7.30 on a Saturday morning is a good time to stand on the roof of our hostel and watch people waking up for the day. It’s still cool, and pretty quiet for a city of two million peoples. There’s an old woman in a rocking chair on the balcony opposite, and a middle aged woman with her curlers under a hairnet drinking a cup of coffee and cuddling a dog. On another first-floor balcony, a woman hails a passer-by in a vest and lets down a basket with some pesos in on the end of a rope. There is some discussion about the amount of money, she hauls up the basket, adds more notes, and the man heads off to buy something for her. Bread perhaps – there are lots of bakeries around, selling the sort of white rolls I remember from holidays in Wales as a kid, joined together in blocks. Yummy fresh with butter and jam. But I digress.
The basket on a string method of shopping is quite common. Ceilings are high in these old houses and stairs to the first floor flats are steep, so people seem to avoid going up and down if they can. Sellers come through the streets, on foot or in a rickety bike or motorbike cart, and call out their wares. It might be eggs or onions, mangoes maybe or bread. It can work the other way too. One afternoon we saw a school kid summon an ice block/ice lolly from a third floor window – delivered and paid for by basket.
Back to my Saturday morning people-watching. A guy goes past on a bici-taxi – a bicycle with seats behind, and a very common (and cheap, particularly for locals) means of transport here. Further up the street a man has the bonnet of his car up and tinkers for a while before it starts. Tinkering with your car is a major preoccupation in a country where American model cars date from the 1950s and Russian ones from the 1960s-1980s. With a bit more money in the economy these days and the lifting of international blockades, there are a few newer cars around now, but not many. And the roads are blissfully clear.
It’s Saturday, so kids aren’t going to school, but I’ll add a comment about the school uniforms here, as it’s slightly odd. High school aged girls wear very short mustard-coloured skirts, with a white shirt, perfect for the heat, though the very shortness seems surprising in a mandated uniform. We wouldn’t have got away with it with deputy head Miss Cuppleditch in my school days. Cuban high school boys, on the other hand, wear long trousers (of the same colour), which must be hot, if unrevealing of any tempting knees.