Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Farewell to Cuba: Final Days

Final Days

First my apologies for letting this last Cuba post take so long. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that February and March seemed to be very busy with both random personal stuff and lots of pen sales. And maybe I just didn’t want to let go of this final phase of our Cuba adventure.

February 10 was our final day in Cuba. We would depart from José Marti Airport on the morning of the 11th. Neither Jim nor José, our group leaders, made any secret of the fact that they wanted us to go out with a splash, that they were going to make that last day extraordinary. Spoiler alert: they did.

But let’s start. We began, as we did, with a lecture. This one nominally on architecture and preservation, but the lecturer ranged much more broadly into demographics and the problem of a declining and aging population.  I did not record it but it was quite interesting and gave us a lot to think and talk about.

From there we went to the La Cabaña fortress, mostly to see the sights there, we did not tour the fortress itself and that was OK. The fort is sited on a prominatory across the harbor from the city and gives a great view of Havana from a distance.

The city from across the bay

Unlike so many modern cities, the lack of population pressure has easily preserved open space

Warning: there will be people pictures. Up to now for the most part I have not included them since most of you do not know these folks. But as I do this entry I'm waxing nostalgic. First, our crew: From left, Juan Antonio who so ably drove us, then José. Most of were pretty well educated, but whatever we asked José seemed to know. And to the right Jim Fitch who hopefully is now in the Dominican training ballplayers for the Cards.

From there we got some retail therapy at a massive Almacenes de San José market near the port of Havana which offered a bit of everything from fine art to t shirts and all in between. I got a couple of typical guayabera shirts, we bought trinkets and t shirts for all. You get the idea.

Suresh (see below) enjoys a coconut

while José checks his look

Our last cultural stop of the trip was to see and meet with a group of young dancers. Apart from their talent and enthusiasm what was notable is that they worked with no government subsidies other than some very primitive performance and rehearsal space in a school.

The troupe

their acrobatics

In conversation

Cindy enjoys a last dance, and the kids enjoyed her as well

From there we retired to our hotel for a brief rest before our final evening in Cuba. Earlier in the trip Cindy and I decided that we needed a ride in some of the vintage taxis in Havana. We mounted a minor insurrection which group leader Jim cut off with the announcement that a cab ride along the Malecon and city tour was planned to transport us our last group meal which would be at La Torre, the restaurant atop the Edificio FOCSA, the 1956 monolith that remains the tallest building in Cuba. It was a finely nostalgic evening with festivities, cake, speeches, the whole thing.

OK, people pics--I didn't get everyone but . . .
John and Claire (not a couple)

Tom and Sarah (a couple)

Linda, Rosalie and Bob. Still hoping to catch up with Rosalie and Bob.

Ursula, Joan, John, Claire, Jane and Suresh, a learned, erudite and amusing fellow.

Jim herds Cuban taxis. Cats would have been easier. The only time in two weeks that he seemed at all ruffled.

Me in a '54 Roadmaster with Tom, Sharon and Sarah.

Our procession

Riding along the Malecon

Note the wave in the background, the seawall is under constant pressure from rising seas

This one would be Linda taking a picture of me taking a picture of Linda
This may be my favorite image from the trip, the Hotel Nacional and the city through clouded glass from atop the FOCSA building. One of my few regrets of the trip is that I just never seemed to hit it photographically. I'm slow and we were in a group.

 Our flight the next morning was not too early and so after breakfast we bade farewell to Cuba, Havana, the Hotel Nacional and finally to one another. In truth we hung together for another day not just when we arrived in Miami in early afternoon but later back at the hotel where it had all begun two weeks earlier. On the twelfth Sharon and I flew home.

Us waiting at the airport. The plane was only two hours late, which, we were told, was very fortunate

Linda and Laurie

Some final thoughts: I write this on the 19th of April, some two months after the trip. Our group, which pledged to keep in touch and share photos, have all returned to our own lives. Dunno how it is for any others but Sharon and I have had only intermittant contact with any of our fellow travelers.

We both enjoyed the trip immensely. At times the heat proved a real challenge for Sharon and, in truth, it got to me a few times. Otherwise I sweated happily through it. The exposure to another society, one with very different values and assumptions about levels of material comfort, the value of community and culture, was invaluable. You are never too old or too “cultured” to learn.  

Thorughout this segment of the blog I have tried to convey our joy and wonder. It was more than eye opening. Seeing life in Cuba from their side was invaluable. In short, it was great, as good as any trip we have ever taken in forty-five years of traveling together. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. But this fall we will resume our touring of the US and Canada with a trip to Yellowstone and up into the Canadian Rockies. Until then, happy trails.