Monday, March 12, 2007

Love Letters from Another World.

I got an email from Cuba today. My best translation makes me believe this is among one of the best love letters I have ever received. Though ... there are a few points where I'm not 100% certain exactly what it says. Is he afraid I will forget him? Or is he afraid he will forget me?

Must learn more Spanish.

Then, my horoscope came and said "...your feelings still don't fit into the circumstances around you. It's like your lover, partner or romantic interest is talking to you, but you cannot understand what they are saying."


[amendment] oh ... wait!! Not forget ... lose! He's afraid of losing me. Phew. That's better. Yes, Spanish classes ... Pronto!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Lost in Translation.

I'm home. I'm not ready for this yet. Though, it's a welcome change from the last 24 hours I spent in Cancun. (Too mucking fuch, as the billboard read.)

I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning looking at pictures, listening to the music that's popular in Cuba right now, and unpacking (which essentially consisted of taking everything out of my backpack and dumping it into the laundry basket).

I woke up just a few hours later, in a different part of the wee hours of the morning, and I suppose eventually I will have to go to work. It's not work that I'm so much not looking forward to - it's being asked about my trip. There's really no way for me to put it into words. One friend suggested I just get everyone into a conference room for the first half of the day and tell everyone at once about the trip so I wouldn't have to do it over and over again. If I thought I could articulate my experience even once, it's not a bad idea.

I did open up my journal this morning to get a phone number, then started flipping through the pages and found a short entry I wrote while waiting for someone. I wanted to take note of some of the suggestions made by the Cubacar map when I rented a car, I found the translations amusing.
  • Pay attention to car driving
  • Do not drinkings when driving
  • Avoid Dazzle
I finally got through to a friend in Cuba this morning after several attempts since landing in Mexico - then Houston - then Portland. I only reached the answering machine, even still, it helped me feel much more grounded making even the slightest connection back with Havana.

My mom often quotes someone (who, I don't remember just now) saying something like "My trip was just perfect in that it was too short." I am glad to not have overstayed my welcome, and I will admit that it was so amazing I kept waiting for the ball to drop and to be disappointed in the end (or for someone to pinch me awake), but ... I'm already ready to return ... or maybe bring a bit of Cuba home with me ... more on that later ...

Monday, March 5, 2007

Qué falto.

What I miss:

Sunday, March 4, 2007

One person's hell is another person's heaven.

I'm in Cancun at the moment. I feel as though I'm in purgatory.

Actually, it *is* purgatory for me.

Though being home in Portland sounds okay, there are a few things/people that I miss (toilet paper, running water, good food, among them), leaving Cuba was absolutely heartbreaking.

I can't believe there are people who actually **choose** to spend time in Cancun. Anyway ... I've already wasted too much time being here and spending words on this place.

Let's get back to my personal heaven, Cuba. (Which is in fact hell for most people who live there.)

The tickets we had for the Buena Vista Social Club turned out to be in the front row. Front and Center. It was spectacular. Omara was singing right to *me* and I could practically reach out and touch Eliades Ochoa's guitar. Miguel was like a little kid. He's grown up in Havana, but like most Cubans, had never been to the Gran Teatro. A lot of what Cuba is famous for is only accessible by tourists. There's an extreme divide - tourism apartheid. I was sooo happy I brought him along to see some of what his own city has to offer. He loved it, he grew up with this music of course, and there were various santeria dances performed that have always been a big part of his life too. His mother is actually named after Omara Portuondo. Watching his face throughout the show was one of my favorite parts.

The next day - we headed for Vinales. (This is heaven for Cubans, though many of them have never been able to travel there, even though it's just a 3 hour bus ride from Havana.) It was incredibly beautiful.

There were some legal issues (to be explained at a later date) that resulted in following several feet behind people offering their private houses (meaning houses that weren't licensed to rent to foreigners, the licenses cost nearly $200- a month regardless of if they have anyone staying in the house or not). We found a great house a little off the beaten path. We took horses up through the mountains, into tobacco fields, and then into a cave where we hiked in a bit and went swimming.

I rented a car in Vinales and drove back to Havana, giving a few Cubans rides along the way. Hitchhiking is the most common way for Cubans to get around. State vehicles are required to stop for hitchhikers - and people get incredibly resourceful for their means of transportation. I mentioned before the horse drawn carts - but there are also 2-3 people on bikes (remember riding on handlebars or seats while someone else pedalled and stood in the middle when you were a kid? well, imagine that as an adult to get to work - no es fácil).

Having the car in Havana for a while was incredibly fun. I didn't really venture that much farther than I had by foot - but it's quite an experience driving there. Many of the roads are in horrible condition and I can't believe how people race around the streets with people, horses, bikes, etc. all sharing the same space. Cars cruise by people in the street with less than an inch between the car and someones arm/foot all the time. The people in the street don't seem to be at all concerned. For me, I think I'm going to lose my balance and fall right in front of a car - so I tried to keep myself at a healthy American distance from the cars when I could.

Very few Cubans have cars. If more people *did* - it would be absolute mayhem.

Perhaps tomorrow I will bring my journal along to the internet cafe and just copy excerpts directly from that - I'm having a hard time taking myself back to Havana with the distraction of Cancun in the background.

There's so much to tell, and I don't want to forget. There's a saying in Cuba, "Coca-cola del olvido." Essentially stating that once you drink the Coca-cola (aka escape Cuba to the US) you forget Cuba. Miguel has a grandfather who has been in Detroit for about 25 years. He has 2 sons in Cuba, Pedro and Ronald. He has since remarried and has two more young sons in the states, Peter and Ronald. Coca-cola del olvido.

One thing people said to me over and over toward the end of my stay was "please don't forget us." At this point, my eyes still red and teary from the sad goodbyes at the airport earlier today, I can't imagine forgetting. But, as I've said before, this whole thing just feels like a dream. I have experienced so much in the past three weeks, I worry that it's going to slip away the way a dream does as the moments pass and you wake up. I think I still have a job, a house, a dog, an American family, a life before this one - and I'm a bit afraid to go back to it all in fear of fully waking from my dream.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Ahhh ... Havana.

I felt my heart and soul connect with this city as soon as I arrived the first time, and though I had a wonderful time in "el campo" (the countryside), I was incredibly happy to return again.

Each new town I visited, I felt like I had to learn Cuba all over again. But, even though by the daily count, I've been here only a short time - it *feels* like a lifetime.

Sadly, I don't have enough time to even scratch the surface of what's been happening ... it's been an incredibly emotional and fantastic time. When I think about leaving I feel like I'm Christopher Reeve in "Somewhere in Time" about to discover the copper penny in my pocket and be transported out of my life as if woken from a dream.

Baseball, love, music, santeria, etc.

Oh - one thing I will share because I think it will be a simple to find a short version to share ... I was sitting with Maria and Miguel in an "El Rapido" near my house and Maria started having visions about my life (she's a santeria - more on this and much more later). Well, she said that she could sense the spirits that were with me - one she described was a man who had some problems breathing. Perhaps my grandfather? Was my grandfather alive? I said no, both were gone. She said the one she was feeling was with me died of problems in the lungs. My eyes welled up a bit with tears as she told me this - she then told me, that it was the Father of my Mother. Who ... by the way, died of lung cancer. It really threw me. I don't know if this short version gives the story any justice - but it was something really amazing. I'll try to do better explaining the setting and the language barriers that added to how odd this whole experience was later. I'll just say - wow.

Now ... Miguel and I are going to a concert at the Gran Teatro where there's a tribute for the Buena Vista Social Club. Most of the members are dead, but there are a few remaining, Omara Portuondo among them.

All is well.

I'm going to go back to the dream now.


Friday, February 23, 2007


Viva la Revolución!

The sound of Cienfuegos was not as much music (as everywhere else I've been) but of horse's hoofs clapping along the pavement. Horse driven carts seemed to be the primary method of transport. This is probably not actually the case, but being quite used to the sound of cars on the street, the constant clap clap clap on the pavement stood out.

I liked Cienfuegos just fine in the beginning, but I didn't love the casa I ended up finding and I felt I'd had enough of the town after walking around for just a few hours after arriving. So, I decided to leave after just one night.

The next morning, I went to the bus station early to buy my ticket, and after standing around waiting for nearly an hour for the ticket seller to return (apparently she would be right back, and apparently, "be right back" in Cuba means something a little different than what I'm accustomed to), I decided to walk around town a bit more.

I ventured a bit farther than I had the night before and enjoyed myself and made some interesting discoveries. I'm fascinated by all of the state propaganda painted on the walls, it's everywhere, but Cienfuegos was especially adorned.

En route back to the bus station, I stopped in to a fancy tourist hotel for a drink. I sat poolside sipping a pina colada, loving the escape - it was nice to have a break from constant "Hey Lady, Where you from?" or "De que pais?" as well as the thick exhaust from cars that are still running after 50+ years with no means or regulation to minimize the emissions.

I just sat there quietly reading my book.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to take a full day vacation from my vacation and checked the prices and booked a room that cost me 2 full days of my allotted budget.

I walked back to Elsa's house (my casa), made up a lie about meeting another American and we decided to share a car back to Havana (to explain why I was leaving her house several hours before the bus was scheduled to leave). Elsa was a very sweet lady who lived alone, I think she really wanted the company - so I felt incredibly guilty and hoped she wouldn't be at the bus station the next morning when I was leaving (not at all something out of the ordinary). I thought I was pretty slick, and though she wasn't at the bus station when I was leaving, someone else I'd met (in an entirely different part of town mind you) was at the station and asked me why I didn't like Elsa's house? (Oh ... I felt really bad.)

Anyway - I packed up and plopped my bags on the hotel bed and spent the rest of the day swimming and lounging in the sun. It was exactly where I wanted to be for the day.

There's one phrase that I hear constantly in Cuba - it's highly unlikely that a conversation will go for more than 10 minutes without someone uttering "No es facil" "It's not easy ... Cuba ... it's not easy."

Relative to those who actually live here, for me as a tourist, it's incredibly easy. However, in relation to my life at home as a spoiled rotten imperialist who can find a band-aid, soap, or toilet paper whenever she needs it ... Cuba ... no es facil.

After a day of swimming, lounging in the sun, reading, and sipping pina coladas, I was ready to head back to Havana, where I left my heart.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Trinidad is beautiful.

I can't believe how lucky I got with the people I'm staying with here. I noticed one girl with red shorts in a huge crowd of jinteros at the bus station when I arrived, just this one somehow stood out. As soon as I had my backpack on, I was hit by a horde of people trying to lure me to stay with them. It felt like what I would imagine to be suddenly in the midst of a swarm of bees.

I had to shoo them all away, and kept saying "NO!" like I do with Zoe when she's being really bad (as most of you know is hardly *ever*). Then this girl with the red shorts suddenly appeared and asked if I would like to see her house. "YES!" I immediately followed her. I loved the place, I have a private room in the upstairs overlooking this lovely town with cobblestone streets and red tiled roofs, the sea just a few miles away, and the mountains on the other side. I have a private balcony where I watch people walking from house to house on the rooftops, doing laundry, and conversing.

I'm treated like a queen. The family brings an extravagant breakfast and dinner to my own table up on the balcony each morning and night. *AND* it turns out they have cousins living about a mile away from me in Portland. Holy Shit. I looked at the pile of photos they have of these cousins, and it's all areas where Zoe and I walk almost every day.


I can't tell who lives/works where - there are so many people in and out of the houses. (It was like that in Havana too.) The first night I was here I ended up in someones house who was doctoring my foot (long story, for another time) and there were 3 kids in the house. He introduced me to one of them as his daughter, I asked if all of the kids were his, and he looked at me like I was crazy - like - "why on earth would you think I had more kids than just the one?" As if there weren't two other little boys running around in the house when I asked the question.

Also, in the house where I'm staying, there are people there all the time who suddenly appear in another house. I was sitting on my balcony this morning when the girl in the red shorts from the first day appeared in the house next door. She showed me a painting and asked if I'd like to see more - her brother is a painter and if I wanted to look at what he had in the house, I could buy something much cheaper than what he had in all of the little tourist shops around town. Turns out,it was in that house that I was looking into next door. (It's hard to describe house this works - but the houses aren't actually completely contained - so one woman (Rosemary) from my house tried to lead me over the roof to get into the other house. It looked like I would surely plunge to my death with a bad step (or at least to a couple broken bones) so I said no and opted to take the stairs and enter the house through the front door. I'm kind of old fashioned like that.

The house was filled with beautiful paintings. One of which I'd noticed the first day I got there through a window - but I didn't realize it was right there in the house next door. Holy Shit. Of course, I didn't buy it because I wouldn't dream of "Trading with the Enemy."

When I very first arrived in this town, I was a little turned off by how many tourists there are here. But, I'm having such good luck with the people I'm meeting, that I'm planning on staying a little longer here than I originally planned. It's really an amazing place, there's good reason so many tourists come here, and I'm doing alright staying away from them.

Okay - time ...

Yesterday I went to Santa Clara where Che Guevera is buried. It was *incredible*. Very emotional to be in the tomb with him and other revolutionaries buried there. Alex, a Cuban who took me there, didn't come in. Later he said he just couldn't because it was too emotional for him. I can imagine - it was very powerful. (More later - the setting and timing aren't quite right for it now.)

We also went to another revolutionary site where one of Batista's trains was attacked and derailed during the revolution. There are still 4 cars there, right by the train tracks. They seem to be in the same position as they might have been when the train derailed.

On the way back, we went on what turned out to be a bitch of a hike through the forest/jungle (Topes de Callientes) to get to a cascade. It rained that morning, so the trail was really slippery and muddy. I did *not* have the right shoes for it - I kept slipping and sliding. I did go for a swim in the pool by the cascade we hiked to - which was quite a shock to the system. Brrrr.

I went dancing later that night (though with horrible pains in my knee from twisting and sliding down the steep muddy trails - and with huge bloody blisters on my feet - ouch!) still ... the music in Cuba is too irresistible to consider skipping out on it. Though, the first night I got here, I did decide to stay in. However, I could still hear music from all over town right there in my bedroom and on my balcony.

I'm reading a book called "Havana Bay," which paints a great picture of Cuban culture, and one line in it that I love and keep thinking of as I walk through the pulsating streets goes something like "If Cuba were to sink into the sea, probably the water would percolate with sound."

Muchos Besos para todos.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Estoy Aqui!

Ahhh ... dios mio!

Have I got some stories for you!!

Unfortunately, you're going to have to wait. Though I have a lot of stories, I don't have a lot of time. (Though, the hour wait and the $6.00 to get on this computer even for just a little while was well worth it to get out of the humid heat for a while.)

I'll just run down quickly a few key points from the last few days.


I arrived in Havana after the smoothest flight I have been on in a long time. (Has anyone else noticed how much bumpier the air seems to be? Or where the hell did all of this fear come from in my old age?)

I don't know exactly what it was - but the moment the plane landed, I was in love. There must be something in the air here. I'd been a little worried after wanting to come to this place for so long, reading so much, imagining such great things, that by the time I got here - there was no way it could live up to my expectiations. I was wrong about that. My expectations have been met and exceeded beyond my imagination.

The contrast in the airport from Cancun was a little eerie. Everyone was very quiet and calm and quietly filed into lines for immigration.

I felt a bit like I was in an old Russian spy movie. Though, now that I say that, I don't know that I can think of ever seeing an old Russian spy movie ... but alas, if I think of a better way to describe it later, I will certainly do so.

After crossing through immigration and getting my bags, there was a small (quiet) crowd of people behind a rope. In front of the rope was a man holding a sign with my name on it. I felt a bit like royalty and was immediately swept away. I met the taxi driver's wife and was greeted with kisses and we drove into the city.

I'm taking much longer than I expected, so I'll fast forward a bit to arriving at a house (casa particular) where I have been staying for the past however many days.

Fast forward ...


Today's chapter does not have a happy ending. Though, the middle was beyond fantastic, and by now (Wednesday? it's only Wednesday? I can't believe it - but that's what they're telling me.) so, by now - the story's ending is only a little blip - a small conflict to move the story ahead. However - I'm not such a good storyteller - and I'm going to leave the bad ending out for now.

I walked toward the Malecon, only a few blocks from my house, where I met Javier. Javier and I ended up walking to Callejon de Hamel. A place that was on my list of "to do" activities - but I didn't realize we were so close. This is a little street that has been painted by one artist, Salvador Gonzolez. All of the buildings in the street are painted and there are pieces of art, shrines, and all sorts of sculptures in effect enclosing the street like a tunnel. There were drummers and dancers scheduled for later that afternoon (always on Sundays) but first went in the morning. Javier lives in this neighborhood, so he knows the people around there. I met a lot of people, including Salvador Gonzolez himself. He was an elegant older man (not that old, maybe 50s or 60s) dressed in a black suit and drove an old black American car that Cuba is so famous for.

We walked around town a bit more, went to a Cuban bar and had a mojito and some rum. Later, we went back to Callejon de Hamel and danced with Santerias and drummers.

We went to his brother's house and had tostones (fried plantanes) and hung out with his family and friends who kept stopping by. (There's much much more to this story - even the good parts - but my time is running out ... so ... fast forward ...)


I walked along the Malecon to Old Havana.

I met a man living in a monument. Apparently the only man in the world who lives in a monument, which would certainly not surprise me. I got to see his house. You'll have to wait for the pictures. Though, feel free to look up some pictures on Flickr for the monument "Maximo Gomez" - likely other people have met this man too.

I toured the Capitolio (their capitol building is a smaller replica of ours), I saw a militia man working on a tank, I walked through old Havana and sat in the plaza de Cathedral.


Took a scary elevator ride to the top of the Hotel Libre for some pictures. It was far to high for my taste, but I was there, so I snapped a couple of shots and then immediately came back down. I walked through the University and the Coppelia ice cream parlor (those of you who have seen "Strawberries and Chocolate" might remember this place - for those of you who haven't seen it - you should).

I ran into Lector, someone I'd met a few days earlier, and kept running into (Cuban people are *very* friendly - I have no shortage of company and conversation - other than what I'm limited to by my poor spanish.) Lector had been out looking for me because the day before he'd told me about a band playing where he worked, he told me it was from 10:00-12:30, then again from 1:00-5:00 - I'd just planned on going in the afternoon because I'm a very busy girl and I can't get too distracted by just *one* activity.

We walked down to where he worked and the band was just packing up. I said I'd come back later - and I then walked down to the Plaza de Revolution and the monument Jose Marti.

Later, I went back to the studio where he works and pulled open the big wooden doors to find a ballet troup practicing. Lector was not there, and I was definately not invited to this party. However, the man who seemed to be more or less in charge gestured for me to sit down, so I did. Oh my - it was amazing. I'm just sitting in what we was a bit like a dirty old shop, holes in the wall and doors, dirt on the floor - and these amazing dancers practicing. And then, me. I felt really pretty stupid - but I decided feeling a little out of place was better than missing out on this. So, I stayed.

Fast forward ...


I went to the International Book Fair. I was surpirsed how many Cubans were there. I could tell they were Cuban because of the long polite lines where I was immediately ushered to the front. It's a strange dual economy/society here. More on that later ...

I sat in on a lot of the talks, some of which I actually understood. There is a lot of discussion about the US. One of the panels I went to had authors of the following books:

The Biography of Uncle Sam
La Impunidad Imperial (The unpunished imperialism)
The United States or The Emporor from Bad to Worse.

more on this later ... there's a light flashing that means my connection is soon to be lost.

Tomorrow: Trinidad.


Friday, February 9, 2007

I´m so clever.

When I got to Houston this morning, I discovered an earlier flight. One that would get me to Cancun in enough time to make the flight to Havana today and not have to bother with Cancun at all. I waited standby and got on the flight.

My luggage, turns out, did not.

So, here I am in Cancun, without luggage (no guidebook, spanish dictionary, soap, towel, etc.) wandering around looking for a phone to call the airport to give them a location where they can deliver my luggage.

En route, I found an internet cafe, and I figured a small dose of connectivity would do me good.

It has.

But now: phone.

Soon after: shower, beach, cerveza, tacos.

Tomorrow: Havana.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Need a Book on Cuban History?

need a book on cuban history?
Originally uploaded by microabi.

For years I've been travelling through Cuba via books.

In less than a month, I'll be putting the books back on the shelves and finally seeing what the fuss is all about.

I'm vacillating between excitement and terror. (To put it mildly.) Roller coaster emotions are not something completely foreign to me, but I don't think I have ever been simultaneously so thrilled and horrified by something. My body, heart, mind and soul have no idea how to process it all.

I guess time will ultimately take care of it all.

Well, that and maybe some Xanax.