The Cuba Connection: A complete travel summary


Cuba Connection — 2018

(*Photos have been selected at random)

A Metaphor

Walking the streets of Havana in March 2018, I spied a man in a white tee shirt watching a spontaneous soccer match below his crumbling apartment. Beneath him a pallid woman lies prone, staring perhaps in a trance; or maybe she is ill. The soccer ball occasionally bounces off her body without moving her.

This woman is Cuba, subdued and motionless, but looking skyward and hopeful. She sees the failure of her effort to build a new social order. And yet, a new generation of Cubans play all around her. These are not children of the Revolution. These boys are playing soccer, a sport that is gradually supplanting baseball as the national pastime. Change is coming, but probably not fast enough for the guy on the balcony.

Two Cubas

Like individuals, nations and their citizens present two selves. It is sometimes hard to tell which is more genuine or whether political (polite) appearances on the surface actually reflect the inner reality. Art is often a conduit of clues about a nation’s character and style under the surface— not always, but often.

I barely hit the street on my first day in Cuba when a passerby flashed the grin that many islanders were easy with. However, the blank stare of the green alien persona painted on the wall next to him (and barred entrance) gave me pause. Two thumbs up offer the promise of Havana’s good life, but the haunting eyes of that long green face cast a shadow on the friendly gesture.

Old Havana, Cuba invites its visitors to smoke, drink, eat and dance. Inhibitions nurtured at home are sorely tempted in this intriguing city, held together by duct tape but made charming by its residents and mid 20th century revolutionary hangover.

Down the street from my hostel/residence are well-attended bars where both men and women patrons mingle with drinks in one hand (maybe two) and cigar in the other. Rum and coke before dinner is a custom that purportedly prepares the diner’s digestion of some meat (or fish) treat neighboring with rice and beans. Drinks are cheap ($2), but Cuban cigars burn $4 and more.

Rhumba

Dance-rhumba originated among poor workers of African descent in the streets and solares (courtyards) of Cuba in the 19th century. The style remains one of Cuba's most characteristic forms of music and dance, featuring “vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing and polyrhythmic drumming” ((Wikipedia). Especially on Sunday afternoons and every night, anyone strolling the alleys and roads of Old Havana can pick and choose to mix with an assortment of foot-tapping, rump-waving, shivering bands and show-offs. My intrepid traveling companions, and even I at one point, did not shrink from the challenge and coaching that most Cubans seem always willing to offer.

Car Talk - “Honey” that Pink Cadillac

Cruising down the street

Waving to the girls

Feeling out of sight

Spending all my money

On a Saturday night

Honey I just wonder what you do there in back

Of your pink Cadillac

Pink Cadillac

— Bruce Springsteen

With tape and primitive tools, Cubans saved the royal American automobile fleet of the mid-20th century from extinction or confinement to jailhouse garages. On the Island everywhere, familiar and yet strange cars lurk in alleys and driveways, speed through stoplights and languish in repair mode along roadsides and curbs. It’s not just an experience of nostalgia; it’s a retro dream come to life.

Magic Bus - Cuba Tourists

Thank you, driver, for getting me here (too much, Magic Bus) — [part way back to Havana]

You'll be an inspector, have no fear (too much, Magic Bus)

I don't want to cause no fuss (too much, Magic Bus)

But can I buy your Magic Bus? (too much, Magic Bus)

Every day you'll see the dust (too much, Magic Bus)

As I drive my baby in my Magic Bus (too much, Magic Bus)

Songwriters: Peter Townshend

Magic Bus lyrics © T.R.O. Inc. (The Who recorded the song in 1968 and released it on September 18.)

The Magical Mystery Tour bus of The Beatles in 1967 was in a lot better shape than the Big Blue that my Cuba companions and I were introduced to in March 2018. (In the film by that name aired on BBC in December 1967, a group of people including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr relaxed in a Bedford VAL Panorama coach bus.) I am not complaining though because I actually really felt reunited with my 1960’s rebel spirit, sans the goatee. Watching the road passing under the tires from my seat was at times mesmerizing.

Even Cubans who are used to old vehicles whizzing past gave our bus a second look. And of course our fate was sealed; our coach died, leaving everyone standing beside the road on the last day of the tour. (Fortunately, its resting place was adjacent to a major rest stop and scenic place, where fine mojitos and sours and coladas kept us entertained until rescue arrived (in the guise of another weathered vehicle that was labeled a ‘bus”).

Who were my companions, besides nostalgic ghosts of The Beatles and Peter Townshend? My tour group, hosted by the Martin Luther King Center program in Havana, included individuals of all ages (above 20 years) and associated in some way with alumni of Eastern Mennonite University (located in Harrisonburg, Va.)

Street Fashion of Cuba

In Cuba, bright colored bata cubana dresses, with ruffles, are the show apparel that dazzles tourists and reaps money that slips into the pockets of the women who wear them. These clothes are not uniform like everything else in Cuba, but are adapted and adaptable in the warm unstable climate of the Caribbean. The fit closely around the body draws attention finally to a plunging neckline. This imitation of the Spanish flamenco dress represents a mix of African, Spanish, Roma and even French influences, “combining carnival, slave and gypsy attire.” One source suggests that poorer women adapted the cast-off clothes of rich European ladies.

Light cotton and linen, in any event, is essentially preferred across the island by women, although a new boom of European tourism makes it impossible to detect any cultural trend at all — in other words, anything goes with a mojito and cigar.

Men who are accompanying women dressed in the bata cubana often wear tight trousers with a ruffled shirt, called a rumba shirt. However, the traditional shirt of a Cuban man is called the guayabera. It is a lightweight white shirt usually with pleats on the front and back. This kind of shirt was, and maybe still is, required attire during state and official functions.

Every Day is Laundry Day

My accommodations in Old Havana after arrival in March were clean and efficient, with a staff that was fully accommodating. A home-like multi-story hostel offered remarkably fine breakfasts (for over 20 persons at a sitting - a feat that private American homes could not achieve). Peering out from the balcony next to my room, I found myself practically inside the house of a family across the narrow street. Fortunately for them and me, their activities were slightly disguised behind a barrier of laundry barely at arms length. Two children offered up a greeting - one signaling peace with his hands and the girl waving a gun (a play gun, I presume). The street provided unending entertainment too — noise, hawkers, lost tourists, sunshine and shadows.

I guess every day is laundry day in Cuba. Washers and dryers, especially dryers, apparently are not in high demand, except for parts. With the warm weather, people can do without the dryers. So they found other uses for the motors — powering fans, lawnmowers, bikes, shoe repair tools and key copiers, to name a few.

Multi-story displays of cloth and underwear augment the colors of the cityscape, creating nooks and facades bearing artistic and sensual flavors along the skyline, better than neon signs found in other large cities of the world. All in all, my Spanish-style hostel retreat in Old Havana was a safe haven and welcoming shade only steps away from charming but crumbling colonial edifices parked side-by-side along endless passages.

The Cuban Palette

A nation’s artists sometimes offer clues to a culture’s subterranean psyche. Cuba is an island and a small place overall and so its citizens must imagine the broader world where water is not its prison. Graffiti and wall art, especially in Havana, ranges from fantasizing with out-of-reach symbols and images of Cuba’s much larger and more prosperous neighbor, the US, to celebrating the idealism and the heroes of the Revolution of Fidel more than a half-century ago.

A personalized visit to the modest studio of Cuban artist Saulo Sarrano in Havana’s suburbs introduced me to this painter’s infatuation with both the sky and sea — a love of liberty linked to the many layers of the natural world and environment. His virtual birds hover everywhere and in multitudes. Sarrano devotes a portion of his time sharing his talent and enthusiasm with children and students. Some proceeds from his sales at the home studio go to supporting the art lessons and tools provided them.

Cars Imprisoned; Car Finds Jesus

Even before touring the city of Havana proper, I am enthralled by the alternating flow of shiny and rumpled, rusting metal objects on the streets. These are cars; vehicles like I remember them only vaguely in my distant pubescent past. Some look like my first love, a Plymouth Fury (I think 1960 model) that my parents let me buy while I was still in high school - previous century). Anyway, there is no end to the photo and game opportunities as I try over and over to guess what model of American (and/or Russian) automobile is hogging the scenery or landmark.

Some of these phantasms of the past are irretrievably rendered chained to the curb or driveways, mainly because their parts for maintenance are no longer of this world. Often one sees men peering intently under the hood or underneath running boards as though they are looking for lost parts. One car in particular appeared to have got religion, but most are remarkably gussied up to lure passengers, tourists and locals both. The colors definitely are otherworldly. Could the paints be imported from China? Everybody who is male is a taxi driver; I saw few women driving these show boats (aah, cars).

Touring Old Habana, Cuba

In Cuba today, all is not gold but all is not old. There are signs, although relatively meager, that the largest island in the Caribbean is sneaking in some modernization efforts despite the regrettable “on again-off again” schizophrenia of US politics and embargoes, now in place for way more than half a century. I guess Americans generally are slow to forget ancient wounds, imagined or otherwise. Cuba certainly poses little risk to its big brother neighbor, economically or ideologically (but that is a debate for elsewhere). I noted some of the newer buses mingling among the rattletraps had Chinese emblems and characters emblazoned on the door panels. Officials from the country of Vietnam cast a curious glance as they passed me.

And of course many more European and Canadian tourists inhabit Cuba than American visitors. Their contribution to the economy is evident in modest pockets of apparent prosperity, but it is difficult to fathom whether most Cuban citizens appreciate or even notice the “tip".

From a distance, sitting atop a tour bus, I think the old city of Havana gleams. Its core roads and shiny old vehicles charm at first, but a closer look, from street level, discovers cracks and crumble everywhere. Someday these can be fixed, but at enormous cost initially. Then, watch out Miami. Havana could lure the wintering crowds of Americans to an even sunnier, and potentially funnier, place.

On the Waterfront - Havana Harbor

The English captured Havana in 1762 but gave it back to Spain the following year in exchange for Florida. The Spanish then constructed the largest fortress in the Americas at the time —San Carlos de la Cabaña. Wars and revolutions later, the fort is still in place.

Fidel’s Revolution in 1959 triggered a mass exodus of the wealthy and the middle class; dooming Havana’s businesses and leaving festering slums that still mar some suburbs. Mostly black immigrants (“palestinos,” immigrants from Santiago and the eastern provinces) live in Havana. In 1977, the Cuban government named Habana Vieja a National Monument. In 1982, UNESCO named Habana Vieja a World Heritage Site.

Havana’s aged housing and infrastructure endured much neglect but are now in bits and pieces being targeted by a new restoration plan. The Centro Nacional de Conservación, Restauración, y Museología was created to inventory Havana’s historic sites and implement a program to fix what was once classic Spanish architecture that rivaled even Madrid’s ambience (under leadership of Eusebio Leal Spengler, the official city historian). Spengler donated the sculpture Soldadito (little soldier, or blackbird), erected to watch tourists at the fortress. The “soldier” is not actually “little.”

An abandoned and probably expensive American high-rise embassy, anchored by a large empty parking lot, resides spiritless along the waterfront today. Its prominent location on the harbor, and apparent waste of prime real estate, testifies to the puzzling American reversal of overtures in November 2017— leaving thousands of islanders hoping to visit relatives in the US once again in limbo (visas are no longer issued on the island).

American Embassy

Viewing the stark American embassy in Havana as it is in mid-2018, I cannot help but speculate about the wild protests of a few of the first US diplomats who were briefly housed there in 2017. Their claims that their physical health was compromised by something related to sound or other form of tech warfare notwithstanding, nothing has emerged from the many extant scientific and political investigations verifying such unrealistic charges.

Looking at the wide-open spaces around the embassy, in passing, I developed a hypothesis of my own. Here it is: I was immediately struck by the unusual concentrated cluster of rustling metal flagpoles planted east of the embassy tower. The area is completely exposed to the ocean breezes/winds that must push in from the sea almost constantly. What if those forces set up a not inconceivable vibration among those closely packed poles that in turn produces a “subsonic” or “hypersonic” soundwave(s), not unlike what happens when a person lightly circles a finger around a fine crystal glass. A kind of symphony of wave patterns, interacting with each other (even possibly triggering minute electric arc charges between poles) could propagate a virtually inaudible humming sensation in the atmosphere. Far out! Not entirely. While such a coincidence of vibrating wave patterns is not highly probable, the phenomenon is not wholly improbable either from a scientific standpoint.

Wholly in jest (for the sake of anyone of a particular political persuasion), let me suggest that perhaps the ruckus itself is merely the passing of a wind from the current unfriendly US government.

Merger Architecture

Cuba’s art and architecture renaissance is just around the corner — literally. A future restoration of the city of Havana, for instance, is already taking on the characteristics of a Spanish-Modern soup. A merger of the past and the future in the country’s capital could become a model of a new comfort zone in the Western Hemisphere if the entrepreneurial impulse, already emerging meekly, takes hold. With a boost from Raul Castro and reformers, a proliferation of tourist hostels and laws on the books that govern home stays are helping transform an Old World city preserved by a persistent US embargo into a New Age mecca for discerning artists and music lovers. But a walk-about reveals that the challenge is enormous, the prospects are fragile, and the need for capital persists as the US once again in 2018 has erected barriers to the free flow of money and people.

One source calls Old Havana the “finest urban ensemble in the Americas.” The fortress colonial town bloomed while Washington, D.C., was still a swamp. More than 900 of Habana Vieja’s 3,157 structures are of historical importance — only 101 were built in the 20th century. Almost 500 are from the 19th century; 200 are from the 18th; and 144 are from the 16th and 17th. Many buildings are still crumbling into ruins around the people who occupy them.

Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue and Discovered Cuba Too

Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) never set foot or planted the flag for the Crown of Castile on North America. However, he found Cuba in 1492, thought this was perhaps China, and did not realize it was an island (the country is about 800 miles long). Spain’s Diego Velasquez founded Havana in 1511. The country was declared a Republic in its own right in 1902 with the help of Americans, including some who were advocating the country’s acquisition by the US (with an eye on lucrative sugar and tobacco production). Corrupt and apparently brutal governments that followed sowed seeds of revolution and distress among the rural and disenfranchised populace that included former slaves (slavery was abolished in 1886).

Today, the Spanish mystique lingers, although it is dusty and cracked and a little tilted. Gradually, along the harbor on the Malecon and inland into the heart of old Havana (Viega Habana) fresh paint and renovations lure visitors from around the world. Travelers mingle more freely today with the relatively idealistic older-senior citizens but poorly served youthful population.

Images of Carlos III (King Charles of Spain, 18th Century) seem to be scattered about the city of Havana. That King was active in the regeneration of Spain’s investments in its colonies but he has also been derided as a crass colonial tyrant. A statue like the one in Havana was removed and placed in a less prominent location in Los Angeles in the 1980s, for instance. King Carlos III of Spain ordered the founding of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles in 1781. The LA statue was presented by Spain in 1976, in honor of the 200th anniversary of American independence.

As darkness falls on rooftop bars around Havana’s central plaza in the warm 2018 Spring evening, the air temperature drops slowly -- even as the hormones are warmed in equal measure by rhythmic sounds of rhumba and salsa bands and the savor of mojitos. A visitor might make comparisons to Madrid, as night traffic and walkers casually mingle among the palms.

In 2018, again, Americans are purportedly banned from doing business with or otherwise inhabiting commercial establishments perceived to be owned by Cuban government entities, including many first-class hotels otherwise inhabited by Europeans and Asians. (Alas, Columbus did not find China here, but China now seems to have found Cuba).

It must have taken some time and taxpayer money to develop the list that the US State Department says includes “entities and sub-entities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” For information regarding the prohibition on direct financial transactions with these entities, see the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control website and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security website. According to the State Department, “Entities or subentities owned or controlled by another entity or subentity on this list are not treated as restricted unless also specified by name on the list.” The list is many pages long.

Religion and Socialism

The Communist Party of Cuba removed atheism as a requirement for party membership in 1991. This may in part be attributed to the labors of idealistic ecumenical clergy including founders of the Martin Luther King Center (MLK Center) and affiliated Ebenezer Baptist Church located in a relatively poor suburb of Havana, and sponsor of the tour group with which I traveled in March 2018. (The subsequent crash of a Cuban airliner, a few weeks after my departure, and death of its passengers, including numerous family members of the country’s evangelical clergy, was widely mourned throughout Cuba.)

I sat in Ebenezer at the back of the church on Palm Sunday, peering through waving fern palms of course. One elderly parishioner collapsed in his pew and was removed in an unconscious condition with the help of one of our own tour members, a professional “first responder” from Florida. My tour guide translated the service via a sophisticated sound network for our rather large contingent of English speakers as the pastor spoke of the reconciliations with the social progress that religion is normally obliged to facilitate.

Yet another elderly gentleman collapsed in his seat as the congregation prepared to depart the church, located adjacent to the MLK Center. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, both casualties of the excitement of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem eventually fully recovered from the malady of the moment.

The MLK Center itself serves the immediate community on the edges of Havana with facilities that can be utilized by local organizers, educators, and travelers. Dormitory-like rooms are spare but convenient and inexpensive. I observed a steady line of visitors to a fresh water-dispensing faucet located in the Center’s courtyard during my final night in Cuba. Their labors with jugs and plastic containers drove home for me the plight of the poor in Cuba, who under the burdens of failed domestic programs and unjustified obstinacy of the US have limited resources and face unhealthy conditions that scattered religious communities and idealistic socialist doctors and teachers cannot fully address on their own initiative.

Besides the grassroots and socially active religious groups, it can be noted, the mainline Catholic Church and even Russian Orthodox establishment in Cuba lend a diversity of views and doctrines that some Cubans cherish. Construction of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral (Russian Orthodox) was begun in 2004. The church was consecrated in October 2008 in a ceremony ministered by Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev in the presence of Heads of State of Cuba including Raul Castro and hundreds of Orthodox believers, including employees of the Russian embassy in Havana and missions.

“The temple in Havana was conceived and built as a monument to Russian-Cuban friendship, as an expression of gratitude to our people, who made an enormous contribution to the preservation of Cuba as an independent state in developing its economic potential.”

— Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus'

Today, a traveller may encounter Jesus hitching a ride on a 1950s museum-groomed convertible automobile and even Muslim dignitaries patrolling the back streets and alleys of Havana.

Triumphal Sunday in Havana

My traveling companions and I explored the streets of Havana near our hostel/hotel on Palm Sunday in March 2018. Jesus apparently did a similar thing in Jerusalem a few thousand years earlier. That’s where the comparison ends. He chose an ass to ride on, reportedly, but I had many other options including a bus or some rather classy and shiny Chevys and Fords. I walked.

The sun is warm in Cuba’s springtime when it is probably the best time. Evenings cool off quite a bit (to the 60s) but daytime temperatures hover around 80F. As a quiet Sunday morning turns to the afternoon, the sounds of the street get louder. Foreign visitors crowd the alleys; savor the many colors, sounds and smells on display in the four main squares of Old Havana; and indulge in the food and drinks that get harder and stronger as the day wears on. Dance a little, smoke a little, drink a lot.

Rhumba and Salsa mix with the breezes off the ocean. Brave individuals elect a new hairstyle and artists compete with carts full of liquor for my attention and money. Again, money is precious in Cuba. Hard currency is hard for the locals to come by. The 500th year anniversary of Havana looms also, just one more year when celebrations are likely to break out.

Revolution

“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution.” - Hannah Arendt (New Yorker, 9/12/70)

Raul, Fidel Castro’s brother, seemed to be a comparative reformer - and thus more of a liberal on commerce and private sector initiatives. Fidel held firmer to the ideals he preached after Fulengio Batista was deposed in 1959 after a grinding guerrilla campaign.

During a visit to a local health clinic, to the National Museum of the Campaign for Alphabetization, and to the widely recognized Latin America School of Medicine outside of Havana, it was evident that the older generation of key Cuban service functionaries and community activists still cling to their ideals. They outwardly display pride in accomplishments in universal education, health and housing.

However, Raul himself has now stepped down as President of the island nation, the US has revived the blockade mentality, and the youth (the new generation) yearn more openly but cautiously for fresh air. There was a palpable new tension in the air, while US news outlets essentially ignored the impending government transfer while I was visiting.

How the Cuban economy and culture matches up with the prospects of citizens of the country’s Caribbean neighbors is hard for me to say, given that I haven’t any experience in this region? But, ration cards ensure that everyone has access to food. Poorly paid community doctors maintain open doors to assist the ill and injured, although their equipment appears worn and outdated.

In one of Havana’s main public squares, a discrete plaque celebrates the memory of Haydee Santamaria Cudadrado, a proclaimed heroine of post-revolutionary Cuba. She took her own life in 1980, two days after the 27th anniversary of a crucial guerrilla attack on the Moncada Barracks, which led to her arrest.

A major revolutionary display and account to the history of Fidel’s revolution and repulse of an American-financed and -inspired invasion that failed is located in the vicinity of the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s southern shore. The walls of the relatively modest facility are full of idealism and death, and a vigor that feeds now-rusted and faded idealism.

Today, the Bahía de Cochinos welcomes foreigners, mostly Europeans and Canadians. But even Americans, like me, are not confronted with camouflaged persons slinking in the marshy jungle undergrowth. Homestay hosts heap large doses of food on my breakfast tables, the past forgotten. Places where the original ideals and revolutionary heroes are celebrated are largely empty and in disrepair.

Experimentation

After revolution, usually comes experimentation. Big ideas and grandiose plans yield to more modest and practical schemes eventually, in the historical record. And not all the expectations and goals bear out the premises of the rebellion in the first place. In fact, reality never matches the ideal.

As I stare out of the bus window at the semi-parched fields of Cuba’s relatively flat interior plains, some converted to farmland, I sense more peace from the urban curse of anxiety but see rural poverty and disconnection with the rest of the world. Of course, the nation is not alone in this phenomenon.

The north coast east of Havana, near Matanzas, is the tourist mecca for foreign visitors. Some spectacular scenery and miles of inviting ocean beaches offer the sun-and-fun fare that vacationers normally seek. But dive into the south and one discovers more horse-drawn buggies and carts, huge abandoned dormitories that once housed farmer neophytes transferred from the cities, smoke stacks in the distance belching smoke into the heavens (probably sugar factories), jungle, the unique Cuban crocodiles, and more fine music.

Roughly three hours south of Havana, our entourage entered the Zapata Peninsula, containing Cuba’s largest wildlife and nature conservation reserve. A large crocodile farm offers the best introduction to the native national reptile, and is preferable to a face to face while swimming in the inviting volcanic waterways that feed into the southern Caribbean. At Buenaventura on Playa Larga, on the Bay of Pigs, is a modest tourist redoubt with numerous small homestay bungalows/hotels and bars that cater to visitors from around the world. But this place is extra laid-back and feels off the beaten track.

While the large-scale farming experiments of the early revolutionary period are figments of the past, current Cuban efforts in science, medicine, farming and energy cannot be dismissed; albeit such efforts, lacking external investments and resources, are very tiny in scale. Wildlife preservation on the Zapata Peninsula goes hand in hand with efforts to introduce more advanced food-producing technologies into the heartland.

Cardenas, Cuba

A relatively brief visit to Cardenas was actually a highlight of my Cuban journey outside of Havana in 2018. Here, for a few hours snooping the back streets, loafing on benches near the Old Square, and dodging the extraordinary assortment of horse-powered native carriages hauling locals and tourists both, I smelled, felt and saw a town that fit more neatly into my preconceived notion of what colonial Cuba must have been.

The weather is hot and humid; the streets remarkably awful. Everything is moving in slow motion, although trotting and prancing horses of every kind are a limitless feast for the eyes. The animals generally look healthy and well fed. I guess that could be expected, as they are clearly an important economic asset to their owners and drivers.

Bicycles compete with horses in some areas. And people in Cardenas, both the young and older set, appear to be very health-conscious themselves. Public exercises in the Square and health clubs plugged into the side streets offer residents a place to gather and socialize, to play dominoes, to escape the sun. The town is quite fashionable, but in a 19th century kind of way. The old automobiles here seem to be ahead of their time.

Jose Antonio Echeverria Birthplace Museum is opposite the Jose Estrada Palma Old Square, which now bears the name of a revolutionary student leader Jose Antonio Echeverria, in the Cardenas City, Matanzas Province. The two-story house was built in 1873 of masonry materials used in most buildings of this northeastern Cuban city, located only short distance from the beaches and very modernized resorts catering to foreign tourists. A spiral staircase, in the main hall, is a strikingly American presence in this former home of the university student activist against Batista.

Echeverria, with the nickname "Manzanita," meaning "Little Apple," increasingly was drawn into a cycle of conspiracy in the quest of assassination and overthrow of the hated government — until 1957 when police shot him.

Joy Riding and Bling - Cuban Style

Finally, a different kind of Cuba emerges all along the coast northeast of Havana. My wearying but enthusiastic co-travelers have a chance to wander on the sand beaches, sip various liquid concoctions, shop souvenirs, and make future plans. I try to sneak from the beach into a crowded resort swimming pool area catering to tourists, and got caught soon enough. I was politely informed that the space is reserved for guests — mostly Europeans and Canadians. Also, most of these large hotels no doubt are on the US don’t-go, naughty list.

Tens of shiny and polished catamarans nuzzle in-harbor on the Matanzas provincial shore. They appear to be waiting for Americans to appear; or for someone. It is clear that the US backtracking on friendly relations in 2018 again has foiled hopes of Cuban planners to spark more economic and social development. Our group did its small part to be attentive and sympathetic to the local artisans, the guides, the musicians and the restaurateurs (self-employed operators of the paladars).

Blue-green, turquoise water meets a blue-cyan sky along the northern horizon. From the shady, palmy dunes I wonder if the world really is round; or maybe square. For the people living here, it is not a complete planet. Parts remain off-limits, imposed by rather irrational forces, mostly political.

Before leaving the island ourselves, though, we indulge in a rush of nostalgia. Cramming our behinds into every spare cushiony seat space of splashy colored convertibles, that many of us probably fondly remember ogling many decades ago in our pre-teen or teenage years, all members of our troop traded up from that grumpy bus we had been assigned to. Some of us may have thought forbidden thoughts in such cars in our youth. But now, it's a run in the wind and breezes of the Caribbean, our hair flung everywhere. We scoot past the resorts and waves, shouting and waving and making play with a kind of freedom that hopefully all Cubans and visitors can tap into sooner or later.

#Cuba #Columbus #scenic #automobiles #cars #photography #travel

© 2023 by Edgar David Boshart, edboshart@gmail.com

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