The idyllic, sprawling, tropical landscape of Viñales was fading fast. The clandestine jungles would soon be replaced by the concrete jungle. We were not headed to a new city, we were headed to a new world. Havana was waiting.
And this brings us to Part 2 – The Havana Chronicles! If you have not yet read part one of the series, please stop and go there now: Part 1. If you are sufficiently read and ready for the conclusion, then let us begin.
Where Viñales was warm, inviting, our introduction to Havana would be harsh and grim. Even our driver, Yulame, seemed to alter his demeanor as we entered the city, becoming anxious and rigid. Visually, the surroundings changed drastically, the lush trees were ripped out and in their place stood walls of gray concrete. Far from the vibrant, photoshopped, statuesque buildings I had seen on Instagram. We arrived at a dilapidated yellow building with the “72” demarcation we had been searching for.
Stepping out of Yulame’s Taxi, the first thing I noticed was the radiating heat, the sun seemed much more intense than it had been in Viñales and began to blister my lily white skin. There was a faint taste of salt in the air, the electrolyte scaling the galvanic series to oxidize my thoughts. Our street was populated by two seemingly abandoned cars, curbs lined with trash, and one somewhat fresh pig head. Our Home. Yulame unloaded the bags, placed them on the sidewalk, and then shook my hand. I watched the yellow and black taxi drive away, and for the first time since arriving in Cuba, I felt like I was in a foreign country.
Greeted by our new host, we walked through the doorway and up to a flight of stairs to a locked gate. Then, up another set of stairs which led to a narrow spiral staircase. The maneuvering of the luggage up this spiral staircase was a feat in itself. After passing through the final doorway, we were now on a rooftop terrace. We took a seat in the shade, looking out at our new view, wondering why the fuck we left Viñales.
It really wasn’t all shit though. Our host was very nice to us. I am just trying to demonstrate the stark contrast between Viñales and Havana. The difference between the cities is the same here in the US. Country vs. city, clean vs. dirty, morally right vs. morally corrupt.
The biggest issue that we now faced was the fact that we had no money. Poorly budgeting and spending frivolously on cigars and Cuban rum left us destitute. The even bigger problem was that American debit cards do not work in Cuba, so we had no way to get more money. The only thing we could think to do was to book excursions on Airbnb, at least now we would not starve. And this leads us to Reason 1/Reason 4 depending on how you are keeping count!
Reason 1/Reason 4: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftop bars of Havana”
Searching Airbnb excursions in Havana at our local wifi park, we came across one that included transportation and 3 drinks. Lindsie and I were instantly sold. We did not have the means for a cab so we would see a few miles of Havana on foot. We packed one left over bottle of water and filled the other bottle with rum. By the second mile, the heat became less invasive, and my speech began to slur.
We found our group easy enough, pale skin and the nervous, unsure movement of tourist in a land not their own. (I feel like most Americans lack the bravado to assimilate to their surroundings, making them easy to pick out of a crowd.) Robin, a Cuban native, would be our guide. He would be assisted by Pedro, both spoke perfect English. With Lindsie and myself, our group totaled thirteen souls. Our multi demographic group broke up into fours and made our way to the convertible taxis, ready to whisk us away to our destinations.
Pairing up to ride together, I was drawn to an Australian couple, which would allow me to practice my Australian accent. Instantly becoming a fan of my new Australian friend, as I am with anyone that when offered a drink out of a strangers bottle, unwaveringly accepts and drinks. The car ride would take us through Havana, stopping at picturesque scenes, allowing people to capture the crucial “Instagram moments” vacations are made for. At each location, Robin and Pedro would tell us the historical significance of each stop.
Each site offered a better view than the last, the drinks flowed, and so did the conversation. Maybe more enjoyable than the sights was the openness in which Robin and Pedro answered questions about all aspects of Cuba. On the rooftop of a downtown bar overlooking the Capitol, in the setting sun, you can’t help but romanticize the idea of revolution. Fidel and Che juxtaposed by Robin and Pedro, speaking about the love for their country, their culture, and their families.
Glasses began to empty, goodbyes were said. The group disbanded and had taken to the streets below. The last few stood together in Parque Central, Havana. I had managed to acquire a heavy inebriation, a few new friends, and through a cunning business deal, money! Lindsie and I would use a portion of the newly found fortune on a motorcycle taxi back to our room. Drunkard as I was, I would snore the night away.
Reason 2/Reason 5: “The Old Tim and the Sea”
I cannot remember what caused a fight that next morning, all I remember was arguing the full length of The Malecón. My Christian name pushed aside, I was to be known as “Dick” and “Asshole”. So for a couple of miles, Dick/Asshole and Lindsie walked along the sea, exchanging harsh glances and harsher words. Eventually, the trist would subside, and we decided to take a cab, as we were already late. Hailing a cab in Cuba is very similar to New York, white privilege does have its advantages.
A green Chevy Bel Aire honked, stopped, and we piled in. I repeatedly stated our destination, even showed the location on a map. The driver nodded in affirmation of my broken spanglish. Ten minutes later the car stopped along an alley, I handed the driver a twenty, waited to receive change, said “fuck it”, exited the cab. Checked my map, we were further away from our objective than before we took the cab. Lindsie and I walked hurriedly through crowded streets, side stepping the common “where are you from” and “my baby needs milk” cries from locals. Spotting four “Michiganites” from the night before, our group had been reached.
Lindsie and I would not fit in the vehicle with the other members of the excursion, so we were introduced to Rafa, whom we would ride with to the beach. Rafa stood around six feet tall, tan skinned and leaned built, not frail, like a cyclist. Bushy-haired, and flat nosed similar to a boxer that has caught too many punches with it. In his eyes flashed the same look of desire I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in men that stare at Lindsie. I would have to watch him. Rafa spoke about Cuba, his love of the sea, how the tours allowed him to spend his off time freediving and spearfishing. The car came to a stop at the end of a street facing the ocean. (It must be said that the driver of the vehicle was not Rafa. I cannot remember his name. But he had a striking resemblance to Jonathan Blitt. I cannot say for sure that they are not the same person.)
The group was assembled and waiting for us in front of a house near the beach. The usual tedious introductions were had, “where are you from,” “blah, blah, blah.” I tend to check out in these moments and instead walked around the yard, feeling the dense grass under my bare feet. Here though we meet our expedition leader, Amanda. Amanda had thick black hair, she looked more Persian than Cuban with her dark features. Incredibly white smile framed by thick pink lips, slim build from the waist up, Cuban from the waist down(Cuban women have a bodacious backside). Amanda had the group stretch and then passed out gear: snorkels, goggles, fins, and some protective clothing for people to wear. After everything was collected, we left the yard and headed to the beach.
To reach the shipwreck, the group would need to swim approximately 400 meters from shore. Easy. Goggles were donned, fins in hand, we stepped into the deep. As we began to wade out, the magnitude of the waves became clear. They crashed against us, splitting the group. Those of us used to swimming in rougher waters, knew to dive under the wave before it hit. Those that did not understand this concept would soon fall victim to the foreboding waters. Moving further out into the ocean, I turned to see how my fellow group members faired. As I did, I saw one woman engulfed by a fast-moving wave, when she emerged panic set in as she went under again. I laughed continuously at the misfortune of the others. Eventually, the lifeguards would red-flag the beach, making all bodies in the water come to shore. We would not be seeing a shipwreck this trip.
Our group gathered on the shore, Amanda apologized, unnecessarily, for not being able to control the sea. Cuban Jonathan Blitt showed up with beer, and all was forgiven.
Leaving the beach, we arrived at the home of Amanda and her husband Alejandro, where a professional chef was preparing lunch. Everyone sat in the living room, retelling their personal account of the day. Rum was dispensed along with cigars; I would take mine to the solitude of the front porch. This is where I would meet Ale(Alejandro), a physicist professor in Havana. Ale was a handsome man, well spoken, and much smarter than me. We talked openly about a variety of varied subjects, from Havana to Trump. Ale was able to explain things from a Cuban perspective that I, as an American, had never even considered. Once again, my favorite part of the excursion was the people and the conversation, the fact that we did not get to see a shipwreck did not even matter.
The sun would soon set, and another one of our groups would quickly disband. Amanda arranged for Cuban Jonathan Blitt to take us back to our room. Up to the stairs and into the bedroom. Our last night in Cuba. After the waves, the sun, the rum, what fresh bacchanal awaited? Sleep.
When in Cuba, if you feel the need to see a beautiful beach while being entertained by amazing people, don’t hesitate to reach out to Amanda and book the excursion. Calm or rough seas you will not be disappointed. Amanda’s Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram.
We would wake up the next day and pack our things to head home.
Cuba was an incredible sexless adventure! The people, the culture, mostly the fresh fruit, definitely makes it a place to visit. If you get the chance or are trying to decide if it is worth it, go ahead and go. Thank you to everyone that was not mentioned in the article. I am so glad you got to meet me.
That concludes the Cuba series! Thank you for reading, and if you liked the article, please give it a like and a share. If you hated it, please give it a like and a share. Check out The Last Individual on Facebook and Instagram to find out what’s next.