Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Return, part III


OK, I was in Cuba. Things could go wrong. I could lose my passport or have it stolen, I could get sick enough to need to fly out , I could die there (although at that point I relinquish all further responsibility). There is no U.S. Embassy, no one to help in case of emergency. There is only one hospital located in Havana that is allowed to treat U.S. citizens and they only take cash for treatment. Credit cards are non-existent and although officially one must exchange dollars for Cuban Pesos, everyone loves to get dollars. I have to admit here that I wasn't thinking of any of these things at the time, only looking forward to what I might discover.

I had handed my return air ticket over to whom I believed to be a representative of the travel agency that sent me there. I could only know the truth when I returned to the airport in a week to see if this guy materialized with my ticket. My best guess is his holding my ticket prevented me from selling it to a Cuban National, something I would think is valuable.

On the bus ride to the hotel I could easily see what I had read about this once grand city now in suspended animation since 1959. Ornate Colonial buildings were left unpainted, unrepaired, and looking like a city long abandoned. On one street corner in the entrance alcove to what might have been a multi-story department store now closed, was a woman selling a few potatoes and vegetables perhaps from her home garden. The dichotomy of this scene was that people on the street looked more prosperous than they really were. They walked with a certain pride, an upright, self-assured gait.

My hotel was obviously once a very posh high-rise on the melecon waterfront with a grand lobby showing off stone "modern" sculptures on each of the several coffee tables surrounded by leather sofa-chairs. The view from my 11th floor room was overlooking the now dry rooftop pool and down the sea wall to the El Morro Fort that in former times protected the Havana harbor. My room was a well-worn motel 6 look-alike with 60's appointments. My friend Kelvin once told me that tipping service people upon arrival assured good service. I've always thought this good advice since they will know up-front they are getting a tip at all. So with this in mind I introduced myself to the maid on the floor and offered several pair of Levi jeans I could no longer get my expanded butt into. Her reserved manner immediately lightened and told me her sons would be happy to have them. She thanked me to the point I became embarrassed to be so rich as to even have jeans.

My next task of settling in was to deposit several hundred dollars in the front desk safe and to stash several hundred dollars behind the painting on the wall of my room. One couldn't be sure of anything here, even the security of the front desk safe. I figured cash might buy my way out of a pinch.

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