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 can think of no better place to show up starving, famished even, than Luang Prabang, Laos. I have been traveling all day, winding up and down green mountains past beautiful scenery, and I’m really hungry. Nighttime in Luang Prabang is a smorgasbord. There are sandwiches on baguettes (the French-colonial vibe), soups, and down an alley of barbeque and buffets one can find anything they desire (of Laotian/Asian cuisine) for less than US$2.
I’ve just eaten some very tasty vegetarian Chinese buffet (that I would return to more than once while in Georgetown), and I’m walking around aimlessly. A couple of trishaw (bike taxi) drivers are seated on the sidewalk playing checkers with beer bottle caps. On the building across the street is a large mural of a trishaw driver lounging in his carriage, waiting for his next costumer.
I am lured in by a chalkboard in front of a wine shop: Every additional glass of wine is five quetzales cheaper than the last. Tabacos y Vinos does not have an English name, sure, but it is a quintessential gringo hangout in a town full of gringo hangouts. I meet a retired archeologist (now expat), a schoolteacher from New England, a group of law students doing a two-week program, a group of guys from Arkansas in seminary school learning Spanish, and the lady working that night. There is a local on duty in case someone comes in and needs to speak Spanish. It is less a bar than wine shop in setup, with a large square table surrounded by wine bottles shelved on the walls, so it is hard not to talk to people while hanging out there.
Antigua has a ridiculous amount of language schools and lures droves of English speakers to learn Spanish the best way: cultural immersion. The only problem is that finding someone willing to speak Spanish to you is harder to come by than someone willing, or able, to speak English.