Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dacquiris, Mojitos & Rum - Oh My

Every so often, this little Odyssey sees a "guest posting." Even though I do what I can to take in and taste all the wines around, sometimes a friend (or lover) has a bottle that needs to be written about but it was opened and enjoyed at a time when I just couldn't join in.

This "guest" posting isn't like that. Today's guest appearance is by Rum in all its glories. Our little extended family group at the resort numbers in the thirties and about half of us set up a bus and a day trip into Havana. There was no way I was coming all the way to Cuba - especially when I had to leave Boo and his American passport behind in Vancouver - to not take in some of the sights of Havana. This was the part of the trip that I was probably looking forward to the most. The plan was to take in a bit of a guided tour of the historical centre of the city, grab lunch at a restaurant with a sweeping view of the city and take in the Tropicana show in the evening.

The only "problem" with recounting our little excursion is that there wasn't really any wine involved and, the last time I checked, I was still using wine as a premise for the blog. There was plenty of Rum to be had though. So, if it takes a "guest appearance" by the national liquor in order to throw in some pics of the capital city, so be it.

Our little Rum excursion started with the bus ride and roadside bar where they whip up the freshest pina coladas around and, get this, they just hand over the bottle of Rum so that you can strengthen up the drink some more should you want to. Don't think I've ever encountered bars as accommodated as that before.

Once we made it to Havana, we quickly discovered that wandering around with sixteen people is a bit like herding cats. There's only so much that you can actually fit in - especially when manoeuvring cobblestone streets with a wheelchair isn't the easiest or quickest means of getting around. My Mom needed the chair if she was going to see anything or cover any distance during the day, but we still managed to see a nice cross section of the old centre and Havana is certainly an architecturally intriguing city. Having a range of colonial styles, mixed with Art Deco, the streets are chock-a-block full of interesting views.

Although the streets are very clean, it's easy to see the hard times faced by the country as well. It seems that almost any block can have a beautifully maintained colonial building sitting right next to a decrepit tear down with semi-boarded up doors that may or may not lead into squatters' quarters. Naturally, we centred on the well-kept, but it was easy to hope that economics and politics align so that some money could start flowing into the country and city to help fix up the decay.

Adding to the atmosphere, the vintage cars cruising the streets could leave any auto aficionado in awe. I'm not a big car-lover by any means, but even I was taking countless shots of all the cruisers driving by.

Following an afternoon of touring, the treat of the evening was the Tropicana show. Nowadays it's more of a throwback to the old showmanship and elegance of the 50's showrooms, but the Tropicana was one of the, if not the, original night clubs that set the pattern for all the clubs to follow in Las Vegas and elsewhere. In 1956, it was referred to as "the largest and most beautiful night club in the world." An old estate with tropical garden as a setting and backdrop, the multi-leveled and continual parade of colour and rhythms was nothing short of spectacular and great fun. It should be a must for anyone that visits the city.

Actually, we were all given a glass of sparkling wine to start the show but it was so late in arriving, I didn't even think to ask the waiter to leave a bottle so that I could take a picture for the blog. My guess is that it would have been another Cava, but I guess I'll never know. I do know that they leave a bottle of rum for every table along with some cola (no Coke or Pepsi allowed with the embargo, you know); so we concentrated more on the Cuba Libres than on the possibility of adding another bottle to The List.

The rest of our bus was all taking the two hour bus trip back to Varadero after the show ended around 11 pm or so. That didn't sound too enjoyable to me and I still wanted to try and take in more of Havana, so I arranged to stay the night. It made for a few anxious moments the next day as I tried to find a ride back to Varadero, but it gave me a much better chance to drink in the city - and to literally "drink" in the city.

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway had two favourite bars in Old Havana. Both bars, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita are still serving up drinks and are famously busy as part of the "Hemingway Trail." A small plaque hanging in La Floridita is signed by the author and states, "My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita."

Since this entry is dedicated to Rum and Havana, it only made sense to me to join up with all the other tourists and sidle up to the bar and knock back my own mojito and dacquiri. This just wouldn't have been possible with a gang of sixteen. So, I suppose this might have been the best part of staying the extra night on my own.

Both bars featured local bands - even though it was still early in the afternoon - and the band in La Bodeguita was superb, taking me back to the days when Buena Vista Social Club was all the rage. If I hadn't been trying to see even more of the city, I could easily have whiled away the entire afternoon and/or evening.

As it turned out though, I think I found an even more enjoyable mojito. I grabbed some lunch at the bar counter of a near-by restaurant, La Lluvia del Oro, and the woman tending the bar took her mojitos seriously. Each one was tested and often re-made and I have to admit it was more flavourful than the one at La Bodeguita or the ones that my favourite bartender, Boris, makes back at the pool-side bar.

That mojito may not have been good enough to leave me channelling Hemingway as I write this blog, but it certainly wins best use of Rum I ran across on this trip. If we can figure out a way to get Boo's American butt into the country, I'd definitely re-trace this trail.

Now back to Varadero and, hopefully, some wines to blog.

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