it is hard to know where to start. the buildings, the people, the cars, the food, the politics, the crazy fates that allowed me to connect with my friends. i guess i should start at the beginning...
when i arrived, i was anxious. i didn’t know what to expect of the immigration and customs people, and honestly, i expected them to be hard on anyone from usa. getting through the first was a little freaky - not speaking spanish, i watched as the young woman inspected my documents and i volunteered information before i was asked in an effort to avoid any confusion, she frowned at me. i was told to take a step back. ok. ‘look into the camera.’ oh, ok, little strange. ‘do not to smile.’
i jokingly, and nervously, said ‘now i look like a criminal’ to which she replied with no inflection of humor, ‘si’.
when i headed through customs i had a purse filled with little treats arlene (my adopted jamaican mama) wanted me to take to alba, the saint who was going to help me get my feet firmly on the ground in havana. the purse contained tea, incense, jello, soap and a large ziplock full of candy. the agent who scanned the purse said something to me in spanish. i apologized and said ‘no habla español’, so he directed me to take the bag to a secondary customs agent. uh oh. she went through it and i tried to tell her what everything was, unsure of where the problem lay. she asked me something about the candy. i didn’t understand and said ‘gift’. she asked if she could have one - i opened the ziplock and happily said ‘take two!’ she did.
i went in search of my backpack which i’d had to check. i heard on the plane that one should always pay to have one’s checked baggage wrapped or you may arrive with fewer belongings. i was dismayed to see that my bags bungie cords had been undone. my heart sank when i thought about all of the things i had put in it that had some value to my long term plans. i searched quickly through to make sure that my power cords and camera battery packs were still there - if they were missing i was going to make a loud fuss. they were right where they were supposed to be. i relaxed. whatever else might be missing, i didn’t care (found out later that the only item missing was my dove soap). then i found h, a south korean i had met at the airport in grand cayman, whom i had agreed to split a cab with.
i changed my $450 canadian dollars for cuban cash. i felt a little exposed, carrying so much cash - i missed being able to just rely on my plastic.
h struck out with all of the airport atms and learned the hard lesson that you should always have some cash stashed somewhere when you arrive in a new country - credit cards and atms can be persnickety about giving you money - suddenly i was glad i had brought so much moolah!
i decided to take him with me to alba’s and hoped she would be able to point him in the right direction for money and the bus he was planning on catching later that night.
|first photo i took in havana
i mentioned in an earlier post that what sent me to jamaica instead of mexico was an email from my friend, c, telling me that there were no flights from mexico until late january. c had tried to go mid december and had sent a brief email from cancun saying she was sorry she wouldn’t get to see me until i got back from my odyssey. she was going to go to havana via panama at great extra expense and knew that i was too cheap to do the same (can’t go over my nine month budget for one country). i had no way of reaching her and knew she would not be checking email until she returned to the states. i didn’t have much hope that i’d find her, even though i was desperate to see her once more before my odyssey took me south.
alba welcomed myself and h and told him where he could go to get money. while he was out, she and i had a labored conversation but managed to learn much about one another. i gave her the phone numbers i had for people that c may have had contact with, hoping that one of them night know where she was, if she was even still in havana.
alba made call after call, conversations that i understood not at all, getting new numbers or having to call back because of party lines (have i mentioned yet that havana is stuck in the fifties? it is really something!). she struck out on the two numbers that seemed the most promising.
i had given c the name and number of a friend of a friend that i was fairly certain she would contact - ernesto is a musician, and c loves latin music and dancing. alba rang him at home, was given a different number and called that. ‘call back in five minutes.’ we did. moments later i was speaking with c! she was at a club, in havana, listening to ernesto perform. she couldn’t believe i was in the city, she had been so certain i wouldn’t be able to find my way to the island. i told her i would come to the club, immediately. h returned just as i was leaving and opted to come with me.
we hopped a cab - $5 and 5 minutes later, we were there, studio egrem. i was so anxious, i got out when the cab stopped, but the driver didn’t realize it and started again to move to the side of the street when i was only partially out of the cab. he literally ran over my shoe, fortunately, as the car trapped and rolled over the sneaker, i was able to squish my foot to the side and his car did no damage - it shook me up a little, but no harm, so off i went.
|my buena vista social club
once inside i located c very quickly. she was in the crush at the bar. we were thrilled to see one another and both of us couldn’t believe that the universe had allowed us to spend a few days together at the beginning of my long adventure.
she and e, her beau, were planning on leaving the next morning for a beach town nearby, but they canceled the plan and opted to spend the weekend in the city, showing me around.
i couldn’t believe my luck - the place was magical.