Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cuba Day 4: Valle de Viñales

Viñales awakes to the sound of chickens crowing, cockadoodledoing, kikirikireeing or whatever they do in Cuba. Mojito-drinkers they ain’t – the chickens that is. The fuckers are awake and they want to make sure everyone else is too.
(Later spot them pecking at and eating polystyrene, that white plastic foam shite that cannot be recycled. I suppose this is one way to recycle it. No doubt it will end up in the human food chain later on.)
There’s a hop-on hop-off bus going around various highlights around the valley so we hop on – time to save the legs. Hop off at Cueva del Indio, a cave with a boat going through it. The young fella’s a bit worried about crocodiles. Someone told him Cuba was full of them…
No crocodiles, disappointing. No unicorns or flying pigs or whatever they were trying to tell us the rock formations looked like either. They all looked like rock formations.
Find a group of locals gathered around a spectacle in the dirt outside. An evil looking insect is attacking a huge hairy spider. Looks like the evil insect is winning – spider looks shook, crawls away. Everyone ducks when the insect flies around looking for it. Jaysus, it’s a mean looking thing. Eventually finds the poor spider. That’s that.
A local fella says neither of them are dangerous. They’d bite you or sting you and it’d hurt like hell but they’re not dangerous, he says. There are no dangerous animals in Cuba. He doesn’t mention the crocodiles. Guess they’d bite your head and limbs off but they’re not dangerous.
No traffic in the countryside. Just horses, oxen, goats, buffalo.
Stray dogs and chickens roam the streets of Viñales, scampering out of others’ way. Cowboys stroll past, faces shaded by straw hats, usually with a cigarette clamped between their lips.
No traffic lights. Cars simply stop to let the others go by. A tractor stops in the middle of the road as the driver spots a passerby for a chat. Traffic behind waits patiently. Nobody beeps. All in its own good time. Nobody in a hurry anywhere. So laid back it’s horizontal.
Farming and tourism provide the livelihoods here, though the tourists don’t stop the locals being locals. That they remain, and probably will forever.
Visit the local stadium, watch kids playing baseball. Young fella captivated again. Any game with a ball. Local shows him how to hold a baseball bat. All proud.
Local in a coche antiguo asks for help reversing. We get him out. Todo bien.
“He had just jocks on. It’s even winter,” young fella says of a kid in his underwear eating melon outside his house at 8pm. What a country.
I get him a huge piña colada (sin alcohol). It’s a hit. No doubt he’ll be wanting more…
The bar-girls are happy to see him again. We sit at the bar. He’s pulling faces at them, actually pinches one on the arse! She squeals in mock horror. This is getting out of hand…
Birthday tomorrow. I tell him it’s his last night being five. He goes to sleep with a smile.
3 mojitos.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: Knee update

Got the results from the MRI today. They're not good. Cartilage damage and inner meniscus tear. There's a lack of "Kniegelenkerguss," whatever that is, and something else between the tractus iliotibialis and the diaphyseal femur is irritated. Probably due to Trump.
I was given all this info on a fax sent by the MRI people to Dr. Gunter Frenzel and tried deciphering it while I waited to see him. A friend I texted asked a physiotherapist who said, "you'll eventually need surgery, and running might be a bit of a problem."
But Dr. Frenzel was more upbeat. He went through the images on a screen, pointed out the damage. He said he didn't want to operate – I told him I didn't want him to either – and he suggested I just needed to take it easy, not do anything strenuous. He told me how to get up after sitting down, not to kneel on the floor, not to put any pressure on the knee at all.
I told him I'm running the marathon in Madrid in April, less than 12 weeks away, and asked if that was now out the window. He said no! He asked me about the pain now and if I was training already. I said I was, I never really stopped. I told him I'd back problems the last couple of weeks and the hip was still troubling me since the crash but he didn't think they were related.
He told me to take a tablet the night before the marathon and another after it, painkiller/anti-inflammatory, that it'll hurt for two or three weeks afterward, but one marathon in a year might be OK.
He was going to prescribe the tablets for me to try out in training but I told him they gave me heart palpitations the last time he prescribed them, before the ill-fated Berlin marathon. So he scrapped that.
He told me to go for it, keep going, keep training, and to go back to him in four weeks for another check-up. So that's what I'll do. Meanwhile I'm booking flights for Madrid.
I didn't run in Cuba – the young fella didn't want to run with me – but I've been swimming (once) and running since I got back, through frozen forests, across frozen meadows, around frozen lakes. I'm not going to win this marathon, I just have to run it.
If you didn't know by now, it’s for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Syria. I know all the media attention is now on the U.S. thanks to that fuckhead in the White House, but I can assure you, the people he's shunning in Syria still need help. They're humans! Mothers, fathers, children who deserve lives free from bombs like anyone else.
So far, thanks to your generous support, we've raised €1,861. Once I get paid for January I'm topping it up to €2,000. I transferred €1,500 to MSF already but I'll transfer another €500 then. They need it.
Donations are more welcome than ever!
IBAN DE09500105175554452542 (BIC: INGDDEFFXXX) or the donate button below.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cuba: Day 3, Hasta Viñales

"There isn't any seat belts. Not even in the front."
This is Cuba man. You know what it’s like.
We’re getting the bus to Viñales. Jorge from the hostal walked us to the bus station. I thought it was around the corner but it wasn’t. I accepted his offer to bring us as I thought he had a car but he doesn’t. So we walked and walked again. The poor young fella’s legs will be stumps. It was getting too much for him so we jumped on a bus to bring us the rest of the way. Jorge paid.
He tried getting us bus tickets at the station but apparently this isn’t straightforward in Cuba. He told us to stand in one queue and went off in search of another. Confused tourists wandered around fruitlessly. Maybe they had fruit in their backpacks, I dunno. Jorge came back, told us to stay in the queue, went off somewhere else. He came back again – all the buses were sold out. Only option was a bus tomorrow or a colectivo today, 30 cucs for the two of us. Right, colectivo then.
It’s an old-timer American bus of some sort. We’ve been joined by a German woman, a French mother and daughter and possibly grandmother, and an Argentinean fella. All very nice. It’s three or four hours to Viñales, but this is Cuba. It could be anything.
People wait by the side of the road under bridges for pickups to pick 'em up, other colectivos I suppose. This one ain’t stopping. Fellas selling strings of onions by the side of the road. Others ambling along on old bicycles. Some trotting along on carts pulled by horses (doing the real trotting).
Hardly any vehicles on the so-called motorway. Driver gives a beep before we overtake anyone so they don’t take a mad notion to swerve out in front at the same time for whatever reason. I guess there’s a lot of swerving to avoid all the potholes…
Visiting a tobacco plantation before we get to Viñales. We picked up another fella en route and he suggested it, said it will only take ten minutes. Yeah right.
As suspected, ten minutes in Cuba are about the equivalent of an hour anywhere else. But we saw the process of cigars being made, leaves being gathered from the fields, sorted, hung up to dry. They’re left to dry for ages.
The young fella is hooked already. Wants to find another plantation to get more tobacco leaves. They're nice and soft. He got himself a cigar. I nearly tried one but damn, that marathon. Can’t take any chances even if smoking is the least potentially harmful thing in the world at the moment.
Viñales is a one-horse to every ten-tourist town. Place is swarming with English-speakers, French and Germans, all no doubt here to get away from one another.
The young fella is making friends with bar-girls again. Pretty ones too. I've to find a way to turn that to my advantage...
2 mojitos.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cuba: Day 2, Plaza de la Revolución

“I took the smaller one.”
Why did you do that?
“Because I’m the smaller one.”
(Breakfast. Can’t remember what this was about. Perhaps he took the smaller pineapple. We had pineapple every day without fail for breakfast.)
We stroll down to Plaza de la Revolución, see a humming bird on the way. Just amazing, how they dart around and hover before darting off again. Beautiful creatures.
(Took a load of photos. None of them came out. The damn bird was too fast.)
Plaza de la Revolución is big, just big. Che and Fidel look on from the sides. Politics is everywhere in Cuba and the revolution keeps it alive.
Find a hop-on hop-off tourist bus that will bring us around for the day. Convince young fella of its merits, that we wouldn’t have to walk as much as yesterday. We hop on. No seats. The thing is jammed. Eventually, after getting seats, we don’t want to hop off again. It seems this was the original cause of the lack of seats. Finally get off the bus at Parque Central when bus driver kicks us off to have lunch. He’d only driven us around the same stuff we’d seen walking yesterday.
Lunch. Find a bar beside the bank. Mojitos for $2.50. Atleti are playing on the telly. Tell young fella it’s live but that it’s already nighttime in Spain, the other side of the world, and that’s why they’re playing in the dark. Eyes light up. Amazed. Damn, this the best mojito I ever drank.
We walk again, keep walking. We’re destined to walk. Up around the entrance to the bay, down along the promenade. Sun glistens off the highly polished chrome of the old-timers as they drive by.
Everyone does their living on the streets. It seems they only sleep at home, otherwise they’re on the street, playing, talking, listening to music, socializing. The odd car has to keep beeping frequently to let people know it’s a road. Here, people are king; they’ve reclaimed the streets, if indeed they were ever unclaimed in the first place.
Watching lads boxing and sparring in an outdoor boxing gym. Straight away invited in for a closer look. Hesitate for a second and you’ll get an invitation in Cuba.
Good discussion about the solar system under a full moon and Venus on the way home. Of course we never managed to find that bus again to hop back on. Still, it gave our legs a brief break.
5 mojitos.