La casa particular de Lilly

LILLY

Miles and I stepped off the tourist bus in Trinidad (the Cuban town, not the country) in the last glow of twilight and were assaulted by a mob of home owners. This was our first (and only) ride in the bus actually designed for tourists, so our first experience with the onslaught other tourists seemed to take for normal. We retreated to the relative safety of the back of the bus and quickly agreed – we would pay no more than 15 CUC ($15) for a room. Up until then, we had paid 30-35 CUC, except for those nights when we stealth camped on the beach.
Where did this number come from? Who knows? But we both had the same one in mind, so decided to go with it. We were road-wary, stomach-sick and we hadn’t showered in 5 days of public transportation, only the last few miles of which were on a tourist bus. We really needed a room, and a zero-mile rest day.

Hitchhiking in Cuba is easy. In fact, there are designated hitchhiking points where an official in uniform will help you flag down free rides or negotiate bus rides for you. 
That is what the web said and the tourist guides confirmed.
Yes, that is correct … if you are Cuban! If you are not Cuban, the official in uniform might or might not get you on a bus, depending on how he feels that day, and every private car turns into an overpriced taxi. 

Miles and I had been standing by the side of the road, only 1 km away from Blanca‘s house, for several hours when night fell, and traffic disappeared. Playa Larga, the next town, and our planned destination, was still 15 miles away. Or *only* 15 miles away. I mean, are we not thru-hikers? What’s 15 miles? We had headlamps with us, so we just started walking.
It got very dark very fast, with thick forest on both sides of the narrow road, and no place to stealth camp, so when a car finally pulled up, I offered the driver 160 pesos (~ $8 – about twice the normal price for a ride of this distance).
“I know this is too much.” I told the driver, “but I’m tired.” He nodded in agreement. We both understood that it was indeed too much, but that we were still paying the full amount offered.

The next couples of days were a crash-course in Cuban transportation. We took turns being sick. Miles was hit first. I was brought down by a street-corner bowl of spaghetti. We kept moving forward anyway. We rode on local buses (seats forward, though not always padded), on guaguas (a metal box on a truck chassis with bench seats), on camions (like a guaga with less seats, more standing room, and the same amount of exhaust fumes), and on a … I don’t even know what it’s called … it consisted of two small wooden bench seats mounted on a metal platform in the back of a tractor. Above the benches was a tin roof decorated with colorful small flags. We had been walking most of the morning in the sun on a deserted road through the forest when it puttered by. I waved two fingers up (two people need a ride) in hopes that it would stop. The driver twirled his finger in the air to indicate he couldn’t stop – there were no breaks – but had to turn around to pick us up on the fly. We got on quickly before the engine could die, and were saved any further walking in the thick moist noon heat of that day. 

Miles and I looked at each other, took a deep inhale, and plunged back into the mob. We were immediately separated and individually engulfed. Ten people waved laminated pictures of living rooms, clean beds and bathrooms in my face while yelling dollar amounts, in English, louder than their neighbors. Above all the hands and pictures, I could see Miles in the same predicament, faring only slightly better because of his height and natural calm.
“I will pay no more than 15 CUC per night. I need two nights for two people.” I yelled over the numbers, in Spanish. It was like I had dropped a cat in a flock of pigeons. Only two home-owners remained. One looked at me, visibly dumbfounded, and asked “20?” I shook my head no. The other was Lilly.

Traveling through Cuba is very cheap. You need only about $100 a week per person. 
That is what the web said, and the tourist guides confirmed.
Again, yes, if you are Cuban. If you are not Cuban, then you are expected to use the tourist money, the CUC (Convertible Peso, matched to the American dollar, 1 CUC = $1, instead of the CUP, the Cuban peso, ~20 CUP = 1 CUC). If you have CUCs, then that 12 cent pizza is 1 CUC, that 5 cent bus ride is 2 to 4 CUC, and so forth. 
But Miles and I didn’t know this beforehand. We planned $200 a week per person, expecting we’d live large with twice the recommended amount. American bank cards don’t work in Cuba, so whatever amount we landed with was our play money, period. We immediately learned that camping is illegal in Cuba. Tourists are expected to stay in either 5-star all-inclusive hotels or in Casa Particulares – the private houses of Cubans. These houses are everywhere, marked by a blue anchor near the door. At 30-35 CUC a night, plus 5 CUC for breakfast, our week’s budget would have been shot in a couple of days had we stayed in Casas every night. The tourist bus, towards which the Cubans continually tried to redirect us (“You don’t want to ride in this smelly guagua. The Viazur bus is down the street”), costs between 16 and 45 CUC per ride. Against, a few of those and our budget would have been shot. As for the 12-cent street pizza and spaghetti I had read about? Yes, it exists. But I, for one, would be fine living the rest of my life without that experience again. That’s all I’ll say about it. I don’t know when this $100 a week Cuba existed, but it no longer does. 

Lilly grabbed my hand. This seemed to be the signal that I was accounted for, and off the market. Hand in hand, the two of us weaved our way through Miles’ mob to extricate him. “Sorry. I go with her” he told his crowd, pointing at me. They followed the chain of hands from me to Lilly and realized why he was off the market. All the pictures still in the air dropped, shoulders drooped and feet shuffled away. We were the last ones there. All other tourists had already been snatched.
“That was CRAZY!” I pointed back towards the bus depot. Lilly laughed. “I know. It’s like that every day. But you are safe now. I live just a few blocks down this cobblestone. You will love it.” She weaved her arm in mine, and we walked in step laughing and chatting all the way to her house.

Lilly was a beautiful 45 years old woman – my age – but her years did not show in her youthful face, only in the confidence with which she ran her house. She was a business woman. She had rooms to fill and knew how to play her cards, especially the friendship card. I was enamored with Lilly right away, imagining I had just met a soul-sister and future pen-pal. Miles wasn’t wooed, but he didn’t want to burst my bubble, plus, he liked the room, and the price was right.
“Here, my Love, this is your room. You have a private bathroom and a balcony. I will serve breakfast at this table, here, tomorrow – 5 CUC. How would you like your eggs?”
“No breakfast for us, thank you.” I didn’t catch the brief frown of displeasure on her face, Miles did. She had already returned to smiling when I looked back at her from the balcony.
She took our passports and returned with a big official ledger she spread on the table. Each guest’s passport number was noted in the ledger and reported to the government. I read upside down that the other two rooms were rented to a woman from Finland and a couple from Slovenia. Everyone had paid 15 CUC.
That night, all of us roommates met and gathered around a couple of bottles of rum at the breakfast table. Taru from Finland left the group early. She was a salsa dancer and teacher, and a frequent visitor to Cuba. Jason and Ilinka, from Slovenia, were first time visitors, and in the throes of the same budget dilemma we faced.
“Cubans act as though we are millionaires.” Ilinka said, “I worked hard for a whole year to save enough for this vacation. We didn’t expect everything to be so pricey. We are almost out, and we still have three weeks before our flights back. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
At least, Miles and I were saved from a deadline. We didn’t even have return tickets – the Viking had said we were returning by boat, and he had not changed his mind once.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine.” Ilinka said, recomposing herself. “I mean, it was nice to find Lilly’s place, at only 25 CUC a night. The bathroom doesn’t flush, but the breakfast is good, and it’s only 8 CUC.”
I remembered the 15 CUC on the ledger, and I got it. Haaa! 15 CUC was the price Lilly reported to the government. Everything else was gravy in the pocket. I later learned that ALL blue-anchored Casa Particulares are 15 CUC a night, but no one charges that unless you ask. And wouldn’t you, try to fluff up the price a bit, if your fixed salary as tourist host in your own home was about $40 a month?
I glanced over at Miles, wondering if I should tell Ilinka that she had been taken, but he was deeply engrossed in a conversation with Jason, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I filed it away, to ask him later.

Later didn’t come until much later. Miles and Jason talked until dawn, then slept well past Lilly’s breakfast time. When everyone finally stirred back to life, Lilly was gone for the day, leaving the house in the care of her mother. The Slovenians left for the beach, the Finn went out to meet a dancer friend in town, and Miles and I meandered to the non-tourist part of town in search of a bakery, cigar factory and vegetable stand – in that order.
We all regrouped at sunset, just in time to catch a live salsa band in the main plaza, and had SO MUCH FUN.
Lilly commented the next day how great it was that we all got along so well. “Usually people stay in their rooms, or go out, but not together.” She said. I wondered if she was worried we might “talk”. I still hadn’t asked Miles what he thought I should do.

The next day, the Slovenians were again going to the beach, so we decided to go with them. Two nights was all we had planned at Lilly’s. If there was a beach, there was a chance for free stealth camping.
Since we were already packed and out of the room, Lilly decided to move Taru to our room, in case a family came – because Taru and the Slovenians already knew each other, and we shared a common area, whereas Taru’s room was off on its own. Since Miles and I were just standing around waiting for the rest of the group, we helped move Taru.
Then Lilly decided to move Ilinka and Jason to Taru’s room, because she remembered that their toilet didn’t flush. The Slovenians had a LOT of luggage. We helped move them too. By then, Taru had gotten a chance to settle in our former room, and was distraught at its proximity to the street. Not only was it loud, but all the exhaust fumes from the street were giving her a headache. So Lilly called a plumber, which couldn’t come until the next day, and we helped move Taru into Ilinka and Jason’s room – the one with the broken toilet.
With each move, Lilly became increasingly irritated by our “but why?” questions. As soon as Taru was moved a second time, she gave us a perfunctory goodbye, put her glasses on and disappeared in her ledger.

Miles and I had a lovely day and a horrible night at the beach. My belly was making that water-cooler noise, the one that makes you run to the woods and everyone else for cover. Fishermen almost discovered our stealth camp, but we were able to evade them by laying very flat and quiet. This went on for a while, so we couldn’t sleep. And when they finally left, groups of tourists appeared at the edge of the white sand, led by local guides straight toward our hiding spot. We packed in a hurry and walked back into the open, where we were asked to leave because that part of the beach was reserved for hotel guests. We were pissy, tired, sick. It was not our best morning.

We spent the rest of the day waiting at the park in Trinidad for a taxi that never came. He had promised us a ride to the next town, where his Mom lived, if we paid for the fuel, which he couldn’t afford. I think he really meant to give us a ride, but either because he got caught by his boss or because we missed each other at the park, it never happened.
While waiting at the park, we ran into Jason and Ilinka. Things were not well at the house. Lilly was upset that no one was eating breakfast (previously directly in her pocket), and Taru had asked for a discount down to 15 CUC a night because the toilet was still broken (out of her pocket). Lilly was being short-tempered with everyone.
I heard the stories, but was impervious. I liked Lilly. She was my friend. Still, it felt right to tell Ilinka about the room rate. That is when I discovered that Miles had never trusted Lilly from the start, and in fact had a much different experience of her than I had through my love-goggles.

We finally gave up waiting for the taxi at sunset. We left the park and meandered the streets of Trinidad in search of a 15 CUC room with a blue anchor for hours, but no one was taking the bait. No wonder – we looked tired, and it was already dark. We were at a disadvantage, and they knew they had leverage.
“Can’t we just go back to Lilly’s?” I insisted.
“I don’t want to go back to Lilly’s.”
“But, we know there is a room at Lilly’s.”
Miles kept walking. Oh, how frustrating that stubborn man was sometimes! I foresaw walking around aimlessly until 2 in the morning just because he didn’t like the lady of the house. Arg!
Miles was actually very calm – or deadly quiet? – and I was vaguely aware that I was having a tantrum and that the situation was probably not as bleak as I perceived it, but I was too tired to care.
“C’m on. C’m on. C’m on. Let’s go back to Lilly’s.”
He stopped to face me. “If you say the word ‘Lilly’ one more time, I’ll give you 15 CUC and you can go sleep there by yourself. But I’m going somewhere else.”
He kept walking, then said from afar “Just have a little faith, will you …”
As he said these words, a few ladies sitting on steps in front of a house hailed us good evening. There was no blue anchor on their house. I asked anyway. They had a friend, just down the street, who might have a room.
“We want to pay 10 CUC. It’s just for tonight.”
I don’t know why I said that, maybe so the owner would refuse and I’d win some argument.
“Bueno. Welcome to my house. Here is your room, and your private bathroom.”
Miles glanced at me with a smile and a “Told you so” look on his face, and I allowed it.

Lilly’s was the last blue-anchor house in which we stayed, and we never paid 15 CUC again. Many Cubans have a spare bedroom in their government-appointed free house, and as long as nobody sees you go in and you look like you aren’t going to be any trouble, that room is up for grabs. You just need to ask, and have a little faith.

Next … Daneel

18

With our Slovenian friends, waiting for a taxi in Trinidad.

 

Blanca la revolucionista

On our second day in Havana, after discovering that the train did not run every day, Miles and I hopped on a bus. Bus #244 – destination unknown. It was going out of the city, and that is all we cared about. #244, it turned out landed us in Guanabo, one of the beach towns east of Havana, the loveliest in my opinion. We slept on a broken up sidewalk by the beach, out of sight, and spent most of the next day figuring out how to get money changed. We slept again on our sidewalk and left early the next day before arousing interest or suspicion. Several buses later, we landed in a tiny town in the middle of the island. That was our bus’s terminus, but not our planned destination for the day.

BLANCA
Miles and I might as well have walked in the middle of the tiny town’s main street. Every pair of eyes in the whole town were on us anyway. There were no tourist there, and certainly none on foot and with backpacks.
“De donde son?” a tall and thin older lady had been following us for a while. “Ha! Estados Unidos. Muy bien!”
Just then, a pedal-taxi pulled next to us. “1 CUC” ($1) He said, to get us to the next bus-stop. “Ven, ven!” Blanca took my hand, I grabbed Miles’s and she pulled both of us to a side street. She was visibly upset at the taxi, and he at her. She ushered us into her house and shooed the taxi away. “La cara!” She repeated disgusted, shaking her head (the nerve of the guy!). Apparently, the next bus-stop was a km away. It should have costed no more than 5 cents.
“You’d better stay here for a while, until he goes away.” She said “He’s like a shark. He’ll circle and get tired.” She was feisty. I liked her immediately. “Here, drop your packs in the living room, so he doesn’t see them. I will make us some tea.”
While the tea was brewing, she brought to the living room a small wooden treasure box, and took down from the wall several documents. Her late husband had been a key player during the revolution. His job was to train the women to fight. That is how they met. She was young then, and impassioned. “We did not fight a revolution for Cuba. We fought it for the world.” There could be a world where all would be treated equal, with free access to education and medicine.With a system in place to distribute resources equally, there could be no poverty.
In the box were six medals of bravery her husband had earned as one of Che’s companions. The documents were signed by Fidel himself, attesting to service rendered to the country. She had no medal, just a scar proving she had held her own. Of course, she had been shot.
“It was worth dying for.” She said, “But now …” she shook her head. “Now it’s not good.”
She fell silent as she looked at the box, then remembered the tea and left for the kitchen.
There was only one chair in the living room, so Miles and I stood, then took turns to the bathroom. There was no running water in the bathroom, just a bucket she had filled earlier – which only helped the first one of us. I joined Blanca in the kitchen.
“Why isn’t it good anymore?”
She stood with the tray of tea in hand and launched into that rapid-fire Spanish Cubans are known for. She had tears in her eyes, and I did not wish to interrupt her flow in an attempt to slow her down. I caught “corruption”, “broken promises”, “not right”, “not good”. The words seemed less important in that moment than our joint presence in her kitchen – an American girl to whom the Cuban revolution was merely represented by the handsome face of Che, and a revolutionary who had been willing to die for an ideal now gone awry.
She had so many stories I wished I could understand. In preparing for the revolution, they had gathered in the mountains to the west, and lived communally on a farm, where they were trained. She spoke of the camaraderie, the passion, the vision.
“The vision was good. The revolution was good. But then it just went bad.”
I believe she would have asked us to stay the night, if she could have done so without getting in trouble. And maybe she could have, if no one had seen us enter. But the shark outside knew.
We embraced numerous times and exchanged addresses. It was late in the afternoon before we finally set off to walk our 1 km to the next bus-stop, which was also a designated Hitchhiking point.
I was star-struck. “We met a revolutionary!” I repeated several times to Miles. We recounted to each other Blanca’s stories to ensure we remembered them, until, eventually, our attention was diverted to the problem  of the night falling and the absence of any ride (we could afford) to the next town.

Next … Lilly

 

Cubanos de la Habana

LESTER

We met Lester in line at the Havana airport waiting to get our passports not stamped to get into the country. The official simply stamped the desk. No mark was left on our American passports that we ever were in Cuba. Lester stood in line in front of us with a yoga mat strapped to a carry-on. I asked him if he was a yoga instructor, he returned a rapid-fire of Spanish for which my brain was not yet primed. It didn’t matter. We spoke in enthusiasm, gestures and mutual commitment to communicate. It was enough for me to create a story from the 5 words per sentences I actually caught and relay my version of the facts to Miles so he could participate as well. Lester was a ballet dancer, a known one, the star of the main ballet company in Havana. How lucky we were to be American, he said, with stars in his eyes. America! Land of Freedom! We could go anywhere in the world, as we wished. He considered himself one of the very lucky ones. He traveled for ballet. He had a passport – he proudly showed me the much-coveted small blue book. His dance company had paid for his passport – at 100 CUC (convertible pesos) the equivalent of about 5 months of average Cuban salary. As a dancer, he had traveled to Europe and South America. He loved being a dancer. When asked at the age of 4 which sport he wanted to practice, he said he wanted to dance. His way was paid from first ballerina shoes to major auditions that led to stardom. There is no incentive to be a doctor or a lawyer or a business man, if salaries are the same. There is no societal pressure to be anything else than what you wish to be. When he was not traveling, Lester lived with his aunt, in Havana. “Take my aunt’s number, ” he said, “in case you need help.” His turn to get stamped. A wave of goodbye. We never saw him again.

GORGE
“Disculpe Senor! – Excuse me, Sir. Do you know where we might buy some rum?”
Gorge stopped in his track and turned to face us with what I thought was an exasperated look. “Yes. I do. Follow me.” He turned back to the street and immediately took off, swinging an umbrella in one hand and a briefcase in the other – “Did it rain?”, “No.”, he said “but it would if I didn’t carry it.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking. I trotted behind his fast gait, holding Miles’s hand for extra pull. We followed him from one street to the next, answering strange questions in the same rapid-fire Spanish, which my brain was beginning to decipher a little easier. “Where are you from?” “When did you get here?” “How long are you visiting?” “Do you love her?” – asking Miles, pointing to me – in the same breath. “I would not usually have stopped to talk to you.” he said. “So many tourists wander the streets of Havana, I prefer to avoid them …” He turned the corner of a street and cursed a curse I had not heard before – the store was closed. “I know another. Follow me .” He turned around and continued at the same pace in the opposite direction, “… But you asked so politely, so now I have to help you.” There was a sense of desperation in his voice. Because I had asked politely, I had indebted him. Strange. We sped across a very small park with a few benches. The place was packed with locals. All the other small streets had been empty. “Oh, this? Internet spot.” To get on the Internet in Cuba, one must buy Internet minutes. $10 for 100 minutes, but you have to stand in the Internet spot, underneath the tower. Most people have cell phones. They gather one family around one phone, buy phone minutes and delight in passing the phone to each family member. We took note of the address, and the method, and finally landed at a little counter cut in the wall. Cigarettes and rum – That’s all they sold. Gorge gave us a quick primer on what the different rums were, then handled the transaction for us. He threw in two small cartons of white rum. “This is my favorite. You need to try it.” He handed Miles one of the cartons as he opened the other for himself. In the time we each took a sip, he had already finished and crumpled his. “Thank you for the gift.” he said, “I must go home now.” His debt was paid. “You should keep this one too.” Miles said, and handed him the second, almost untouched, carton. “Really!?” “Of course!”. His face lit up as he disappeared into Miles’ bear hug. “You are good people!” he said, and he was gone.

MILTON
Milton was leaning against a car, watching tourists walk by. “Hey, weryoufron?” It always seemed to be a one-word sentence, wheryoufron. At first, Miles thought to claim Canadanianship, because no one really like Americans, do they? But I feel that if all the good American travelers claim to be Canadian, then they take all the credit and we remain the ugly Americans, so I prefer to own it, to whatever end. “Ha! Americanos! I love, I love!” Milton said, pointing to the American baseball team logo on his cap. In Cuba, it turns out, being American was a real bonus. When we claimed to be Canadian – we tried – we received warm welcomes, but when we owned up to being American, excited conversations erupted. “Welcome back!” they yelled. Everybody in Cuba has a brother, a mother, an uncle in the US, usually Miami – family they have not seen since the mid-1990s. “It is too bad what happened with our countries. But now, with Obama, we will be friends again.” Milton shook Miles hand, and they hugged like two long-lost brothers. “Americans need to come back.” he said. “Look. This needs to change.” He pointed to the dilapidated buildings on both sides of the street. “There is no money to fix anything. This used to be the most beautiful city in the world, and look at it now. We live in ruins, and no one cares. No one earns enough to pay for the concrete or the paint. We all live in poverty. The government does nothing to help the people.” We had heard similar opinions from other Cubans in hushed tones, but Milton didn’t care. He said what he had to say loudly, and most local passersby glared at him or changed sidewalk. Milton had a lot to say. He spoke sufficient English to communicate with Miles directly. After a while, the political conversation lost my interest. Instead I observed him, his lanky body in that ragged shirt, his dirty jeans, the fire in his eyes, the 1950s car he was leaned against – just another vintage exhaust-making machine. What would it have been like in the 1950s? When Hemingway walked this street. The extravagant Havana high-life of the pre-Castro revolution. I then became fascinated with Miles’s patience. Milton’s complaints seemed cyclical – from poverty to the government to the buildings and back to poverty. I was ready to continue exploring Havana, but felt it would be rude to just walk away. That’s what tourists do, don’t they? So, I watched Miles and learned. Eventually the cycles waned, and we were able to exit the conversation gracefully. I never fully recovered from that encounter. All I saw of Havana before Milton was the beauty of the people, the cars, the cigars, the music … now I had seen the dilapidation and the poverty. And I could not unsee it.

next … Blanca.

 

Cuba – An introduction

03

I was remiss while in Cuba. Every day held mind-boggling adventures, situations and encounters. And did I write any of it down? Nope. None.

My first excuse is that the adventure befell me so fast that I hardly knew it was happening until I was back from it. Back in January, I was laying in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, getting a ride to a trail-head, when the handsome Viking laying next to me asked “Hey, do you want to go to Cuba with me?”

I knew. There was no need to think on this one. My decision was a process of watching myself say yes rather than pondering the ridiculousness of this proposition – wait! wasn’t I supposed to be earning money to hike the Appalachian Trail this year? Well, yes, but I’m also the girl who charged a trip to India and the full tuition of a Yoga Teacher Training on a credit card only 3 months before starting the Pacific Crest Trail. At least, I’m consistent in my insanity. 4 days later, we were flying from Mexico to Havana on one-way tickets (because Vikings travel best by sea, and this one was certain we would be coming back by boat – we just had to find a boat).

My second excuse is that Cuba baffled me. It was never on my radar or wish list, so I knew nothing about the country except for a fleeting crush on Che – based mostly on the movie “The motorcycle diaries” – which had nothing to do with Cuba – and, of course, cigars, mojitos, 1950s cars and salsa dancing. By the second day, the omnipresent propaganda – Viva La Revolucion! – had already informed me that I was missing the point. It took the whole month we were there, piece by piece, for me to even begin to wrap my mind around Cuba. And even today, I certainly don’t claim to understand it. I just learned to navigate it. During our travels, we met Cubanos of all types. I believe that among them were a few key individuals who, collectively, paint a more accurate picture of the country than any I could even attempt.

My last excuse, before I actually tell you about these wonderful people, is that Cuba was a moving target. “We have to go NOW,” Miles (the Viking) said “because it is about to change, and I want to see it before it does.” It was actually changing as we experienced it. The Cubanos and Cubanas I am about to introduce to you probably already no longer exist, changed in part by the very fact that we met them – we, the Americans with the backpacks who sleep on the beach, hitchhike in the back of dump trucks and refuse to be funneled to 5-star all-inclusive resorts.

In the order in which we met them, I would like to tell you about Lester, Gorge and Milton (all in Havana), Blanca, Lilly, Daneel and Daneel’s son, James and finally Hugo … This might take a few posts (and some of the names have been changed).

For an overview, also see the email I sent to my Dad the day we returned Stateside.

Cuba – As told to Dad

[I disappeared – This is where I have been for the past two months.]

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Hi Monpapa!

Did you get my postcard from Cuba? I just got the Florida … Back safe on land, and in the US.

For New Year I wished for “surprises” – well, I sure was served 🙂

I met some friends in California for a New year’s hike on the San Diego trans-county trail (160 miles). There, I met a handsome Viking-looking man with a proper sense of adventure. I followed him to Cuba, with one way tickets. We got to see half the island, ate like the locals, stayed with the locals, cigars, rum, salsa dancing, … We even went rock-climbing one day. But still, we ran out of money after 8 days. Cuba is pricey for visitors. They have two different moneys and different prices for tourists. Not to worry, we headed to the Hemingway marina (where Hemingway used to fish) in Havana, to look for a passage on a boat back to the us. Us bank cards don’t work in Cuba. We found a trimaran with an old salty grumpy captain willing to take us back – Americans can’t go to Cuba, so most captains didn’t want us on board – but storm after storm kept us in the marina for another 2 weeks. We were running on less than $3 a day per person that last part. We did good though, with money and each other, especially considering we didn’t know each other when we left. The sea passage was rough. 20 foot seas. I vomited the first 12 hours, slept the following 24. Miles (the Viking – trail name Knight Shift) did awesome. I was thinking of you the whole time. You would have loved it – open seas, dolphins and strong winds on 3 sails. Yesterday we cleaned the boat as a thank you to the captain. I’ve got $6 left to my name, but Miles said he’s got me covered truck to truck. Next we’re Hitchhiking to New Orleans for some blues and then to San Diego, where my truck awaits.

It’s hard to type on my phone so I leave you here. How’s life over there? What sort of shenanigans are you and the nephew up to? 🙂

Xoxo – Roaming Bobcat

[next … Florida to San Diego]