It is a typically rainy night in Havana. Taka and I linger near the doorway, out of the rain, of Hotel Sevilla – one of those grand, colonial buildings that Cuba is known for – as Lori, a smartly-dressed young Cuban woman, asks the doormen to direct us to the dining room. Her friends will be performing opera songs for the dinner crowd this evening.
We had thought that her asking would be the easiest way, her being a native speaker, a local, and much more respectable looking compared to my and Taka’s look of general haggardness. But the doormen are rude and dismissive towards her. It seems that they only reluctantly admit her to the hotel, the lobby decorated in a fashion fit for nobility; or, in this case, for foreign tourists. (more…)
I walk into a beautiful café. The furnishings are contemporary and comfortable. I am served my café Americano with a glass of filtered water, gratis. What a lovely place, I think, as I look through my pictures while seated in a rocking chair. A couple is dropped off in a horse-drawn carriage that they have apparently rented for the afternoon. The owner is familiar with them. When I settle up the bill, the dream is over. I would have paid less for a coffee in Brooklyn. Maybe even half as much.
I am in Granada, Nicaragua trying to figure out why it is such a tourist destination. Experiences like the one in the café make me think that the formula is quite simple. People just have to start going to a place for one reason or another and then the process is simply self-perpetuating. Before long, there are several establishments that are expensive even for foreign visitors. Maybe it’s arbitrary.
Earlier, in my taxi to the center of town, we maneuver through the outskirts. Bicycle taxies roam the streets, juice vendors squeeze refreshments, the ubiquitous motorcycle zooms by, horse-drawn carts carry goods too burdensome for man. From the calm of the periphery, we pass through the crowded shop-lined streets. The market is bustling. Speakers blare dance rhythms, vendors lure in costumers. Taxies, pedestrians, motorcycles, bikes, horse carts: mingle in the streets.
It is sometime around midnight and I’m on a volcano. There are 40 of us, some with headlamps, others without. The light of the full moon seems sufficient, save the millions of stones and rocks that we trip over going up. Most of the hike, however, it doesn’t feel like we’re going up at all.
Telica Volcano is about a half hour drive from Leon, Nicaragua. With Queztaltrekkers, a non-profit that works with local kids and takes gringos on treks, we pile into the back of flatbed trucks as the cool night air provides some relief from this impossibly hot climate. Like a herd, we stomp through the farmland. Even though it is dark, the heat is oppressive. I sweat through my shirt before we even start the major uphill climb of the hike. Over the course of 12 hours, I will have drunk four liters (about 135 ounces) of water.
The guy sitting next to me on the bus to Lake Coatepeque sounds like he’s got a bowl of soup in his mouth. Each time he says something I shrug and tell him I don’t understand, but he keeps going anyway. A man standing in the aisle says something in intelligible Spanish that I understand. We drive from Santa Ana through lush green scenery into small towns where people hop on and off. A woman is selling live chicks on the sidewalk that have been dyed pink, yellow, and blue out of a cardboard box. Her face is timid and innocent. I cannot pass judgment.
We have doubts and we haven’t even stopped for lunch—the halfway point. Our packs are heavy, with 5 liters of water, clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, cooking supplies. The first hour of the hike up Acatenango Volcano was straight up. It isn’t much better now.
We stop for lunch at our halfway point and everyone throws off their backpacks and collapses on the ground. The lunch that is provided for me is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. There was cheese and spinach and bread, and whatever.