Departure day, 6:00 a.m. punto (on the dot.) It’s dark out. I, and mis cuatro compadres, pile onto the bus for our final Cuban ride— to the airport. I nestled into the front seat behind Harlem, our driver for the past nine days; the doors close, wheels now set in motion—it is done. The interior lights are off, it is eerily quiet, no one is talking. A lump forms in my throat, and I can feel the water start to rise over my wider-than-normal eyes, not wanting to blink the dam open.
Water spills over my lid’s edges, warm salty streams trickling their way toward my chin. Swipe, sniff, swipe, sniff. “Wow, what is happening right now?” I ask myself.
The night before our long road trek to Trinidad, I succumbed to some “bad ice” in a local all-inclusive resort’s mojito. I made it through dinner but left the table with a good ole fashioned Irish goodbye. I won’t go into details for the rest of the evening…but I will tell you that I have not-so-fondly come to call the 24 hours that ensued—Fidel’s Revenge (inspired by Mexico’s Montezuma.)
Determined not to have this bout turn into trip-interruptus, I willed my way onto the bus at 6:30 a.m. and decided I would lay low in the back for the next 3 hours or so. A planned quick stop in Cienfuegos was on the itinerary, and when the bus came to a stop I lifted my head followed by the rest of me and quickly realized I was going to toss some cookies! I felt my eyes get really big in a panicked thought of “Oh this is going to happen, right now, right here, on the bus!” Thank God a bag was handy and mis compadres,Steve and Hazel, were at the ready holding the bag and my hair…end of that story.
If you ask me about my trip to Cuba, you will most likely be met with a longer than usual pause. It is a multifaceted conversation that is not about the white sands of the playa, or even the dreamed-of-seeing vintage American cars—it is above all about the people. The gracious captive people of Cuba. I came away and back to America with a larger and heavier heart.
Meet Ana. At a stop along the way to Viñales, the mountainous green acres of tobacco plantations, I made my way over to the ever-coveted baño. I say that because if you have travelled almost anywhere but in America, there isn’t a Starbucks, Burger King or MacDonald’s on every corner [thank God] and at the same time I can appreciate that piece about those places.
Ana was the tender of los baños. A shitty job. And yet—this little lady was a beacon of light, her smile wide and wonderful. Her pride showed as she took the 25 centavos for three squares of single ply toilet paper [smallest rolls on the planet] and gestured with a welcome arm into her baño.