We arrived at our hotel in the early evening, somewhat bleary-eyed after an early start. Without his notes, which from then on became the mantra, "Keith says..." we may well have just settled down in the hotel. Instead we walked to the Capitalio and looked, as instructed, on the opposite side of the road for a queue. And there it was, a long queue; parents with sleeping children on their shoulders, family groups and young couples, all waiting for a seat at L'os Nardos restaurant. It didn't look promising, but we did eventually get in. "Where are you taking us?" asked The Young and Fit as we climbed a metal staircase, up and up, past cooling units and washing. I think that we ended up just under the roof. We were introduced to the delights of Cuban rice and beans and felt we had arrived!
We stayed at the Hotel Parque Central, ideally placed for walking out into la Habana Vieja. We were tourists in this crumbling, collapsing city, easily identified, as though there were a sign around our necks reading, 'cash cow'. Anyone and everyone seemed eager to take money from us, not the local peso currency but our much wanted tourist Cuban dollars that convert for the locals to twenty times the initial value. We were tapped on the shoulder, there was a tug at our sleeve. "Where you from?" "I show you..." and the most common refrain of all, "Money for milk for my children." We were concerned, were these people really hungry?
Litter was strewn everywhere, facades of buildings hung in space, supported by rusting scaffolding festooned with climbing plants. Apartments were open to the sky, formerly magnificent buildings were a patina of chipped paint, broken masonry, serious neglect strung with rows of washing.
In England we had booked a meal at La Guarida, a famous paladar, one of a number of private houses offering the hope of better food than can be bought in the state-run restaurants. The taxi took us over pitted, rubble-strewn streets. The dark doorman, almost invisible in the dark night, asked, "Have you booked?" We were ushered into a magical space.
There was a Castro quote stenciled on the wall.
The waitresses were unsmiling and barely attentive. The food was unremarkable, not worthy of its reputation. Don't ask me what I ate because I can't remember.
If you wish to enter a dream you must visit La Guarida.
But the weather was good!