Cuba Libre: Being sick and discovering “Cash Cab” in Cuba

[Though this might look like the U.S. Capitol, it is actually Havana's Capitolio. The strange resemblance makes even stranger sense when you get to the "Cash Cab" comparison at the end of this post.]

Peter and Frank planned to leave for Trinidad on Monday, leaving Lora and I in Havana. They had hoped for a noonish start to their day and planned on renting a car for the remainder of their stay. (Road trip in Cuba? Yes, please! I tried my best to convince Lora to hit the road with the boys, but she was nearly out of cash, had somehow forgotten her ATM and credit cards in Canada, and therefore was relying on the three of us to fund the remainder of her trip).

The boys dilly-dallied for a good two hours by having lunch and weighing the pros and cons to Cuba’s expensive car rental rate, which would come to a whopping $75 per day. By the time they decided to go for it, the car rental guy informed them there were no more cars available. So, that evening, Lora and Frank went to see the famous cabaret show at the Tropicana. They paid nearly U.S.$100 each for three hours of entertainment. Peter and I were less interested in seeing scantily clad women wearing chandeliers on their heads, so we walked to a delightful little paladar called La Cocina de Lilliam in the Embassy district and splurged on a delicious three course meal with red wine.

This paladar was a pleasant contrast to the crowded yet intimate La Guarida in town. La Cocina was set in the side courtyard of a large, lavish house. There were waterfalls and fountains spread about the courtyard as well as plenty of green plants and birdcages with cockatiel and parakeets. Peter and I had a really nice conversation about traveling and other things that time seemed to float by undetected. Somehow we didn’t get home until midnight. Soon after, Lora and Frank returned from their cabaret date. After a nightcap of Cuba Libres, smoking a bit more of our Cuban cigars, and listening to the ocean on the patio, we retired at 1 or so.

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It is never a good sign waking up pre-dawn with with a cold sweat, headache, and stomachache. The only time I felt this ill was when I ate a sweet (but apparently foul) mango in India and found myself on the toilet for two full days. My body felt weak, and I felt tired and gross.

Peter and Frank left early in the morning for Trinidad, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept almost all of Tuesday. Lora still made the most of her day, visiting la Plaza de la Revolución (with an enormous monument for pre-revolutionary figure José Martí) by cab and walking around our Miramar/Playa neighborhood. She found a cinema just a few blocks away and decided to have a quick dinner and catch an 8:30 movie (for just a dollar!). To her surprise and dismay, she was the only one interested in viewing this film and was turned away by the cinema attendant. Had I gone with her I think she would have been able to see it. So Lora was home by 9 p.m. and we watched a film on TV (I slept through most of it) and made it an early night. I didn’t eat anything all day.

My mysterious illness was a doozy (Pete and I think the lamb at La Cocina could have been the culprit), but I felt quite lucky to be in a 5 star hotel. I mean, things could have been much worse! I could have been like my friend Brody in the middle of rural Laos, who had to visit the village doctor to get hooked up to an IV and take an anti-vomit shot in the butt. If my situation had been more dire, I could have found myself in a Cuban hospital without travel insurance and maybe even lacking cash for medical care.

In the end, I think this sickness just made me appreciate the important things in life – like friends and a warm, comfortable bed. While I would have enjoyed seeing more of Havana, staying at the Melia Habana and with Lora was so comforting. In addition, as I am usually a solo traveler, I could have easily been much more depressed all by my lonesome and staying in some tiny casa particular.

The following morning I felt well enough to sit up and watch some TV, where I discovered my new favorite game show. Since I don’t have cable nor any real interest to watch TV here in Hawaii, leave it to my travels and stay in a 5 star hotel in Cuba (of all places) to hook me onto “Cash Cab” on the Discovery Channel. What a perfect and delightful premise and show! I watched 3 whole hours (that’s 6 episodes) of Cash Cab. It is utterly ironic how I stumbled upon this particular show in Cuba, though, for the contrast between the high-paced capitalist capital of New York City (the setting of Cash Cab) and my current environs couldn’t be more stark.

My excitement over this kind of game show just reaffirmed my Western upbringing. As I watched contestants win over $1,000 during a short cab ride (which is more than twice as much a Cuban citizen makes in a year), I wondered what Cubans thought of such a show. I was, however, watching it in English, so I imagine only educated and wealthy Cubans could actually comprehend the nature of the show. Regardless, the show’s premise is both perfect for the intended Western audience and quite jarring for Cubans (along with being a disgusting display of capitalism at work).

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —