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Journal - 04-Apr-2001, Wednesday, María la Gorda, Pinar del Rio, Havana, Cuba
(Trip: Cuba)

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Click for larger image! Time to break the perfect camp.... Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel,havana,habana,ill,sickness,hospital,doctor,medicine
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Click for larger image! ...or should we just move here?. Keywords: backpack,camp,camping,tent,Cuba,pinar del rio,maria la gorda,beach,coast,park,tourist,travel,havana,habana,ill,sickness,hospital,doctor,medicine
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Time to break the perfect camp...
...or should we just move here?
Send to a friend! Send to a friend!

At six a.m. it's still dark. We don't wake again till seven. Our stomachs feel worse. As we strike camp, everything is done in slow motion to try and keep the nausea at bay.

It's 9:00 before we arrive at the reserve center. By now we feel worse than ever and are considering seeking medical help. A walk through the forest doesn't seem feasible, so we say goodbye to the staff at the center and drive on.

We give a lift to a man in his twenties. His accent is almost completely unintelligible to me but Monica seems to be able to communicate without a problem.

We're driving slowly to save fuel and comment on this to our passenger. He understands completely, and points out some short cuts so we can save further. He tells us that his family has a Lada that they use to go to Havana sometimes but the state gasoline ration is only 20 liters (4 gallons) a month. It's possible to buy gas on the black market but it's often of dubious quality.

At the first reasonable sized town, Sandino, our passenger insists we pay a visit to the hospital. I have my doubts but Monica is also keen to see a doctor, so I oblige.

We pull into the gravel car park of the single story hospital. Our passengers goes to the desk at the reception and manages to get us straight in. We're told to wait outside a particular door till the doctor can see us.

The hallway of the hospital is horribly dirty, with the white paint almost black towards the floor. The door was painted at least a decade ago and badly chipped and scarred. Throngs of people bustle around. Or line the walls waiting.

A few minutes later, a patient opens the orange door and leaves. We poke our head in. The dirty irregularly shaped room has a small, derelict, wooden desk, with a white-coated woman seated behind it. We tip-toe in and Monica explains our problem.

On the desk there is an ancient instrument for measuring blood pressure. The rest of the room is completely bare. The doctor asks us to take a seat. There's only one - a small plastic chair - so I sit on a ledge by the window. The doctor takes down Monica's name and asks about what we've eaten. She says that she can fix us up with a quick injection but it may cause drowsiness, therefore she doesn't want to give it to the driver (me). Thank goodness for that. For me, she has a pill.

She disappears to find the medicines in the dispensary. Looking around at the mildew covered walls, Monica and I are horrified by the idea of an injection.

When the doctor returns with a liquid capsule, Monica pleads that she's terrified of needles and asks for a tablet instead. The doctor hesitates a little but says she'll see what she can do. She disappears again and returns shortly with two tablets. Phew.

The treatment is free but the doctor invites us to contribute something. Monica gives her $5. The doctor seems a little embarrassed to be taking such a large sum of money, but gets over it pretty quickly and wishes us a safe trip.

I'm not feeling too bad, and put my pill in my pocket. I only intend to take it if I don't improve. Off we go.

A couple of hours later, we pull into the Hotel Pinar del Rio carpark. We're hoping to find some clean, safe, food here.

Leaving the car, we're greeted by a shout of "Hola México!". It's the young man we gave a lift to last time we were here. What, if anything, does this guy do? My guess is 'close to nothing'. No wonder he's such a believer in socialism!

We're told that there are a number of restaurants in the hotel, so we walk around, checking them out. I'm starting to feel very bad and can't imagine eating anywhere. Monica orders a slice of Pizza. I take the tablet and sit down, suffering.

Once Monica's eaten, we sit outside and nibble on some snacks and fruit juice from the hotel shop. I feel feverish. Monica calls the family in Havana, where we stayed before, to see if they have space for us tonight. They do. That's great. Now we just need to get there so we can crash out until we're well again.

Monica drives; she's feeling better than me now. We give a lift to our socialist friend, and a friend of his. They're going to a party in Soroa. Not a bad life.

The drive is uneventful as we talk a little about life in Cuba and Mexico with our passengers. After we drop them off, the car remains empty for the rest of the journey.

It's not long before we're at the edge of Havana. We don't see any useful signs to navigate with, so continue straight.

Suddenly, without any warning, the highway comes to an abrupt end - I mean the tarmac just runs out! The options are, take an exit to the left or to the right. We've no idea what to do. Most of the traffic seems to be leaving to the right, so we take that exit.

We end up on a fairly big road with a sign to Mariano. We've no idea where Mariano is and it's not on the map. We seem to be going away from town, so we do a U-turn.

Now we're completely lost and just following the traffic. We arrive at Lenin Park and try to use it orientate ourselves. The only map it appears on is an unlabeled hand-drawn diagram highlighting Havana's green spots. We're south of the city, so decide to follow the big road we're on, hoping it goes north.

As we drive on the road gets bigger but we no longer seem to be in the urban area. We might be on a highway heading to the other end of Cuba for all we know! I look at the map and deduce that we must be on some perimeter road, circling Havana.

We stop for a hitchhiker and ask for directions to Havana. He says straight on, and asks for a ride to the next exit. I have my doubts, but we drive on.

After almost an hour of driving, we start to see signs for the tunnel. This confirms my theory that we've spent the last hour circumnavigating Havana and are now entering it from the other side. The tunnel crosses the harbor, into Old Havana, onto the Malecon. At least we should be able to find our way once we're on the Malecon.

We reach some kind of check point. It looks like the entrance to a toll road. Luckily they don't seem to want to charge us and we're quickly waved through.

The tunnel descends under the sea and only has one half operating; the other half seems to be in repair. We're a little nervous - the tunnel was built 50 years ago, before the revolution, and probably hasn't received much maintenance since!

Out on the other side we're suddenly in familiar territory. All we have to do now is follow the Malecon, at the sea's edge.

On arrival at what has become our 'neighborhood', we stop to buy water and snacks at the supermarket. I'm still feeling terrible and wait in the car. Monica is chirpy when she gets back with the shopping (she's almost always happy after shopping) and drives me the remaining block to our lodging.

At the house, I have to endure standing, with my bag, while we chat with the family about our illness and where we've been. I feel that a little less discussion about medicines, and a little more lying in bed, would be beneficial but am too polite to say anything. I stand there with a forced smile, hoping I don't faint.

Luckily my pale face gives my true feelings away and I'm shooed into the bedroom to collapse on the jelly-sprung bed. Monica lies down with me and we fall into a deep sleep.

Waking a couple of hours later, around 7:30 p.m., I take our temperatures. Monica's is normal. That's a relief. Mine is 38.4 C (100 F) - in the fever zone. Not so good. I try to get back to sleep. Monica covers my forehead with wet toilet paper. It feels disgusting, like cold slime.

I wonder if it's possible we've got malaria, and even thinking about calling my father (a recent victim) to ask about the symptoms. In my Palm Pilot I have malaria information from the World Health Organization (WHO) website. It doesn't mention stomach cramps, just fever, and Monica doesn't even have a fever.

The next time I wake, Monica has left the room. She's feeling well enough to socialize with the family. That's good. I eat some yogurt and biscuits and return to my voluntary coma.

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Cuba - Rotorua, New Zealand - Christ Church, Dublin - Monument Valley, Arizona - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico - Staffa, Scotland - Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico - Costa Rica - Tule Tree, Oaxaca, Mexico - Fiesta, Mexico City - Making Lacquer, Olinalá, Mexico - Talavera Ceramics, Puebla, Mexico - Mata Ortiz Pottery, Mexico - Lebanon
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