Cuba— A Double Espresso at 4 PM

It was low season. Pre-hurricane. Labour day. It was a siesta afternoon. My girlfriend was sleeping and the extra pizza slices I’d eaten wouldn’t let me do the same. The bar was barren as the 2 Irish blokes I’d met were on their way to their rooms to sleep off the extra cervezas. I guess I was better off than they were. 

I ordered my double espresso. Vladimir took good care of me. I had paid him $20 upon the first day of arrival.  I read Bukowski and listened to the Gipsy Kings. Vlad had it really loud. 

“Did you go on the half-day excursion?”

“Yes,” I said. It had been appalling. 

Vlad looked away. He didn’t want to comment. “Did you know the Gipsy Kings are from Cuba?”

“No,” I said.

Vlad loved Cuba. You can see it in his eyes as he spoke to me of the anti-capitalist posters along the rural highway. 

He believed in the above, for it had been done. Che and Fidel had fought against the imperialists and won. “Again and again, ” he would often say. Vlad knew I was safe for him to express his views to. 

The trip was just a bad propaganda exercise. I couldn’t define what to call the group conducting  this other than rebels working with anti-Castro sympathizers on the outside. Don’t let my fancy terms fool you. This was no revolution or crime. It was just someone in charge of an excursion taking you to places to feel pity for the locals. And only later do you realize that almost everyone in it was a pseudo-thespian.  

“This is the beach for the locals,” the guide would say of a prickly pebble beach. Then one of the thespians, apparently with his wife and 2 kids, his feet in pain from the protruding rocks, said “this is where WE are allowed to swim.”

Then there was the farm with all the dangerous animals. I distinctly remember the humongous snake being put around my shoulder and then my neck, among other frightful animal shenanigans. I thanked Jose, the farmer. The guide said $5 for Jose would be worth $100 for us. I was shamed into handing it over. I didn’t doubt the truth of the statement. I just couldn’t bear the thought of the system falling apart because of such unethical activities. 

The last stop was Moron, the closest city to the resort. We were taken to the squalor and dirt of the city.  There was supposed to be a museum visit we “had no time for”. Squalor and propaganda were not part of the itinerary. I was getting irritated with Gustavo’s, the guide’s, fake smile. I couldn’t look him in the face anymore. 

He never took us to this part of town. 

In comparison,  this is good old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Gimme the slums of Moron. Not because they look better, they look worse, but because I feel safer. Much safer. Poverty doesn’t define danger here. And the whole trip was a nadir-zenith example of socialism, not Marxism. 

The lady in the room next to ours stopped us to tell us about the trip. She was crying. Real tears rolling down her cheeks as if she had seen a family member die. What utter ignorance,  I thought. I tried to incorporate  the thespian and propaganda angles, but she just looked at me funny. Poor ignorant woman. 

Vlad sent me to Francisco (Frank) to buy my Habaneros. Frank worked at the resort but moonlighted as the illegal cigar seller and the pimp of the resort. The British were especially fond of him. Frank had the gift of the gab,  even in imperfect English. 

His den would be the back of the gym where he’d have CNN on high volume. This was the real CNN. There goes that myth. Especially with Euronews on the next post. “They suffer,” Frank would say. “They have to provide for their families. Some are just 19.” I recall prices starting at $10. I also recall Hans, a Welshman no less, having a companion all week long. I don’t know how much he’d paid. 

“Victimless crimes,” Vlad would say to defend his support for Frank, “the state encourages this. Think about it. They need to satisfy the tourists but keep the ideology intact.” Vlad slept well at night. 

Ostria Cafe — By the Mediterranean 

Art imitates life and life copies,  or assumes, art. When watching television became too much, the owner took a hatchet to it.  No improvisation. No thought. Just reaction. And it’s so glamorous that the hatchet will be a permanent wall fixture. 

I’m guessing the above sign is referring to Greek director Theo Angelopoulos’ great film  “The Beekeeper”. You need to look for it and make the connection,  but you know there’s something there that needs to be alluded to when the hatchet meets the sign. A double epiphany perhaps. Hope and fear, as the TV represents the film and the fear, while the hatchet kills life, whether bad or good. Then there is the renaissance, the post-nirvana existence of what is hopefully peace of mind, catharsis, and epiphany. In the least, let’s hope for empowerment. 

This is also the best place in Methoni to get a morning coffee. They’re all made well. And the wind just blows enough to make sure the coolness is retained.  

Sit down and wait for friends and acquaintances to show up. Talk in Greek,  French, or English, to the owner, Corenne.  Give your order to the lovely Greek-Romanian girls. 

Before you know it, it’ll be time for a swim, the beach being about about 100m.  away.

From the Hotel Bar 

The beach was, again, full. The afternoon started with a second coffee. This time it was a cold frappe treated by one of the many ex-schoolmates I had. He owns a hotel atop the mountain called La Sapienza.

It was an unforeseen random powwow. It was heaven under the shade and wind of the trees.  The 35 degree heat was down about 10 degrees. The umbrellas were full. Three young ladies walked up to order. They were in very skimpy bikinis. There came two older topless women. You can hear the locker room banter coming from all over the cantine.  

Next stop was was the Methoni Beach Hotel. I took a dip and the lovely girl serving me invited me to go to the bar where I’d have Wi-Fi.  And here I am. 

Yes, another uneventful day.

When the Sky Turns Orange 

There are many nooks and crannies to see a sunset from in Methoni. In late-August, the sun goes down a bit before 8.30 and can be seen in the western part of town, which is about a 5-minute walk up the hill from the main beach. 

All sorts of people gather there. It’s a popular spot for locals to walk their dogs. It’s very well-known by visitors. For Elena and Spiro, it’s one of the few opportunities they have for quality time together.  With Elena’s busy summer work schedule, it’s hard to speak out from her husband after a busy day. And what more legitimate an excuse than seeing the sunset and going to Kathy’s to unwind. 

With the summer tourist bustle, there aren’t many places to spend time together unseen. But they go to the empty rundown shack that serves as their summer 60-minute pleasure dome. 

A Brief Stint at Zanzibar Beach 

Sundays are usually the busiest days at the beach. No umbrellas in front of the hotel. No room anywhere to sit down comfortably.  I had to get out of town and drive 3 km to Zanzibar Beach in Lambes. 

There were no umbrellas as I parked my car in the mostly makeshift parking lot.  I looked around and saw a one-chaired umbrella.  There was a in the sun tanning. I asked if anyone was sitting at the umbrella in front of her and she told me her family had gone to their rooms to take a nap. She said I can sit but she’d be bad company till she finished tanning. 

It turned out she was from Minnesota. Not too many tourists come in these parts from the United States that are not of Greek ancestry. Katia was pure Midwestern stock. Most of her family either form Wisconsin or Minnesota.  They had that healthy Packers vs. Vikings rivalry. You know,  that and apple pie. 

Katia allowed me to take the pics of her I’ve published here. She didn’t allow face shots. 

The beach was too crowded with people making noise and I left after 30 minutes. Katia loved it and didn’t understand why I was leaving. She went back to tanning.

Zanzibar is a great place to go to in the morning and,  during high season, a nice place to have a drink at night. 

It also serves very good food and drinks. 

Santorini from a single person’s perspective

As you come to the main Santorini port, you can no longer see the whitewashed houses. You see what looks like a big rock sliced in 2 in a very imperfect way. You look at the port and think back to how much your friends were exaggerating. Well, they weren’t.

The young lady’s name was Dimitra. She held up a sign saying Rooms to Let in English, German, and Greek. She was looking out for Greeks as I made myself more visible. They trust the Greek won’t ramshackle their cute little rooms. I approached her and got half the price she had quoted the German before me. And she also said it came with a ride.

I was well-rested from my 5-hour sleep on the boat. I felt secure in the car. I saw many tourists trying to properly climb a donkey and felt sorry for the creature as the angles to get up were almost like a straight line. 

Up on top there were more people with rooms. I guess Dimitra was privileged with a connection. I was in Chora, the main town. I was pretty unimpressed as it was full of noise and people. I went to my room to rest and take a shower.

This is one of the main beaches, Kamaria. All the beaches in Santorini have black sand and are not big. They are underpopulated compared to the people there. Needless to say, and rightfully so, Santorini is the only island I’d been to that didn’t boast their beach. And they are not right for me. They look too gothic for a Greek island. Structurally, they give me some kind of undefined phobia. 

It seems most of the swimming on the island takes place in the hotel swimming pools. Just look at the scenery.

On and on it goes. Just look at the beauty of this place. 

This is Oia, the second biggest and by far most beautiful town on the island. You need to travel these roads and bump into locals and tourists, artists, writers, see the rich and famous hiding themselves.

This was a delight. A trendy artsy acquaintance invited me up for a dip. Pure heaven. Best scenery you’ll ever be a part of.

This famous Greek celebrity didn’t want me to photograph her face.

How’s this for a dinner spot?

And the night never looked better.

Santorini is great, but must be seen either in a couple or with a group of friends. It is romantic but not sexy. It is classy yet not mundane. It is a postcard come to life.

And remember, find accommodations in Oia.