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.
I have travelled to many places, and to some that were similarly unfilled with the traditional glitz and glamour of a destination vacation. So what is it about leaving Cuba that is tapping into this deep well of emotion?
Yes, I will miss being on “vacation,” but that’s not it. Bonds were created in sharing this experience with the others as travel companions. Yes, but I will see some of them soon and on Facebook. The relationships that were built with the people we met, the verbal exchanges and time spent with our host families, Ileana, Eduardo, Daniel and Jose, the special bond created with our guide Roberto (affectionatley named by us, Poppy Bobby.) More self talk, “Yes, you are getting closer, and that’s not all.”
Then it hits me. The dig-down-deeper aha was that I had spent the last nine days travelling in a place where the country that I was born into (the United States of America) and during my lifetime was/is, in a very big way, the cause and effect toward the state of disrepair in Cuba. I was leaving Cuba and her people feeling the weight of responsibility. As an American.
Surprised by this answer, it became clear to me that I wouldn’t feel right sharing my experiences of Cuba through the over 2,000 images I took alone; that I would need to do and say more about what is happening in Cuba, share the voices of the people we talked with and add to the images with my own words, thoughts and feelings. They were some of the most gracious and warm people I have ever met—in spite of their island imprisonment.
There are so many layers of experience to be encountered in Cuba and to only see a visit there as a Caribbean destination, like pressing a nose against aquarium glass only to have a look at the bright and shiny things would be a shame. If you go, meet the people of Cuba, do some research, scour the news and dig a little deeper. Then enjoy all there is to offer. Especially the people.
We traveled from Havana, old and new, the tobacco fields of Viñales, the failed experiment of socialized housing in Alamar, Playa Larga in the Bay of Pigs (where Cuba kicked our military ass and billboard signs aplenty boast of that,) to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Here are a few images of “my people” that I’m holding near and dear to my own heart and soul.
Gracias a todos los gentes de Cuba. Abrazos y besitos. Until we meet again.