Getting Lost in Vedado

After fifty eight years, I now have an understanding of the US grid system used for streets in towns and cities. I did not know that I had only a partial understanding of this perfectly logically system for town planning and navigation until I booked a room in Vedado, a part of Havana that was built in the forties and fifties in the American style and with a grid system. After nine hours on a plane and two more spent going through immigration and collecting my luggage, my taxi driver dropped me off at the junction of Calle (street) 19 and Calle 22 and I found my room in a house with a wonderfully shaded tropical garden. I would find that, in daylight, the garden overlooked a former quarry which was now a leisure area surrounded by verdant green growth.

My problem was that I was exhausted and feeling a little bit ill, but highly dehydrated. When I was shown to my room I was delighted to see a huge fridge but much more than disappointed to find that it had nothing in it. When I asked if I could buy some water or drinks, I was told that there were none but I could go to the shop on Calle 22 or maybe Calle 21 and buy some drinks there. By then it was pitch black outside with only a little sporadic street lighting. As I set off, I followed the road away from The house and managed to get a card from the owner with the address of the house on it, in case I got really lost. Looking back I saw that the house is at the end of Calle 21 with nothing beyond it, except the wire fence preventing people from falling down the steep slope into the quarry.

As I arrived at the first junction, there was a huge engine noise coming slowly out of the gloom. It was a truck that appears to have a huge exhaust pipe mounted on the back spewing out exhaust fumes for all it is worth. It is a fumigation lorry doing its big against mosquitos carrying Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya . I knew this fumigation is unlikely to help my cough and my asthma, so I quickly headed down another Calle to avoid it. Soon, I spotted the neon sign of what could be a Panadería (bakery) that might sell drinks. Walking towards it, I saw that it had just closed but if I kept going along the Calle to the left there looked to be some other buildings that might just be bars, shops or cafes.

I eventually reach a café that does not sell water but would like to sell me beers. This might have been due to my poor Spanish, but I do not understand how the word ‘refrescos’ meaning soft drinks can be confused with ‘cervezas’ meaning beer. With a little bit of discussion around the ridiculousness of me not drinking alcohol, I managed to obtain two cans of cola as that is the only soft drink that they sold. Not my personal preference but what choice do I have. Now I just needed to find my way back home, do some slurping, have a shower and leap in into the arms of Morpheus if that is the deity dealing with sleep. I began to retrace my steps, but, after the first turn, I was not sure which direction I had gone to avoid the decontamination truck.

Some of the Calles are numbered but, at that point I did not know that odd numbers go from west to east and the even numbers run north to south. With this knowledge, I could have navigated myself back to my house but I was very tired, as I think I have stressed and in a part of a city that I was not confident with at all. Even with this knowledge, I might have had problems in retrospect, as one of the Calles I needed was split in the middle by a quarry. So, in a very dark city, I make a few educated guesses and enquiries to passing strangers as they emerged from the gloom. Could they help me find this Calle and Casa? They were patient, helpful and polite. Within five minutes, I am amazed at my luck as I saw my house at the end of the road. 
For one moment, I had been imagining a commentary by a TV survival expert. “He has his lost his bearings in the strange city. All sorts of potential dangers are lying in wait for him if he cannot find his way. He really needs to find water or he soon will be in serious trouble.” But in reality, I had just popped round the corner to get some cola in a quiet city suburb.

Mike Blamires

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