Part 2 of 3: Havana Slamma, Cuba

Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by Ryan

Words by Ryan Clements
Photos and Captions by Rob Meronek

I heard about the old cars, but didn't think there would be that many of them. Turns out, they're everywhere. I wonder what the world would be like if we all used our resources to their fullest potential with no waste like they're forced to do in Cuba. If you're a fan of these cars, there's a bunch more photos I took of them here
That's Rick McCrank and Quim Cardona meeting Che, a local in Havana responsible for much of the skate scene there. We picked him up and proceeded to get in adventures all around the city
Some of the landscaping in front of Che's house. There were lots of places where old electrical wire was used to repair or hold things together. Here it's being used as a planter fence
Skating through the streets was amazing. There were dudes old and young wearing what appeared to be some kind of military uniform and so many old American cars
Motorcycles with side cars were also very popular there. That's how all the street signs were - etched into a block on the corner of every street
This is the tallest building in Havana in an area called Revolution Plaza. It was built before Che Guevara and Fidel Castro got gangsta and took Cuba away from its current gub'ment in 1959. Now, Castro stays in a building behind this heavily guarded monument
Across the street in Revolution Plaza is this image of Che Guevara. I have never been interested at all in history, but after this trip, I have spent a lot of time reading about Cuban history and the US involvement using the sketchy information you can find on Wikipedia. If you're interested, you can find out more about Che Guevara there. He was a smart man, pretty interesting, but took things a little overboard towards the end of his life in my uneducated opinion. He was apparently killed by the CIA
As usual, our first stop is the local skate park. Here's part of what we rolled up to
I wonder if Danny Way can sue them for this thing?
Zered sailed right over this thing as soon as we arrived
This is one of our new friends, Robert Gomez Pons. What a coincidence that his grandmother lives 10 minutes from Skatepark of Tampa
We spent a lot of time on the least sketchy obstacle in the park, this janky quarterpipe that Ryan Clements is smith grinding
Check out the "agressive inline" tag underneath Zered taking photos. We'll be seeing them all come out in a few days at the demo on Saturday
This thing really gets some use just like those old American cars. That's our local tour guide nicknamed Che
That's Che again with a boneless over a rusty old sawhorse
This man hanging out at the park couldn't speak any English except what he said to me, "You mama Japanese?" I said, "Mama Phillipino, papa Polish" and I got an interesting nod from him
We're now on lurk through the city where we made a stop at this ledge drop off spot that Mike Anderson got a trick on. I was expecting there to be fully bangin' girls at every turn like Spain, but that wasn't the case. There were a few here and there
There were not many stores around. This was one of the few that was by a skate spot. The exchange rate isn't too far off from one to one. Prices were not so bad in most places except at the hotel as usual. Doesn't matter either way since we did not spend any money there because that's illegal
This bench held strong through hundreds of years of Cuban history until Chris Nieratko sat down for a fat ass American break and busted it
A small audience gathers at every skate spot we stop at
I can't get enough of these cars
Statues like this are everywhere. According to my sketchy internet education, this dude was the President of Ecuador in the early 1900's. He established public schools, freedom of speech, and separated church and state, among other things. He was killed, dragged through the streets, and finally burned in the capital city of Ecuador. Man, humans suck
We are now at some three stair spot. Check out the Cuban pants crisis
Zered - switch 360 flip
Quim is making friends everywhere while constantly jamming on his piano flute
The girlfriends of the locals we rolled with got around like this. Don't drop the bottle of rum you've been sipping on all day
Ron Deily tries to ignore the black metal and Korn tags while backside tailsliding at this ledge spot
The next spot was this fountain that made a great snake run and another spot for the locals to chill and sip some rum. They got louder and louder as the day went on and the sauce set in
The other end of the fountain has a nice bank to ledge. That's Rick McCrank. Since he lives in Canada, he doesn't have any of the worries about traveling to Cuba that we do
Can't remember this dude's name, but he was killing it everywhere we went
My non-English speaking friend was giving out Sharpie tats all day
Now we're back on the streets where the stoplights have timers to show you how much longer the wait is for the light to turn green. It also works in the opposite direction so you know when you have to floor it to make it through an intersection that only has a few seconds of green light left
At least mom and pops are wearing a helmet
Here's some of the currency we didn't spend. There are two types. The Cuban Peso is what locals use and get paid in. The Cuban Convertible shown here is what tourists use. It's just about the same value as a US Dollar, but when you exchange it, there's a 10% tax. The tax does not apply to any other currencies so before you go to Cuba, change your greenbacks to Euros then in Cuba change your Euros to Cuban Convertibles
They welcome Americans there and help you out with not stamping your passport. They also fly the American flag in various places there
Where are the soccer moms?
Mike Anderson and Bryce Kanights at work
When we got to this bank to wall pool and found all these kids there, I had to forget all the experiences I've had with little baby wannabe gangstas that are already spoiled for life by radio rap and television here in America at the Bro Bowl. These kids were super nice. None of them threw rocks at us or went to get they big brother to bust a cap in our ass because we wouldn't let them steal our skateboards Bro Bowl style
They get by with what they can, also. This was what they were playing baseball with. At the Bro Bowl it would have been a Molotov cocktail
Our new skate friends. Check out baby Koston on the left
Got anything for this spot? It would make a sick photo. The ground up there is super rough, though
Now we're at what they still refer to as a disco. Outside, there was a controlled line to get in just like you were back in good old US and A
Next door to the disco was this very tempting pile of eggs to jump into. Scuba Steve should scuba dive right in right now
When was the last time you saw an eyebrow piercing? They like a lot of stuff from the 90's here. That's Tony who skated with us all week. We need to get that Cuban shrapnel out of his head
It's totally okay to get down on the dance floor when you're not in your own hometown. Bryce Kanights knows when to bring out his disco moves
Ron Deily has plenty of disco moves and knows a lot of 80's love music lyrics
Signs with Engrish were everywhere. This one was above the pool
The postcard rack was filled with images of Dr. Che Guavera
On the first day, some of us were out front skating the yellow curbs. No one said anything to us. The next day, they had repainted the curbs. Ron's wheel mark messed them up. Hope they didn't paint the curbs because of us. If so, sorry about that
Now we're downtown at the Capitol building. Are you ready to jump at this spot?
This dude was taking tourist photos with a century old camera
Check the footage for the sketchiness behind this photo of some cigar factory worker that brought Scuba, Mike, and I into his house to try to hustle boxes of cigars that he steals from work. This was one of the only sales pitches to buy something that we got on the whole trip
Looks like they have socialized medical care for dogs there, too
This gap had an extra smooth run up and a super harsh landing
A small sample of the architecture
According to some of the complaint emails I get about what I say on the website which are the same things you say among your friends, when I hate on something or try to make it funny with a joke or two, kids will think it's uncool and it will die and be all my fault because of what I said. So, when I hate on all this food, apparently it's going to die and kids will no longer think eating is cool anymore so I'll be asked by the people making food to stop making fun of food because food is part of our history and cool no matter what anyone says or how boring it is and I should respect food because I can't really cook food and stop saying bad and/or silly yet obvious stuff about food. Okay, all talk about food will be positive and polite from now on, or I won't say it at all. Sorry I killed you, food. Let's make you cool again. This pork was FANTASTIC!!!!!!! Swine flu rips!
The US isn't the only flag with stars and stripes
Take a Poop, just don't flush because there's no running water. This was the bathroom at the sketchy pork restaurant
Yellow bread wrapped around sketchy "meat?" Yikes, seriously, Ron Deily is holding the leopard print pads of food
Don't make any jokes about this kid's method of skating. This is probably how he makes his living so it would be very lame of you to state the obvious or say anything humorous about someone who holds themselves out as a "professional" in any activity, especially skateboarding. Plus, you probably can't even push on your knees like him. It's a lot harder than it looks
That wall has been censored just like this website. I wonder what sensitive people they were cracking jokes about
Looks like those knee boards were made out of some kind of old machine parts
Purple shirt, pink shorts and shoes, and a crotch grab strut right through our skate session. Thanks for the entertainment
The kneeboarder pros went and had themselves a Ridaz Meetin
All the locals were hyped on getting to watch all the new skate videos on my phone like Mt. Trashmore and The Swatch Tour
The seas are rough at the edge of Havana
We saw an amazing sunset on the edge of the water. I just sat here for two solid minutes trying to come up with a way to make fun of sunsets. I got nothing, therefore sunsets are officially cool
Rick McCrank and I thought we were cool getting to ride in a 50's Chevy cab, but then we saw Clements and Jenna yelling and passing us in a three wheeled motorcycle cab
Not all food is bad. This chicken and mashed potatoes made the cut
Barak, Tod Swank, and Mike Anderson killing some time waiting for a cab in some random neighborhood
Just when you thought this Cuban seat belt made out of a dog leash and plastic bag was sketchy...
...that's when the driver calls out, "Un momento" and gets out of the cab, opens the trunk, and pours something from a water bottle into the gas tank
A popular place in Cuba for visitors is the La Bodeguita del Medio because people think Hemmingway drank a lot of mojitos there. My sketchy internet education says otherwise
Here we are 20 deep at La Bodeguita del Medio. That's more than two times the number of entrants in the kneeboarding contest
This guy charged me uno peso to take his photo
Mike Anderson and Scuba Steve. Fun with long exposures
And that's what was getting long exposed. Good night, Cuba. See you tomorrow morning at the event
Day 2 – Skate Mission & Old Town
I woke up late morning and looked out the window. In the distance to the north I could see the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There was a lot of movement in the lobby of the hotel, with mostly business people staying at the place. I grabbed some café con leche and proceeded to change in the rest of my Euros (that I had previously exchanged back in the States) for Cuban Pesos. Apparently there is an “inconvenience charge” for changing US Dollars since they are worthless in Cuba.

Gathering a crew of approximately 15 people to go skate is quite a mission in itself, but of course Chris and Tomas saved the day and made it happen. We got rolling at a bright and early 1pm and managed to get all of us in one mini-van. That’s when I realized that we were touring “the land that time forgot.”

Due to the very limited resources down in Cuba, everything looks like it hasn’t been updated in 50 – 75 years. I am not exaggerating one bit here. Since the embargo that the USA has placed on the island since 1962, there has not been one single item MADE IN USA sent to Cuba. That means that every American car you see is approximately 50 years old. It’s truly a sight to behold because you’ll see one in pristine condition one second and a total hunk o’ junk barely held together with twine and duct tape and spitting black smoke the next.

The first stop was the home of a man known as Che, nick-named after Che Guevara, the guy that helped Fidel Castro overthrow the regime back in 1958. If Tomas is the one that brought outside skaters to Cuba, then Che is the guy that brought skateboarding itself to Cuba. Additionally, Che is a tattoo artist, which is very taboo down there. Che is covered with ink. Actually, he and I are the only two that I saw all day out on the streets with full sleeves.

From the initial meeting with Che, we skated from spot to spot with the mini-van picking us up for the longer distances. Either way I’m sure that I clocked about four or five miles hoofing it around town. We initially skated what the call a “skate park,” but it’s hardly that. The ramps are all huge and made entirely of metal…super sketchy. From there we hit what they called a “street plaza,” but the plaza was loaded with people, rough-surfaced, and pretty limited. The next hit was a small three-stair followed up by a big double-set. Watch out for the cars when you jump down the double! Finally we ended at some empty fountains that I recognized from a photo from an Anti-Hero tour in 2008.

I might sound like I’m ripping on their spots. By no means am I doing that. What I’m trying to say is that the skateboarders in Cuba don’t have it very easy, yet they followed us to each spot, crew enlarging constantly, and gave it their all to show the visitors what they had. They were nothing but smiles and super-cool and respectful, even if some were sipping off a bottle of rum all day! One skater even walked behind us the entire day with his broken-in-half complete. I couldn’t wait for them to see all of the product we brought them.

Later that evening, after hanging out in the happening Lobby Bar at the hotel and joining in with the band, we headed to what Tomas called “Old Town.” That’s pretty ironic considering any part of Havana that I’d seen prior to that was already old. Either way it’s a complete understatement. Old Town had cobblestone roads, pitted cement pillars holding up ancient balconies, and tiny streets that permitted no cars. It had a very European feel to it, complete preservation of an entire area. We ended up eating at Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant/bar made famous by Ernest Hemingway because he claimed that they made the best mojitos. The roja viejo was great and the mojitos passed the test, too. To top it off it was Mike Anderson’s birthday, so there were joyous “cheers” and a good time had by all 15 or so of us (minus Quim because we lost him and Rick because he is too cool).

After dinner we walked the desolate streets, feeling safe only because Tomas said that all is good. After ditching the stray dog that was tailing us, we hopped in literally the sketchiest cab ride I’ve ever had. This beater ran out of gas on the way back, which was only about a 20-minute ride, and the driver pulled over, said, “Un momento,” and used a water bottle from the trunk to put a little bit of gas in the vehicle. He then popped the hood and had to prime the carburetor like it was an old lawn mower to get the gas to it. Finally the car started and he drove to the next gas station and put in $1 Peso worth of gas that equaled one liter. Back at the hotel, Jenna and I opted out of the Lobby Bar party. When I woke up the morning after the first day and started writing I thought, “Wow, that was only two days. What’s in store for us for the next three?”

Day 3 – Wait, Skate, & Stay Up Late
Have you ever thought, “What would it be like to get in touch with my friends and plan skate missions with no cell phone?” Well, since we didn’t have cell phones in Cuba, that’s what I experienced on Day 3. Tomas showed up about two hours late, so half of our crew went out on a mission to get some photos prior to his arrival.

While waiting for Tomas, the girls started to worry. One said, “Che was detained the other day because the authorities had heard about our mission. Tomas must have gotten detained.” Well of course the authorities heard about our mission; someone had to pull permits for us to give away the skateboards and for the pros to demo.

Really though, the waiting didn’t bother me one bit. I was occupied trying to download 33.4MB of emails, which wouldn’t be a big deal at all at home. But the internet connection at the hotel was really, really bad. Four hours later my email was not downloaded. I eventually gave up and went to the pool to watch some older businessmen hang out with hookers, smoked a cigar, and hung out in the lobby.

So we waited and waited and waited, but once we were in the taxis driving around, no one really cared about all of the waiting anymore. Just to be able to see all of the untouched buildings and ancient architecture was a thrill in itself. The thing about being there in a country that is so undeveloped and lacks modernization is that there is literally a new experience around every corner. You just don’t know what you’re going to see.

The first stop was a really sketchy, short rail that came off some stairs attached to the foundation of a building that was long gone. It was a spot that any skater would have passed by in the States, but in Cuba you take what you can get. While Deily, Zered, and Manderson were “working,” I rolled up to the Gulf and skated around in some empty square pools with terrazzo floors. They were apparently old, run-down and unused swimming pools. Too bad they didn’t have any tranny or banks; they were just square. A few local kids saw me in there and one borrowed my skateboard. To my surprise he could do kickflips and heelflips.

The next stop was an abandoned, Olympic-sized swimming pool on the other side of Havana, but this one had bank-to-walls in the deep end. There was a recreation center next to it with a wide range of activities going down. Some kids were practicing martial arts inside the four-story building with stained glass that didn’t seem to go with the architecture, while men worked-out outside. And there were no fancy weight-lifting machines, only different ways to do dips, push-ups, and so on.

The pool was surrounded by torn down, rusty fences and palm trees that had never been trimmed. There were kids in the pool with us, but they were playing soccer. Everyone shared the space. No vibes. No attitudes. Just people doing what they enjoy doing. It was reminiscent of the Bro Bowl in Tampa prior to the tearing down of the projects…except one thing was missing: The violence. We skated and they played soccer, sometimes getting in each others’ way, but it was all good. The whole time about 50 others simply watched us skate, wondering why so many white people were there. Some were hanging off the balconies of the rec center, others dangled their feet into the empty pool, and then there were the little guys that just wanted to try our skateboards.

We rode until the wind picked up and the sun was setting and then our patient drivers gave us rides back to the hotel, traveling along the water where possible. Later that evening we had the worst service you’ve ever had in the “fancy” restaurant at the hotel. It’s not like the servers were rude – they just didn’t know what the hell they were doing or what was going on. It was pathetic really, almost sad.

Of course no trip to Cuba is fulfilled unless you go to a night club, so at about 11pm we ventured out. Have you thought for a second that we were in what is known as a one of the world’s last communist countries and I’m talking about skateboarding, kids playing soccer, and now partying? I was a bit surprised, too. Anyway, the nightclub was exactly what you would have expected…loud, smoky, and definitely not up to code by the standards that we were used to. But you know what? No one cared while they danced and had pounded cervezas. Seems like the culture of the youth is alive and well to me, even if a lot of them were wearing Ed Hardy gear. By the way, where did they get that? I don’t know either because it’s not like we saw any boutiques or many stores at all for that matter. Day 3 was now complete.

Day 4 – Hanging Around the Capitol Building
The morning was spent hanging around the hotel and finally getting my email downloaded. It was like a feeling of accomplishment even though I hadn’t really done any work yet. Early in the afternoon we cabbed it over to the Capitol building and hung around there pretty much all day. There were manual pads, some ledges and gaps, and a lot of smooth ground. All of the Cuban locals met up with us, with bottles of rum in hand. The skate session went on for hours as Mike Anderson and Quim were trying to shoot some photos.

There were kids playing baseball next to us, with modified rules of course. But that ended quickly when their baseball went through one of the windows in the Capitol building. No one came out, but the kids left anyway. They probably know better.

At one point, a few of us ventured away from the group to find some food. We ended up in a place that did not cater to tourists. After climbing three winding staircases, we were in a little room with a bar…and air conditioning, which was nice since the other two floors didn’t have A/C. The food was good and very inexpensive, but Rick and Jenna couldn’t eat the “vegetarian” beans because of course there was meat in them. That’s how a lot of the food is in Cuba. There might not be chunks of meat in it, but you can tell that it was cooked with meat and there are usually strands in there somewhere. I can’t fail to mention the bathroom in this place. You know the movie Trainspotting where the guy is strung out on heroin and gets pulled into the disgusting toilet? That’s what this bathroom reminded me of – no running water or lid on the top of the toilet, no toilet paper, and not even a damn sink.

As the afternoon went on and the wind picked up, we smoked Monte Cristo cigars that Scuba Steve got off some guy on the street and made our way down to the water. The way to the water was a slight decline road with a park the entire way in the center, splitting the traffic. The ground was layered with some type of terrazzo for the flooring. It was unbelievably smooth. As we took our time to roll down to catch the sunset, we were stopped no less than five times by random people wondering what we were doing. They’d never seen a group of skateboarders with so many cameras before. Hell, one guy asked me, “What do you call that?” while pointing at my skateboard. Those are the times that I would realize that we were in the land that time had forgotten.

At the end of the road was a famous fort, which made for a great place to watch the sunset. I made friends with a local named Francisco, whose brother left Cuba in the “1980 Boat Lift.” He told me that his brother recently said that life in the US is hard. I told Francisco that it’s not necessarily hard, but different. How much different I meant he had no clue.

Later that evening, Tomas pulled some strings and got us seated in a private restaurant called Gringo Viejo, or something like that. It was in a run-down neighborhood, but that’s not saying much because most neighborhoods in Havana look run-down. There was the front door to the home on the right and to the restaurant on the left. It was small, but impeccably clean and the food was GREAT!

It was about midnight when we finished dinner and had to wait out front on the street for the cab. Although it was pretty dark and there were random people hanging on the corner, not at one point did I feel unsafe. It’s just like that in Havana…you don’t feel sketched out at all. We made it back to the hotel, hung at the bar a bit, and made plans to prepare for the next day…the reason we came here in the first place.

Footage: The First Day on the Streets of Havana, Cuba

Footage: The Next Few Days on the Streets of Havana, Cuba

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