Saturday, August 28, 2010

a trip!

august 28, 8:55 pm

Just got back from the trip to Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. Kind of a whirlwind.

Santa Clara is where the Che monument, museum, and memorial is. Cool monument (whoops, no pictures) and got to see an underground, very dark and solemn Che Guevarra memorial complete with eternal flame. Later that evening we went to a community center (bar) and I met a Belgian and two Dutch tourists, who I spoke English with. There was supposed to be a "rock show" that night, but due to the rain it didn't seem that the performers showed up. Instead we listened to a DJ playing "rock" and watched a bunch of cuban guys playing air-guitar. They got really really into it.

Cienfuegos was next. In the morning there was a tour of the main plaza. We all agreed it was terrible. Way too hot, direct sunlight, the tour guide babbled and was difficult to understand. The street we walked down was really crowded with folks and tourists and we found our first market of touristy trinkets. Had a hell of a time finding lunch. We were supposed to be on our own, and were given moneda nacional. But we tried 3 or 4 different places and everything was priced in CUC. Finally after walking around hot, sweat, hungry, grumpy, our assistant director Matt took a group of us to a restaurant and paid CUC for us.

I might not have talked about this but I forget whether I did. Moneda nacional is the cuban currency (pesos cubanos). CUC (convertible pesos) is the currency created for tourists. Now it circulates among cubans as well. Moneda nacional is worth a lot less than CUC. The conversion rate is 2.40 moneda nacional per 1 CUC. Once we get our carnet (cuban ID) we'll be able to go to concerts and things and pay really low prices in moneda. As far as eating goes, it's hit or miss. Many street vendors are in moneda, and many nicer sit-down places are in CUC. But as we found in Cienfuegos, it was really hard to find food in moneda because it kind of felt like a touristy hot spot. Also, there are sometimes CUC menus and they might've given us the CUC menu because we're white and appear to be tourists.

Back to Cienfuegos. Very cool expedition to the mountains. We all got on this camión, a huge soviet era truck that was outfitted with seats on the truck bed. Enormous, loud, bumpy, and absolutely thrilling. It took us on rough dirt roads that were curvy and steep.

We went up a couple mountains, and had a couple moments where we thought we were going to roll backwards. Lots of downshifting. Luckily we had a driver who knew what he was doing. After driving for a while, we stopped to go on a hike. Beautiful mountain terrain, but it was a really easy hike designed for tired tourists. But it was amazingly beautiful and there was a waterfall that we saw and a natural water hole that we stopped to swim at. So refreshing, so surreal. I even jumped off the embankment (maybe 12-15 feet up) and this is coming from the boy who was too terrified to go off the diving board. We hiked some more and finally arrived at a little place where we ate lunch. Perfectly delicious. The chickens were walking around under our table, as were the cats and dogs. They must eat well. The chicken we ate certainly tasted as if it had a good life.

Anyway, our last 2 days of our trip were spent in Trinidad. It's a beautiful town and we got to explore a little and see the hilly neighborhoods where folks live. It's the most touristy feeling, too, but I think we had the most fun here. The first day we went to a museum and had another tour guide who was a blabber. Lots of military history and no air circulation equals grumpy kids. After that we explored on our own and met up for lunch at a palada, which is a restaurant run out of someone's home. It was great food but funny because there was construction going on, so literally a huge hole in the ceiling with sunlight pouring in. Later that evening we went to the "casa de la música," which is not a casa but an outdoor plaza area where there are bands and dancing at night. Kind of a funny mix of european tourists, cubans, salsa teachers, and us. Lots of great dancers (the teachers and some tourists) and the music was very fun. Beers were 1 CUC each. There are two that are everywhere. You can get una Cristal (the light beer, hence the feminine article) or un Bukanero (the heavier beer, with slightly higher alcohol content). I go back and forth. They're both good. Beer is always one of the beverages that is "included" ie free with our lunch or dinner on this trip. So we drank a lot of beer.

The second day in Trinidad we went to a tower that was used on a plantation, constructed super high so as to look over all the slaves. Cool building, great views. Whoops, no camera again. Then it started pouring but we kept our plans to head to the beach. It stopped raining by the time we arrived, and the water was super super warm. Again, very comfortable bath. Still cloudy out, and some lightning in the distance, but it was gorgeous. My first time in the Caribbean! We got some stingy spots, possibly from jellyfish pieces/parts floating around.

That evening was the best night on the trip. After dinner we napped and I got a cafecito, nice little espresso, because I knew it would be a late one. First we went back to the casa de la musica and heard another great band playing. This time a couple of the girls got up and danced. They were awesome and looked beautiful up there with all the pros. There were old men who looked like they were going to die the next day, but dancing up there they couldn't have been more than 20. One old cowboy, complete with hat and leathery skin, danced with a couple of the girls. He did this move that kind of resembled the splits where he would just suddenly jerk his legs open and hit the floor. I couldn't believe that old man's body was doing that. Increíble.

The real fun was the discoteca! It's owned by the hotel we stayed at, which was this big sprawling affair with a nice pool. The discoteca is literally in a cave. Not just one chamber, but a string that are connected and paved with stone, pretty dry and comfortable but a little hotter than I was expecting. Full disco lighting, bar, tables, music videos projected on a huge screen. Absolutely magical. We had a blast and danced our asses off. Weirdly enough, ran into the Belgian and Dutch tourists from the first night.

Today we made our way back home to Havana. On the way we stopped at a cute spot in some bay, and there was a huge mansion that our guide told us supposedly cost a million pesos when it was built a while back. The pictures show a little bit of what it's like. There was this incredible woman with this gold turban and over-painted face who was playing piano and singing a little bit. Absolutely fabulous. Wish I had talked to her but I was feeling shy.

Good to be "home" in Havana. It's already starting to feel that way, after having gone away for 4 1/2 days. I think tonight we're off to a jazz club nearby, supposedly a really good one.

*Edit* Decided not to go to the jazz club. Watched "dirty dancing havana nights" instead! Ha. Good times. The jazz club turned out to be 10 CUC. Way pricey.

Monday, August 23, 2010

habana vieja

august 23, 9:00 pm

Today we left early after breakfast and headed out for a tour of habana vieja (old havana). Touristy yet beautiful. Incredible colors, architecture, and people. We got a sense of touristy havana with its restaurants and fancy shops but also of the real havana with tiny streets. There were these rooms right off the street--when I would peak in I could see people, some old folks sitting crippled, some people in their kitchen--just living, feet from where I was walking. One moment stands out: seeing the huge truck maneuver its way through a ninety degree turn in one of those tiny streets...basically an alley. There were lots of little cars going by, little work vehicles, motorcycles.

We began our tour with our guide, Jesus (hey-zus). He's taking us on our trip to Santa Clara and Trinidad tomorrow. He showed us the forts there in old havana, the plaza de armas where they used to have spanish military exercises way back. He emphasized what a secure city havana was. There were huge doors to the city that would prevent boats from entering. It hit me how old that part of havana is--16th century. Ancient as far as I'm concerned. The architecture was stunning. I really think that's the first time I've seen colonial architecture. The stone was nicely worn, and massive. These are monolithic buildings. I mean, they're still here after 400-500 years. Incredible.

Lots of folks looking to make a buck off the tourists, of course. People selling books in the plaza de armas. One man made a sketch of my face in profile. On the back of some medical packaging. Nobody else really thought it looked like me. The beard is huge, and my nose is too pointy. I politely refused the "gift" because we were warned people would give you things and expect payment. I couldn't manage to get it back to him, though. So I gave him 1 CUC. Hopefully he was pleased to get a CUC, and not moneda nacional.

By the way, in that plaza we saw a group of police men that Jesus said are being taught some history about Havana. They only have to have a ninth grade education to become police officers, and he applauded their effort to educate them a little bit about their city's history. If only our policemen got free education...or do they?

At another plaza nearby (there were a few, and I don't really remember names) there was a cathedral that we walked through. Huge with beautiful organ music playing from up above. I was really moved by that, surprisingly. I guess I've never been in a church that big. Wonderful sound.

Lunch was in barrio chino (china town). There used to be a lot of chinese in Cuba. If I understood correctly, Jesus said that at a certain point they were basically treated like slaves. Now there are descendants. A few of the folks working at the restaurant we went to had almond-shaped eyes. Kind of exotic looking. The restaurant itself was described as one of the best chinese restaurants in havana. There were chinese people eating there when we went, so good sign I guess. It was a huge feast, as only the chinese can manage. I don't even know how many dishes. We were all exhausted from 2 hours or so out in the sun walking and listening to Jesus, so it was a VERY welcome respite. We had so many leftovers, which they packaged for us. Thank you sarah lawrence (or rather, you mom and dad) for paying for that lunch.

We all got home after the tour/lunch and Maya mentioned something about napping. Pretty much all of us went to our rooms and slept. Me and Michelle slept over 2 hours each. Woke up at 5 and hurried to the hotel Mehiá Cohiba to buy postcards. Matilde is bringing some back to the united states with her and has very kindly offered to put stamps on them for us and send them out. Only had mom and dad's address though! Send me addresses if you want to get a postcard. I think that since they're postcards and not letters that have to be opened and read by the officials, there is a good chance they'll get to the US in a couple weeks. Think they go through Mexico.

Dinner at the house...beans, rice, mashed potatoes, yucca, the usual cold plate of veggies, bread/butter, pineapple juice, watermelon, ground beef browned, and for dessert this banana and something else flavored custard, too sweet--as I'm now expecting to taste. After dinner, our first monday night meeting with Maya and Matt, plus Matilde. Talked about our trip to Trinidad, Santa Clara. We leave early tomorrow am. (8:30) Did some packing afterwards (we're gone 4 days) and got some music onto my ipod that I hadn't had time for before leaving home. Seems so long ago that I was in the car leaving for the airport in Columbus. Strange how that works. Remove yourself from where you belong and you immediately lose touch of what that place is. What is left is what it means to you, not necessarily what it IS. Wonder how my feelings will change.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

beginning to explore

august 22 12:22 am

Nice day on our own. Woke up early for breakfast, then went back to sleep and slept in till noon. Hung out at the house for a while, then we went out and got ice cream at the coppelia, nearby on 23rd. Thunder as we were walking there. Then came back to the house and got our computers. Walked to the fancy hotel melía cohiba, which matt said is the only 5-star hotel in havana. Very very fancy inside. Reminded us of midtown manhattan. We got our wifi connection cards and used them right next to the bar. Wrote messages home but didn't check facebook. Facebook needs a break. And this is so distracting from that "old life" as it seems, that it's easy to forget about bookface.

After it started raining going to the hotel, it was cloudy the rest of the day. Dinner was rice, beans, tuna, the usual cold cucumbers and green beans, plus french fries and "ketchup", guayaba juice instead of the usual mango kind, and this too-sweet pudding with cinnamon sprinkled on top. We all dig the dessert.

After dinner we filled out applications for the carnet. Kayleigh and Anna and I went to the bar here and Jumanji was on the tv, so we watched that. Then chatted with the bartender for a while and had beers. Tonight was the hip hop show at the Riviera, nearby. It was a hip hop "simposio." Interesting, hard to understand, not as musically exciting as I was expecting though. I was hoping for more latin influence but it was almost like anything I could expect in the US, but in spanish. Plus we were all tired and I was kind of hot and grouchy. Slept through a lot of it, despite the loud hip hop--that's how tired. We left after 2 hours.

The walk tonight to the show was cool--noticed a few neat spiral staircases. Very elegant, very slim. I'm still impressed by the houses in vedado. All impressive, handsome mansions, very high ceilings. So many fluorescent lights, though. They're everywhere. Kind of unfortunate because it's so ugly. But energy efficient. I really want to know who used to live there.

Got to get to a good club soon. Want to hear some real music like the stuff we heard live last night. That really got me going, not the hip hop. But I'll try to give it another try when I have some caffeine.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

beach time

august 21, 1 am

Today we began to settle in. First we had a meeting to go over the "rules" I unpacked after breakfast, then we went on a little tour of the neighborhood in small groups. We went to the "cadeca" and the "agro." The cadeca is where you change money. I gave them American dollars and got some of it in moneda nacional (the traditional cuban peso) and part of it in CUC (convertible pesos, originally designed for tourist use and now circulating among lots of folks). The agro is a farmer's market and there was lots of fresh produce. After checking the map I'm starting to get an idea of north/south/east/west. The streets are set up numerically and alphabetically, so I'll figure it out soon.

After lunch and the tour, we took a trip to the beach! We all got in the mercedes vans again and traveled about 30-40 minutes to the beach. They were incredibly crowded, saturday on a hot summer day. Lots of buses in the parking lot. Maya rented a little picnic table with an umbrella made of husks or straw or something else. The water was incredibly warm, very clear (you could make out your feet), and the sun and sky were gorgeous. We had a really fun time, and now I hope to go back as often as we can. The cristal is a good light beer that we had there. The bucanero is a more full bodied beer and equally popular it seems.

A few words I learned at the beach: ako (disgusting) which is short for asceroso. Reason I learned this is that there were little pieces of shit floating around and we kept being chased by them. Lots of babies, so I guess it happens. Actually come to think of it, probably larger than baby size...but so many people, it's bound to happen. Luckily no contact!

After three hours roasting and swimming on the beach, we got in the vans to head home and I passed out shortly because the beach really makes you tired. We got home and had a nice dinner, rice, beans, pork that was really tender and had this great sauce on it, the usual cucumber green bean platter, bread and butter, and for dessert, arroz con leche (rice pudding) that was too sweet but of course, delicious. Excited to gain some weight. Maybe I'll bulk up? Wishful thinking. But after going to the beach, maybe the cuban men will entice me to gain some physique. Plenty of good bods, and they're very happy to show it off.

After dinner we took a break and then had some rum and coke in the bar and played a drinking game. All of us together, pretty fun! But after we left the bar we headed to the malecón again, this time with a few cuban friends who were close with the girls who came here last year from sarah lawrence. They're cute and very nice and smiley. And they took care of us when we went to the malecón, where there were hundreds of people. A huge crowd, drawn by the entertainment. Sometimes a DJ would play American music we knew. For a while, though, there was great live music. Traditional afro-cuban, I think, with trumpets, piano, guitar, voice, etc. Everyone tipsy, dancing, the cuban boys who came with us were GREAT dancers (I really have to watch and learn). MIchelle of course looked so beautiful and so natural dancing with them, and impressed them all. Kayleigh also met a very cute guy and had a fun time dancing. Over all, GREAT first night out unchaperoned. Felt very safe. I put my wallet inside my shorts as a precaution. We actually stood next to the police. There always seem to be awkward older cuban men watching, and sometimes they danced with us. And then we'd save each other from them after a while. For a second, there was a stampede towards us and I quickly grabbed whoever was standing around me and ran. But it was just a little disruption and we only had to run like 15 feet away to be safe. There was a fight, and the police must've broken it up very quickly--couldn't see it, though.

Love to feel the rhythms in my steps, or mis pasos. I was pulling out a lot of tap stuff, because Kelly Southall taught us cha cha and other vaguely latin looking things. I think my goal is to learn how to dance with partner and feel very comfortable. And it's so sexy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

traveling traveling

august 20, 11pm

I'm sitting on the beautiful terrace on the second floor of our house, ornate moldings, arches, and street views. I want to write down what I can remember of this whirlwind of a day. Leaving Miami, the airport, then the flight to Havana, the Havana airport, the drive to our house, meetings and dinner, then our first night out on the malecón. Right now the workers in the house downstairs are listening to some telenovela, and there's lots of screaming going on.

After what seemed like a very short sleep, we left the hotel and arrived shortly at the Miami airport. From there Matilde gave us the packet of very important materials...Visa, special charter flight information, a health card to fill out, another card to fill out (both handed over in Havana to make sure we're not bringing in weapons and aren't sick with something)...maybe something else I'm forgetting. Lots of docs.

The airport was filled with folks getting on the same charter flight. We had to check in with the charter company (called marazul, but the airline was Taca which is really big in latin america). First a few of us decided to wrap our bags in plastic wrap ($12 but worth it since I didn't have a lock). We saw most of the other folks doing it. And most had huge trollies with 4 or 10 bags of stuff, all wrapped in plastic. Must've been an expensive trip (we get 44 lbs and extra is like 2.50 a lb). We had the stressful weighing of the bags. We were all hoping they wouldn't weigh our carry on because that was what we put all our heavy stuff in, in order to make the weight limit for our checked bag. Had a nervous moment where I thought the guy was going to weigh my carry on (he just put a sticker on instead). After that waited around, got some directions from Matilde, then ate some lunch (and drank fresh squeezed orange juice, I think out of fear of not having any for a while) before going through security. Lots of waiting, but we were all nervously excited and made it through smoothly. I bought vogue and automobile magazines while we were waiting. It was the september issue, and why not have some beach-viewing material. Automobile because I used to get it all the time and I just gravitated towards it when I saw it, maybe for old time's sake.

Our plane was big, comfy, and freezing! The stewardesses were all gorgeous, with this cute red ribbon tied around their necks and lots of eye makeup. I got the window seat. Next to me were Michelle and Hannah. Good plane buddies. Basically we went up, and then went down. So fast! About 40 minutes total. Announcements first in spanish, then in English. My first time flying over the ocean, my first time flying outside the United States! Such an exciting feeling. Great to see Miami beach from above, but the ocean from above was really breathtaking. My first thought when Cuba appeared in my window was, "wait, is that really Cuba I'm seeing?" I stupidly wondered if this was some Island I had never heard of, because it resembled Miami and not what I had expected Cuba to look like. Same red roofs, a few blue pools in backyards. Not quite as remote looking as I expected. Pretty soon I spotted some cars, but they didn't look old either. But as soon as we got close to the ground, everyone commented on how lush the landscape looks. Tropical trees, very very green everywhere. We de-plained (ok now there is some serious domestic violence going on in that tv show and it sounds AWFUL. Hopefully not every night) the guys outside the plain checked one of the first sudent's passports and then motioned us all to pass. This happened a few other times. The officials seemed very flexible.

Getting inside the airport, we noticed it was dim (as Matilde had warned us, but there were no masks as she had also mentioned). I had to pee really bad and luckily there was a bathroom in the entrance area. The attendant directed me to the men's room and handed me a wad of toilet paper. Bathroom was tiny, two stalls, no toilet seat, no hot water in the tap. But the longest pee of my life. Next step was to make it through immigration, which was a long string of little booths that we lined up for. This was kind of our first nerve-racking spanish interaction, but I was reassured because I wasn't the first and so she was prepared for the american students. Gave her my passport and she asked in spanish why I was here (para estudiar) and what was I going to study (la música y el baile), to which she responded with a smile "la cultura." Then sent me on my way by buzzing the door to the rest of the airport. Next were the metal detectors and carry on bag screening just like every airport. It was shorter (no long table with everyone putting things in tubs). Just a short conveyor belt that we put our carry on and bag (in a tub). Didn't have to take shoes off. Got frisked like everyone with a metal detector wand. Change in my pocket set it off. No big deal. I was surprised they didn't have any trouble with my carry on since I put some weird looking electronic stuff in it to save weight on my checked bag. Next was the most chaotic part of the experience. The baggage claim was just one big room, crowded with people, their carts, and the little conveyor belt that everyone crowded around. We waited, and waited, and waited looking for our luggage. Everyone helped each other out, telling each other the name of their bag and then looking out for it. Felt very communal, and reassuring. But also stressful because it took forever for me and my friend's bags to show up. Lots of weird shaped objects, including a set of four tires and a wheelchair. Finally we all got our stuff, my plastic was partially ripped off, but still mostly intact and didn't look vandalized. I learned after that most of the trouble happens when you go through Mexico to get here. That's when its important to wrap (I forgot to mention that the wrap included some sort of guarantee of compensation for lost materials...although I don't know how reliable that could be).

Leaving the airport was the most striking thing so far. We got whisked through customs taxes after they realized we were americans and didn't have to pay anything. I can't imagine how much the people who brought tons of stuff had to pay. Must be kind of pricey. Then there was a short little tunnel with some uniformed guys hanging out. Two more uniformed men opened the double doors for me, which felt very official and strange. But as soon as I realized what lay before me, I got incredibly emotional. There were probably a hundred people, cordoned off behind some rope, eagerly staring at me, waiting for their family to return. I remember feeling a mixture of awkward and awed by the attention. Maybe the closest I'll ever feel to being a celebrity and having a crowd of people watching me walk down the red carpet. But there was definitely no red carpet here. Just a bunch of cubans, a swath of people. In the back row my eyes immediately found a middle aged drag queen, looking impatient, chewing gum or something. We wound our way down a dirt path out of the crowd, luggage in tow. I was following Jane, and immediately some guys noticed her and one reached out and touched her and said something I didn't understand. There were more people behind the crowd, and we crossed a little road to get to the parking lot. RIght before I crossed, there was this big black cadillac that rumbled by. I think I started cracking up right there as I crossed the street and met up with my friends. The short walk through the small-ish parking lot was so surreal. Seeing those cars up close just made me tear up again. I was really overwhelmed by the whole scene. I think I started laughing to myself, not able to handle the pleasure at where I had just found myself.

First cars I spot in the parking lot...a Lata, small, older Soviet car, very boxy, and I've seen them EVERYWHERE since. Then some of the classic looking chevy's from the fifties. Some fancier looking caddies or oldsmobiles maybe. But there were also some newer cars, I spotted a VW passat that was a couple years old. Lots of newish hyundai accents, too. There were two mercedes vans waiting for us, maybe from the nineties, not fancy but not too beat up. All of our luggage and all of us miraculously squished into them. Luckily I was one of the first to get in, and I was so squished that I had my arm out the window in order to be comfortable. This turned out to be a blessing, as we got moving and I started taking pictures obsessively out the window, sometimes with the van's windows in the shot. That drive was exhilarating, so much wind in my face, so many new sights; cars, the amazing billboards with revolutionary sayings (there was a good sign that I saw multiple times with a picture of George Bush and some statistic about the embargo, which I'll include). I think it was a long time before I stopped smiling uncontrollably. The drive was maybe 20-30 minutes, my sense of time was kind of blurred at that point. We passed through lots of traffic circles, saw lots of industrial vehicles, lots of little euro-type vans. I was totally surprised at the number of modern cars. They're mostly european models, like puegeot, fiat, other things I didn't recognize. Lots of hyundais. A couple fancier cars. One of these in the parking lot was tricked out, black with fancy rims. Just a hatchback, tinted windows. The ferrari sticker on the side above the wheels (just like on ferraris) gave me a chuckle.

Everything about what I saw was so new, so different, very beautiful, very raw. The smells of the cars, the motor bikes (there were lots, they're pretty oil-burning), the plants and trees. I can't understate how exciting that trip was. Wish I could do it over and over. We finally got to a neighborhood with big fancy houses, with gates, walls, beautiful architecture. Within five minutes we turned off the main highway and got to our hotelito, run by the ANAP (agricultural group) cooperative. The ladies who welcomed us in called me "amor" and kind of seemed to fawn over me and Tommy, the two boys. We got our key, and got shown our bedroom. The house has 15 or more foot ceilings and pretty much the same on the second floor in our bedroom. Pretty small, with two twin beds, refrigerator in the corner, a little nightstand, a little desk with chair, and closet with a second level that goes up to the ceiling. Luckily there are some hangers since I didn't bring them. There's air-conditioning!!!!! Total surprise. We have a room-airconditioner. The bathroom is attached, clean, with a big shower and a nice window at the top that swings open. Our floor is checkered black and white, old looking but not dirty, just very worn. I forgot, there is even a TV, mounted up and on the wall. Our window has shutters and opens out with no screen. Nice light but no view, just the house next door.

Our first meeting with the director of the house is in the bar. Also air-conditioned! The bar-tender is wearing a white shirt and black bow-tie. He had already begun preparing mojitos when I showed up. Mojitos, at our first meeting. I'm going to like this place. They were refreshing, and by the end of the meeting we're all a little bit tipsy. Before the meeting I managed to slip out back and meet the cook, Anna Maria, I think. Matt offered me his cell-phone and that was how I was the first person to call home. 1:57 seconds, and after calling dad's phone (thought he would pick up) I called mom's and luckily they were both there. Short but sweet. Connection was fine, once I got up on Matt's balcony where there is better reception.

As soon as our meeting was over, we headed to the "restaurante". Quite an elaborate meal for our first night. First course, cold things. Sliced cucumbers, very pretty looking, green beans, white bread that was pretty bad, butter, mango juice, very refreshing, some other things I'm blanking on. Second course, delicious bean soup, very rich, cooked yucca, also extremely buttery and delicious, plus rice. Then came out the turkey! El pavo was beautiful, and tasted great. After that was cuban coffee (really good and really strong, only drank a little bit since it's basically espresso) and dessert, delicious chocolate ice cream that was subtley different than I was expecting. Less sugary, more dark chocolate flavor. Still sweet, but less so. More to my taste.

Short break after dinner, then we headed out to the malecón which is only a fifteen minute or so walk from our house. The malecón is the walkway that is right on the ocean. You look down over the wall that you can sit on and the water is right there. Lots of young folks and old ones alike, all hanging out and relaxing. Matt brought us rum and coke, and we sat around and chatted for a while. I got a little restless after an hour or so and persuaded the group to go for a little walk. There was a crazy looking crowd and disco with lights and video screens, outside and across the street from where we were. They played some american songs I recognized. Had a nice little walk, and then ran into the kids from Tulane that we saw at the airport. They're only 5-6 people and we surprised them with how many of us there are (16 i think). Shortly after we decided to go back (it was only like 10:30 but we are all tired). And then I started writing!

Such a crazy day, and I think that coffee has kicked in. I feel such a need to get every little detail out. I wonder if anyone will actually read this in its entirety. I will definitely get more concise the more I do this. But there was so much today I had to get it all out of my tired brain before things start to slip away. I feel an overwhelming and comforting sense of community developing among us. Thank god that everyone is so wonderful. Maya, Matt, the people who work here. Very good sign that everything will go smoothly.

I think it's time for bed. Tommy has come out for three cigarettes in the time I've spent writing this (maybe an hour, geez). Shower, sleep, breakfast. Unpacking tomorrow.