The night of expensive food, Cuban cigars and one mojito after another

“Solo ver. Solo ver,” he said while mimicking the ‘ver’ part, traveling with two of his fingers from his eyes to an imaginary point half a meter in front of him. Solo ver.

Reinaldo is the ‘solo ver’ Cuban that turned my first night out in Havana into the most expensive night of my trip so far.

Solo ver number 1: The restaurant

We just need to see it, and then we can decide if we want to eat there, Reinaldo told Thomas – a German guy from my hostel – and I after starting a conversation with us on a rather dark alley of Havana’s centro historico. He seemed fun, so we walked with him and after the ‘ver’ part was done and we were on our way out of an empty Italian-style restaurant, Thomas commented on the many flags laying around on sofas and chairs. There was an Argentinian one, an American one, a German one.

In a rare moment of me telling people where I’m from without them asking, I go: “I bet you don’t have a Slovenian one.” “Eslovenia? Claro que sí,” the owner says and he’s already pulling a wrinkled and dusty (but not Slovakian!) flag from a plastic bag he found in a closet by the entrance. I was so surprised I don’t remember everything he knew about Slovenia and Ljubljana, but he definitely knew them and he also heard about this year’s Eurobasket, as he congratulated me for the win. So yeah okay, we will come back and have dinner here in an hour or two, when we get hungry.*(1)

Reinaldo: 1, Thomas & Karmen: 0

*(1) It turned out we had the most expensive (and not the best) ropa vieja in the whole of Cuba. Plus imported beer. Meh.

Solo ver number 2: Cuban cigars

I don’t even know if Thomas and I mentioned them, if Reinaldo mentioned them on the way out of the flag restaurant, or the words were just there, floating in the Cuban air, but before we knew it we found ourselves walking up the staircase of what looked like a very abandoned building, to ‘solo ver’ some real Cuban cigars. At the end of a long corridor there was a door and behind that door a living room with a maybe 13-year-old girl in a leopard print mini dress and heavy make up watching TV. We were told to sit down on the sofa and get comfortable, while we waited for Reinaldo’s friend to bring two boxes of prestigious Cohiba cigars (the ones smoked by El Presidente), packed in bunches of 24 and 10. I think they said the big box costs 350 convertible pesos (equals 350 dollars), but we could get it for a special price – only on that Friday – of 80 pesos (a bit less than 70 euros).

After Thomas insisted at least seven times that he’s not buying any cigars, we were able to leave the living room, the bored girl in a leopard print dress and a slightly pissed off cigar dude.

Reinaldo: 1, Thomas & Karmen: 1

Solo ver number 3: Mojitos

I guess ‘mojitos’ is also a word sneaking around the corners of Havana’s perpendicular streets, because for that one I’m sure we didn’t mouth it, at least not that night. Still, we needed to ‘solo ver’ the mojitos too, in a bar where Hemingway was apparently hanging out back in the day. So we took a shortcut through a dark backyard, said hola to Reinaldo’s friend Carmen: “Esta chicha se llama Carmen tambien!” and voilá – we were sitting down at a terrace of a bar at the end of the famous Malecón avenue, facing the sea.

“Un, dos, tres mojitos,” Reinaldo yelled to the waiter, showing his three fingers up in the air. They were not bad, it was our first night in Cuba, and Thomas and I felt this is one of those once in a lifetime moments, so we had another one. Reinaldo had gestured that order to the friendly waiter too.

Reinaldo was a funny guy – didn’t look a day over 30, but his 40th birthday was just around the corner. His sister is a doctor in Brazil, but he doesn’t know in which city exactly. His younger brother is around 32, 33 years old; who would know for sure. Reinaldo works for several bars and restaurants, advertising them on the streets, as it is common in Cuba. He also has a taxi service, is a tourist guide and teaches salsa. Give or take some. Thomas and I were just excited to practice our Spanish with him.

In the middle of our conversation Reinaldo gestured another round of mojitos and when we started to become hungry, he also gestured to the waiter to bring us la cuenta.

But after that the only people gesturing were Thomas and I – splitting the bill for all of the mojitos the three of us had coming that evening on Malecón… in two.

Reinaldo: 2, Thomas & Karmen: 1.  The Cuban wins!

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    carmelinee Written by:

    A journalist turned media analyst turned storyteller. Already had a near death experience white-water rafting the source of the Nile, came three meters close to a green mamba and peed in front of a boat of thirty strangers in the middle of a rain forest. Stay tuned for new stories from my trip in Latin America!