The next morning Angel and I decided to have breakfast together at Casa Densil, since we planned to split up for the afternoon.
We enjoyed strong coffee, fresh fruit, and an assortment of cereals, plus an unusual pink drink that neither of us could identify. Angel asked our server what it was, and even though he speaks fluent Spanish and I have a decent vocabulary, neither of us were familiar with a Spanish word that sounded like "you who."
Until I figured out that it was English. Yoo-Hoo. Strawberry Yoo-Hoo, to be exact.
After we stopped laughing, we each set off on our respective plans for the day: Angel was headed out to Havana's baseball stadium, Estadio Latinoamerica, to see the Havana Industriales take on Granma (which didn't sound like much of a contest to me), while I planned to spend the afternoon sunning myself at the rooftop pool at the Hotel Parque Central and wandering around town.
Attending a baseball game in Havana is a little like attending an underground rave -- nobody seems to know where it's happening, or on what day, or at what time -- and if you do manage to somehow stumble upon it, it's really noisy and confusing.
The schedule we'd found online before leaving New York had the game starting at 1pm, but word on the street was that it would actually start at 4 (though without internet or television, there was no way to confirm). We'd also heard that they didn't serve food at the stadium, so Angel showed up early (whatever that means in this case) to grab a sandwich beforehand.
Of course, only after he'd downed a smushed El Rapid-o-wich did he discover that not only was there food at the stadium, but really good food.
Happily, his luck only improved from there -- a group of friends from Florida who regularly attend the games in Havana took him under their wing, pointing Angel to the best roast pork sandwiches, introducing him to Coral juice drinks, and sharing background information and stats on various Industriales players.
And then he hung out with Rob Reiner.
While Angel rubbed elbows with celebrities, I claimed a lounger at the Parque Central's rooftop pool, then enjoyed a towering strawberry daiquiri as I basked in the warm sunshine.
For lunch, I ordered up a cool, refreshing tomato gazpacho, an entire pizza that I didn't have to share, and a pina colada for good measure.
Soon, however, I found myself longing to get back out on the street, the noise and energy and foreign-ness of it all drawing me like a magnet. And so I headed back to Centro to explore the area around Casa Densil.
Without Angel around, I was left to my own translations of the signs I saw around town.
"Your electoral college is a baby circus, but it's not your fault."
"If you don't have a batallion in your life, alleviate it with some alcohol."
"Jesus is our homeboy."
"This message brought to you by rum. Lots and lots of rum."
Speaking of rum: That evening we had reservations for dinner and drinks at one of the hottest spots in town, El Cocinero.
Located on the banks of the Almendares River between the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, El Cocinero, which means "the chef," is defined by its towering smokestack, a remnant of the peanut oil factory that occupied the premises in the 1930s.
We'd booked a table on the coveted rooftop terrace and were graced with perfect weather -- including a full moon -- to enjoy it.
For dinner, we grazed on ropa vieja, mini Cuban-style cheeseburgers, patatas bravas, and a couple of appropriately swampy mojitos. (Are you noticing a stubborn unwillingness to give up on the mojito? We figured if we tried enough of them, we'd find the perfect one. El Cocinero was as close as we got.)
After dinner we headed upstairs El Cocinero's "waiting bar," one of the coolest spots we've ever been to . . . since it's housed inside the smokestack.
And the inside of the smokestack is illuminated by a constellation of "stars" -- thousands of tiny colored lights.
By the time we'd had another round of drinks it was nearly 11pm . . . which was just in time to visit an art gallery.
But not just any art gallery. The Cuban Art Factory, known by the initials F.A.C. (La Fábrica de Arte Cubano), is Havana's hottest nighttime scene, drawing throngs of hip young Cubans with its contemporary art exhibitions, dance performances, plays, and indie-music concerts -- all of which go on until 3 a.m.
The space at F.A.C. consists of different inter-connected rooms, so you can meander from one space to the next as the mood strikes, moving from a crowded dance floor, to a quiet room with a single video installation or sculpture, or to the bar for a piña colada.
We would have loved to wander around F.A.C. until the wee hours (and will definitely do so next time), but other plans beckoned. A friend of Ezio's at Casa Densil was scheduled to perform at a local bar called Sia Kara in Centro around midnight, so he dropped us off at the packed space, but not before speaking to the manager to make sure there'd be room for us and that we'd be well taken care of.
We were ushered to a cozy couch in Sia Kara's loft, which afforded a perfect bird's eye view of the piano and lounge space below.
An unassuming bar frequented not by tourists but by chic Cuban hipsters, the name "Sia Kara" is said to come from the Afro-Cuban religion and is colloquially used to ward off a bad mood or tell someone to just "forget about it."
Which is precisely the function of a bar like Sia Kara, estoy en lo correcto?
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