Cuba is a country filled with “what might have been.”
It’s a beautiful country, we’ve all heard that, surrounded with beautiful beaches and filled with beautiful people. But, it breathes a constant, “What might have been.”
Cuba is also a land where little is as it seems.
Expectations live a very short half-life, if at all. And it is in that spirit that I will report on the trip to Cuba that might have been, had the US policy on Cuban travel by Americans not contained that fine of $250,000 (per person) for tourist travel.
Had Mikah (my 17-year old grandson who speaks Spanish far better than I) and I been able to travel to Cuba openly and legally, here is what I might have noticed.
Of all my world travel, Cuba was the first that kept me in the same time zone. I would have liked that, I’m sure, had I flown that three-hour flight from Canada. On the subject of time zones, please note that Cuba also follows the US’s schedule for changing to Daylight Savings Time.
I would have thoroughly enjoyed the bright morning sun and clear night sky that let us see Orion’s belt directly overhead.
I would have noticed that the Cuban passport folks, upon my arrival, asked if they should stamp my passport. But when they asked me again, on my departure, I’d have had a different answer.
“Is this your first visit to Cuba?” he would have asked me upon my arrival (I’m sure).
And when I’d answered, “Yes, I’m an American,” he’d have returned my smile.
“What is your purpose, your motivation in coming?” he’d have asked me next.
“I want to meet the Cuban people.”
“Do you want me to stamp your passport?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I’d have naively retorted. “I’m not here as a tourist.”
He just smiled and handed it back to me. Unstamped. Err, he would have . . . had we . . .
Yes. Things are not always as they seem.
Had we been in Cuba, we would have heard Chi-Chi explain that the horses Mikah would have ridden were skinny because otherwise they would “fall over with the heat.” Fortunately, we didn’t have to see such skinny horses.
Still, here’s a photo of those horses that I might have taken:
Had we legally been in Cuba, we’d have surely signed up for the two hour “nature walk,” led by two strolling, guitar-playing singers.
We wouldn’t have learned anything about the plants we would have seen, but we would have had a glorious morning hike, seen the nearby onion farms, and enjoyed the complimentary Cuban coffee and the chance to talk with the families that live and work the land.
The Cuban people are, just as I found in Kazakhstan, a most hospitable people.
We would have learned about the orange harvest a few years back, that sat in the fields and rotted because there was not enough gasoline to power the trucks to pick them up and take them to market.
Had I been able to go to Cuba openly, I’d surely have been impressed with the resourcefulness of the people. A resourcefulness brought on by the US enforced trade embargo. Here’s an example we would have seen often (had we . . . ) — a fence, in this case to hold in pigs, made entirely of sticks.
There would be very sad embargo tales as well, I’m sure. Like this horse tethered in the shade.
I would have funny stories to tell, too. Like how I wished everyone a hearty Felice Nueve Año, on New Year’s Day (Happy Nine Day), rather than the more appropriate Felice Nuevo Año. Yes, that would have happened a lot, had I been able to go to Cuba. And I would have laughed, now, at the memory.
I’d also have noted the irony of seeing the many workers waiting for a bus to take them to work while we westerners, in our air-conditioned and not-at-all-full bus sped by on our way to La Plata (Fidel’s mountain top 50s-era headquarters).
Yes, I would have loved to have noticed the irony of so very much.
Like the evening Mikah and I would have had dinner at a local’s home, as I’d hoped. While there, we’d enjoy a fabulous black market lobster dinner and look through the ration card the person used each month for sugar, flour, rice, beans, coffee and other staples.
Or the afternoon I stopped up at front desk of the “other hotel” to discover I could sign up for dental services.
“Special services of the dentist” include two kinds of cleaning, a fluoride treatment, extractions, and protheses. The hotel also offered medical consults and care and I often saw white-frocked personnel roaming the grounds. (Or would have, had we . . . )
We have all heard of the excellent medical care that Cuba has; the irony is that most of her doctors are sent around the world, often the first to arrive at disaster scenes, or offering medical care as barter for other products and services needed (like oil from Venezuela).
Or the evening I (would have) learned we were not the only Americans, after all. There was another couple, one that had flown directly from Miami. I ran to meet them (or would have, had I . . .). They were an older, friendly, Cuban-American couple who’d lived in Miami for over 35 years.
“What do you think of the embargo?” I’m sure I would have asked them, eventually (had I . . .).
“There is no embargo,” I might have heard one of them say. And, when my eyebrows cleared the top of my forehead, the woman (would have) added, “It is very complicated.”
What I could do, no matter on which side of the Caribbean I sat, was to read Marc Frank’s Cuban Revelations, which I recommend to anyone about to jump off this particular high dive. He gives background on the Cuban-American connection to the embargo and names those Cuban-American Congresspeople who have fought long and hard to maintain the embargo against this small island of fewer than 12 million people. And much more.
In hindsight, perhaps Eric Berne’s Games People Play would have been equally pertinent.
Adios, mis amigos y amigas. Hasta luego.
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January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday
January 18: Staying Involved, a post in anticipation of the inauguration
January 25: My Proposed Mission Statement and what I’ve learned from the survey monkey questionnaire you filled out.