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Sunday, May 5, 2002

I woke up with a head cold. Ugh. I hate getting sick when I travel, because I never let it stop me from doing what I want to do if I can, but it makes everything a bit harder, because now I had zero energy.

I dragged myself out of bed, drank about five cups of Ydania's café, and headed back to Callejon Hamel for the rumba. My friend Harón dragged me into Salvador's mother's house and immediately started making daiquiris. It was noon. I wasn't quite ready to start drinking, so I tried to decline. Harón looked displeased and said in English, "Look, I no cooking for just any American." So I told him to leave out the rum, but when it was done, I poured some in anyway, thinking that maybe I had better use the rum to kill any possible biological creatures in the water that might be waiting to add to my illness. Silly attitude. Later I read in my guidebook that I've had for over two years that the tap water in Habana is completely safe to drink—it's treated just the same as ours is here. Out in the country is another story, but in the cities, it's no problem. And if you think that carafe of ice water that your landlady puts in your refrigerator is bottled water, you're in for a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. Drink the water, eat the salads, the fruit, enjoy yourself and keep some Immodium in your kit just in case. I've eaten food all over the world, and the only time I've ever gotten knock-down, up-all-night, puking, fever-ridden, miserable diarrhea food poisoning was from my neighborhood McDonald's. True story.

Leonel arrived, towing two chicas who insisted that I buy them beers all afternoon. No problema. The rumba was packed, frenetic and crazed. Leonel pulled me and the chicas into the stage area when his band started. What a sound standing right behind these guys. The air coming out of the ports of the cajones shook my pantlegs. People passed glasses of rum around and dancers took turns showing off their moves. One of the singers from Los Muñequitos de Matanzas sang a tune and he was awesome.

After the rumba, we headed over to Leonel's sister's house for more beer, and then we decided to go to the Hotel Nacional were there was supposedly another free rumba by Yoruba Andabo. By this time, I was more or less rumbaed out, but I was heading that way anyway. We (there were six of us by now) piled into a little Russian-made Lada taxi and started off, but were pulled over by a cop before we got too far. The offense was too many people in the car (that was obvious) but the cop let the taxi driver off with a stern talking to.

At the Hotel Nacional, we found out that the rumba was over, and I took off to get some rest. My evening plans were for more jazz at La Zorra Y El Cuervo, and Chucho "El Capitalista" had told me that there was an early evening show by Bamboleo at 6:00 nearby. Back at my room my nose was starting to run a steady stream. No, a river would more accurate. Tissues are a rare commodity in Cuba. I had taken three little travel packs with me, but they were long gone. The Kleenex company will clean up if the bloqueo ever gets lifted. I filled my pockets with little bits of toilet paper, and headed over to Club Amanecer, where they had told me that Bamboleo was going to start at not six, but around eight or nine.

Around nine o'clock, I was seated in Club Amanecer, being blasted by overamped hip-hop and disco music. This place is literally a pit, a basement club that is a long echo chamber due to the hard walls, ceilings and floors. The low cover charge of five bucks had brought out a crowd, but the place started to drive me nuts after about twenty minutes. I saw Lázaro, the piano player and leader of the band and Jimmy Maslon, owner of Ahi-Nama records. Lázaro told me that they weren't going to start playing until around eleven, so I went back to La Zorra, but when I got there, I didn't really feel like hearing jazz, so I went into the café next door, and sat blowing my nose and drinking a cold beer.

Back at Amanecer around eleven, the place was completely overflowing. Apparently, limiting the number of people that a room can safely hold is an unknown concept at Club Amanecer. I was lucky to find a seat at the bar. The place was filled with so much smoke that if a fire broke out, you wouldn't know it until it started to ignite your clothing. My nose dripped, and the obnoxious MC wandering the club with a wireless mike never shut up. The Eminem and Mary J Blige they were blasting was about at the level of a Metallica concert anyway, but this guy's mike was even louder, and he babbled incessantly, touting Bamboleo like the guy who introduces heavyweight prizefights: "¡Baammm-bo-LEO-O-O!" He also made pitches for "Havana Club, el ron de Cuba," and "¡Toma Cristal, la cerveza mas preferida!" The more he shouted, the more cranky I got, and my nose dripped onto the bar. Bamboleo finally took the stage, but I couldn't even see them from my perch, and there was no way I was going to try to penetrate the dense crowd to get closer. The sound was deafening as it was, and I had left my earplugs in my suitcase. I stayed for just two songs (they did sound good), and got the hell out of there. My advice: skip the Club Amanecer. Loco.

I went across the street to the Malécon for some sea air. I had no more paper, so I was forced to clear my nose Italian country peasant style, with one finger against a nostril leaning over the curb. Yuck. I headed over to the open air café to see if Leonel and his friends were there, but no one I knew was around. So I sat and blew my nose and medicated myself with a Havana Club Reserva and went home to bed.

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