Cuba: All Before Departure

Photo above: It was a sunny day spent walking along The Malecón. “Officially Avenida de Maceo, the Malecón is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood. New businesses are appearing on the esplanade due to economic reforms in Cuba that now allow Cubans to own private businesses.”

Continued from post “Cuba: Logistics”

So my travel partner, Helene, could no longer make it to Cuba.

New plan: I would have 24 hours in Cuba alone before any of my other teammates arrived to Cuba. I hadn’t spoken Spanish in years, aside from a word or two (shh don’t tell my high school teachers Mrs. Fig and Ms. Peck), so I knew I was in for a special experience. Though I took Spanish in high school six years ago (already?!), I was banking on her to be the spokesperson. Oops.

Though she wasn’t able to come, Helene connected me to her contact in Cuba because she’s a bamf like that. Her Norwegian friend, Nora, happened to be in Norway at the time that I was visiting, but her Cuban boyfriend, Yeiler, was in the area. Helene introduced me to Nora via Facebook Messenger. Nora was our translator since Yeiler doesn’t speak much English, nor do I speak much Spanish.

From California I was messaging Nora in Norway to relay messages to Yeiler in Cuba. Already this was fun. Though English isn’t Nora’s first or second language, Nora coordinated with me a time that Yeiler could pick me up from the airport. Thank you, Nora!

But within the next few weeks before leaving to Cuba, a lot happened. Aside from our team hosting the Bay Area Salsa and Bachata Festival, we studied straight through finals, spent a night at the Martin Luther King Library writing papers, barely survived, had a super ugly sweater party with too much champagne, had our first Cuba meeting weeks later than ideal, discovered hostels/Airbnbs/casa particulars were all booked, got the flu for a week and laid bedridden, went to Costco to get the wrong eye contact perscription, took a family trip to Monterey for Christmas and returned in the evening of December 26th.

My departing flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was at 11:55pm on Monday, December 26th, 2016. I had packed before the weekend trip to Monterey so as soon as we got back from Monterey I threw my long backpacking backpack in my car and raced off to Target to purchase a few gifts for local Cubans.

My backpacking backpack was already full, but I had read enough online that I was set on bringing something for kids there. Since baseball is huge there, I bought 9 baseballs, 4 softballs, and one soccer ball. I was that strange one at the airport with a personal carrier-on bag full of balls. Already I wished I had packed one shirt and a bathing suit and left the rest behind so that I could hand out more gifts. I didn’t know how I was going to pass it out and how it would be received, but I wistfully spent another some $60 on balls, hoping it’d make some kids happy in Cuba.

I also invested in reducing my chance of Zika by buying an electric fan repellent for mosquitos. Mosquitos love me so much. A few years ago, while hiking in the Sierras I got a mosquito bite on my eyelid and practically became swollen shut. It wouldn’t look the best in pictures nor would it do me any good for seeing in Cuba, so $60 went to refills for the fan since each filter lasts 12 hours. In the long run, I figured it was worth the money to protect my one body in this life. Yeah, it’s definitely worth it when you put it that way…

I bought a few Adams Tennessee Whiskey as gifts for those unknown strangers and chocolate to hand out as thank you’s for letting me take pictures of locals. Many travelers said this is a custom to thank them, so KitKats, Butterfingers, Reese’s and Hershey’s piled into my bag, as well.

Then we found out our coaches could no longer make the trip. This trip had not yet started and it wasn’t the trip that any of us originally imagined. But nothing goes as planned and the best we can do is go with the flow. And to the seven of us left with flights still booked, that meant heading to the airport in upcoming days.

Cuba is a third world country and I didn’t know what to expect along with the language barrier, tentative itinerary and the biggest group I’ve ever traveled to a new country with for 13 days. I was ready for anything. Good thing, too.

2017-01-08-10.58.44-1.jpg.jpg
Smaller pineapples for off-season. Found in the windowless window sill of our sweet Casa Particulares host Ilda!

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