Parque Vidal twice a week at night, and there were many other “artistic events,” as the residents called them, that were scheduled there. And people were so friendly. Agh, I miss that place already.
After I choked down my drink and made it back without dying on the dark ditch road, I returned to one of the two restaurants – called Jai Mike – and had the best meal I’ve had in Cuba so far, some chicken in a tangy pineapple sauce with some actual fresh vegetables. It didn’t even have cumin in it. Pretty much everything here is drowning in cumin. I’m not going to eat it for a year after I come back.
This morning, my hosts asked me how the club – La Salsa – was last night, and I told them it wasn’t my style. They laughed and said they had just realized it was the 40th birthday party of the mayor last night and it was not normally that bad. I tried to communicate that the problem was definitely not that the place was too slow or too aged, but my Spanish hit a brick wall.