That daunting 20 hour ride back to Havana ended up being easy breezy. It wasn’t the greatest experience of my life, but it doesn’t weigh on my mind at all. The only memorable thing, after 17 hours on the bus, I turned 30. That put some energy in these old bones. At three in the morning I sat in a cafe outside the bus station, downed a sandwich and espresso (desperate times my friends) and started a long walk to see Mcguiness who had arrived the night before. Yes! Mcguiness from only 18 posts ago flew down to see me. So with caffeine starting to pump its way through my whole body, I decided it would be a marvelous idea to walk two hours through those dark Havana streets to reach his apartment. I needed some time to ponder all those things that 30 year olds think about: what’s with all those types of bankruptcies, how come Dr. House wasn’t fired, is missionary the all-around best?
I sat on the curb for another two hours, waiting for the sun to come up. When the owner let me in I sat on the terrace with another espresso (I was really roaring now!) and started a new book – John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead, a retelling of the old John Henry tale using junketeers instead of railroad workers. But where do all the free-loading journalists convene in the story? A John Henry festival in small-town West Virginia. Brilliant. And where’s a more appropriate place to read a story about a man who challenges technology to a race, only to die of exhaustion by succeeding? Smack in the middle of the last communist state. Obviously. All those ’55 Chevy Bel Airs cruising down the streets took on new meaning.
For my 30th I got us a rooftop apartment with a 24 hour bartender all to ourselves. They gave us complimentary rum and cokes (fyi I just wrote rum and cocks by accident) and chilling commenced. My other roommate Chloe showed up with her friend Mia, and we all got drunk in the sun. The Barracuda showed up last and all five of us gave a cheers in Havana for my birthday.
Over the next few days we ate, walked, and drank a lot of rum. I can’t write more because more I don’t remember. I know that we saw a lot of live music to which Mcguiness loved to danced, that a band sang happy birthday to me, and that we sat on the water next to an abandoned fortress-turned restaurant and watched the sun go down while the Barracuda searched for a decent bathroom. I could write another 10,000 page book on his digestive system and still wouldn’t do it justice. Luckily I trained hard with rural Chinese toilets so Cuba was a walk in the park for me.
Mcguiness had to fly back home and the remaining four of us hired a cab to drive us to Viñales, a small town west of Havana with beautiful hiking and tobacco farms. We bought some cigars and took a tour of the fields.
Whatever was happening in the Barracuda’s stomach was now affecting the girls. Once again my iron-clad stomach prevailed. We said goodbye to the Barracuda who was off to the airport and the two girls and I walked through a neighborhood in Havana ringing on doorbells looking for a place to sleep. At one house, perfectly white with a gold painted gate, an older black women opened her door and waved us in.
The inside of the house looked like a combination of the Renaissance and salsa music. We sat in big chairs and bargained with the woman over room prices. On the wall was a painted portrait our host with big hair in front of a microphone. I’m assuming she was a famous singer in her younger days. We agreed on a price and relaxed.
I think this place was a brothel. Three Italian men walked out with two young Cuban girls on their arms and a large Cuban man following behind. It seemed too odd to be coincidence and I noticed that another man – one of the owner’s sons – kept asking me if I was lonely. This was after Chloe and Mia went to the airport and I was waiting on the porch to take a car back to Santa Clara. I don’t know. Whenever I’m alone people assume I need a woman.
The owner of the house made some calls and arranged a car to take me back to Santa Clara for my final night. It was just the driver and I and for a much lower price than I anticipated. Halfway through the journey he mentioned that if we passed by any good looking girls he was going to stop and pick them up for free. I told him he should go back to the place I stayed the night before.
I went to bed at 9pm that night and woke up early to take one final walk in Cuba. I called a taxi for the airport and stared out the window. The driver asked where I was from and when I told him he mentioned the protests against Donald Trump. I asked him whether he thought Cubans should be able to protest. “Some do,” he said. “But they’re not allowed. With time, as we become more democratic, we will protest some more.” It was the first real answer about politics I got on the whole trip.