The Big Issue : Edition 556
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 23 FEB–8 MAR 2018 13 I GRAPPLE WITH holidays. For one, as a freelancer, I don’t have a job, which counterintuitively means no time off. Public holidays float to my notice only because a) inexplicably, the traffic is tolerable, and b) no-one’s answering the goddamn phone. But mostly I’m just rubbish at relaxing. Show me a luxury resort option with swimming pools, cocktails and comatose semi-naked Westerners with deck-stain tans, and the voice in my head shouts BUT WHAT IS THERE TO DO? My partner, the lovely Greg, would adore two weeks of choosing which warm flat surface to snooze on next, but not on my watch, sunshine. We will be stimulated and enriched regardless of how exhausted and drained we are on return. Hence we’ve just staggered in from everyone’s bucket-list destination, Cuba. Everyone wants to go to Cuba, preferably before there’s that McDonald’s on every corner. Relax. McDonald’s is a long way off. But hurry, because tourism is transforming the joint into one enormous Ye Olde living historical theme park. Learn Spanish if you want your experience to extend beyond the transactional. I didn’t, but here are a couple of “must knows” I picked up along the way. Interesante My first meal in Cuba was at Mojito Mojito in Old Havana. I was pouty about the extreme tourist vibe of the place until I realised that every restaurant in Cuba is “touristy”, because Cubans can’t afford to eat in them. The “real” Cuba is one where locals buy hunks of raw pork out of a wheelbarrow on a street corner and cook it at home. Mojito Mojito, self-nominating as renowned for its mojitos in much the same way that regional Australian bakeries all claim to have the nation’s best vanilla slice, was chosen by our tour guide, Yanniel. Not yet understanding that Cuban cuisine is essentially a cup game of reconfiguring the exact same eight ingredients in different ways to give the appearance of variety (hello embargoes), I plumped for the menu item Hemingway Fish. » Fiona Scott Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer and comedian who loves Havana good time. FIONA Cuba Libre “Show me a luxury resort option with swimming pools, cocktails and comatose semi- naked Westerners... and the voice in my head shouts BUT WHAT IS THERE TO DO?” “What’s this?” I asked Yanniel. He shrugged. “No idea.” What arrived was a ring of hollowed-out fresh pineapple, filled with a pile of fish and pineapple chunks. It tasted...odd. Not bad, but hard to grab onto. Cuban pineapple’s not sweet, there’s no particular flavour to the fish. “What’s it like?” Yanniel asks, tucking into a massive pile of pork ribs. “Interesting,” I reply. He laughs. “That’s a good word.” We establish that Spanish for interesting is interesante, and it becomes the word of the fortnight. Cuba is intensely interesante. Useful whether you’re watching a black-market gas station dude pour petrol from a bucket, while smoking a cigarette, into a still running car, or having to provide your passport to spend a CUC$50 note in a government shop because of surveillance. Baños Said with an upwards, urgent, questioning inflection, baños (pronounced bunyos) means bathroom. Baños are a mixed bag in Cuba. Toilet seats are hard to come by, along with everything else (did I mention embargoes?), and it’s rare outside your accommodation to win toilet bingo (seat, running water, toilet paper, soap). Spanish for hand sanitiser is desinfectante de manos, but bring your own; just like medicine, books, dairy, confectionery, tampons and non-grandma undies, you can’t buy it in Cuba anyway. No gracias More important even than dos mojitos (two mojitos), no gracias (no thank you) will dissuade the million or so folk who are offering you a taxi. From experience, alas, it’s ineffective against the roaming samba bands who will mug you anyway. Just enjoy it. It’s interesante.