So. We went to
Cuba Belize Mexico Belize Cuba Belize. Cuba. (If you’re an immigration officer, I would like to state for the record I oppose the embargo.) That’s how the conversation went in our heads all week, up to and including the nail-biting immigration line at ATL. J and I were looking at each other like, You talk? I talk? You? Me? You?
Turns out, nobody cares. They flipped through our passports and stamped without incident. On the other side of customs, J was wired and elated. All I could think about was how much Cuban Rum we could have brought back. And to think we worried about the rolled up stuffed-in-a-corner purple “Industriales” t-shirt we bought from some guy’s plastic bag at the 1pm baseball game. It’s Havana’s team, and current champs- equivalent to the NY Yankees, says J. He knows these things.
But what a rich country! Well, not literally rich. But socially. Sort of. And healthy! Infant mortality is lower than US, and HIV rate is less than .1%. Architecturally rich. Beautiful. Colorful. Friendly. Inviting. Warm. Historically rich and totally preserved. Also pork-fat rich, which resulted in a day by the
pool (read: bathrooms), and special “injections” by some lady named Julia. I think Jeff and Ricardo pretended to be sick the next day just to get a special injection from this Julia. No matter. Rachel and I made several trips to the crepe line, as the crepe maker was, how you say, crepetastic!
Catching a taxi feels like you’re at an antique car auction. Night club dancing with the locals feels like you’re in a black-lit, salsa-and-marengue-with-the-stars episode, where you can make up your own version as long as it involves some hips and twirls and drama. That experience was a fave.
And the mojitos. Don’t even get me started.
There is also a group of men in the square who sit all day and argue about baseball. J heard about this group, and loving baseball and old Cuban men, went to find it. It exists! He listened, talked to a couple people and stood-bye as we witnessed a few near-fights. While we were there, we made a friend who explained that 2 or 3 years ago, nobody could bother tourists. Now they are able to apply for a private license to be an unofficial tour guide in exchange for, like, a mojito. However, there is an officer every 10 feet, and if you say no, and the friend follows you, the officer blows his whistle and shakes his finger. Then the friend has to walk away. Poor friend. Our friend told us how to get out of the city and to the baseball game. He also offered us his aunt’s house for dinner.
The hotel we stayed at was a National Monument, with bullet holes in the front from mob shootouts, and our room faced the Hotel Libre, where Fidel ruled the country from the top floor during such-and-such time frame. Now it’s a disco.
Architecture is a colorful and stoic mix of Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. The culture is the same. I kept saying as we walked around Habana Viejo: this looks like the French Quarter! And Prague! And as we walked around Habana Central, with colorful laundry hanging and bright vibrant paint: now this is the Caribbean. And then with the all Spanish and dancing, Latin America. We visited Cuban China-town, took the cigar tour (I neither confirm nor deny that we purchased or smoked a Cuban cigar), went to a Cuban baseball game, ate lunch and dinners on several rooftop bars and in Cuban homes. We discovered this interesting new allowance the government is giving to individuals who apply for private licenses. People who apply can gut the inside of their home, fix it up, and serve meals- but limited to 6 or 12 people only. Here is a lunch place we stumbled on, plus the house on either side showing the disparity in opportunity:
Within a week of being home, we had purchased and watched Motorcycle Diaries, both Che documentaries, and a 3 hour music documentary on the creation of the Buena Vista Social Club. Also, we also almost got bitch-slapped by my grandma who assumed our enthusiasm toward Cuba (and our realization that many revolutionaries were idealists gone bad, that any government in its ideal state has strengths) was a plug for communism (what?). How she tied Obama into the conversation, I’m not really sure…
We are not socialists. But the trip was fascinating, and we are already planning a return- thanks to good friends who coordinated and visa’d us to be there, and who also had birthdays to celebrate! (No thanks to Julia for the injections.)
My pics are here. Jeff’s pics are here. Here are a couple of tider-overs: