Here we are, our last day in Cuba. Our departure day.
Our flight was scheduled for 5:30PM. Varadero was about a two and a half hour drive from the airport in Havana. We had reserved a vintage taxi to pick us up before leaving for this trip. And, our last driver, Lester, told us at this Varadero drop off that he would be the one picking us up for this trip to the airport.
We all had a restful night’s sleep, and woke up to cheery sunshine glowing into our rooms. The windows in this casa, did not have glass on them, nor did it have a screen, just shutters to shield the light. They weren’t closed tight, so you could feel a breeze coming through with the light.
We packed up all of our things, then made our way down to breakfast. Our taxi was going to pick us up by noon for the trek back to the airport, so we had some time here. You have to always factor that a meal is going to take at least an hour and a half, but most likely more. This morning we were greeted by both Iris and Ana. It was very nice. We had a similar type of breakfast today. We were given the same savory mini cakes with butterfly confetti on them, which was special for the girls. The random plate of mayonnaise and queso fresco along with the cakes. Then a bowl of fruits were served. My husband was happy to see it was all bananas, as he loves those; he always eats the mini ones we get at home. Next to the fruit bowl was a platter with salads, that were beautiful but tasted odd. A cored pineapple showed up, then a buckwheat pancake was served while an order of eggs was taken with bread.
We had some time to spare so we took our time eating breakfast. As we were sitting here the elderly woman who lived in the apartment (as a resident) came by to say hello. We had talked to her and her husband for a brief second on our first day as they helped me maneuver the outdoor shower for our sandy feet, and, then again we exchanged quick greetings when we were off to the beach yesterday morning.
She only spoke Spanish, but again, with my knowledge of Spanish and fluency in Italian we communicated. Using the offline mobile dictionary was a great help! Actually, the woman and I ended up having a great compassionate conversation. She was detailing about growing up in the area. It was pretty difficult, but her family got by. I pieced together a lot of her emotional journey. She seemed very happy to have my ear for the short moment we talked. We greeted each other good-bye, then a few minutes later her husband came by to say hello. He didn’t stop to chitchat, I think he was just being nosey haha.
We then made our way back up to the room to make sure we packed everything and to wait on our taxi. With some time to spare my husband and oldest daughter wanted to make one last run to the souvenir market by the beach. They went to do their thing, and my youngest daughter and I sat on our porch enjoying some last-minute sunshine in the salty air.
Weird.The photo I took below with a dog on the roof. The sky looks so grey, but it was NOT a cloudy morning!
Lester arrived right on time. He drove the same blue vintage Plymouth from two days ago for this trip. We packed up our things, handed the keys to Iris and went off on our way to the airport. It was bittersweet leaving the peninsula. I had finally started to enjoy the relaxation that Varadero brought me. But, we all know, vacation isn’t supposed to last for life.
While driving to the airport, we talked a lot to Lester. He was such a nice guy. He told us all about his girlfriend, showing us her photos on his phone of her, and his plans to propose to her some day soon. He asked us how we met, and how long it took to get married. He was surprised to hear how young we were when we met, but more so how we had dated for five years before getting married, then waited four years to start a family. Is that surprising? hmm..
Before hopping in the car, we had asked Lester if we could make one stop along the way, to he Revolution Square. We never got to officially see it, or stand on it, so I wanted to go pretty badly. Lester didn’t give a definitive answer, for timing reasons. Once we got to the outskirts of Havana, he said there was more than enough time to make a stop to the square. YES!!
We pulled into the lot adjacent to the square. It was packed with the coolest vintage cars!! It is kind of a funny coincidence that the red convertible here below was the very same one we saw on our first day walking in La Habana Vieja! THE SAME ONE! It is so beautiful in person I can’t even tell you how much the photo does it zero justice.
We walked over to the square, and it was empty.. just us and another family. The square faces a lot where we were standing, that was flanked by these enormous buildings that had the infamous metal structure statues of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Each structure has a statement signature underneath. Che’s said,”Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Victory, Always). Camilo’s said, “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).
After the walk around the Revolution Square, we took off for the airport. It was just a quick twenty-minute ride through Havana. Along the ride I had seen a lot of local propaganda on walls and billboards. Not one Cuban billboard this whole trip dedicated to anything but the socialist agenda. It was all so fascinating to me.
We greeted Lester with hugs and kisses of good-bye at the airport. He was such a nice guy. The airport was a breeze to go through. We checked in fairly easy. Went through immigration just as we did when we arrived. One child per adult with the Immigration Officer. A stamp your passport after a few questions, a snapshot of each traveler, and you are on your way to go through security. Which in Cuba may be easier than at home. We got to our gate within a half hour of saying bye to Lester! We ended up waiting for our departure longer than that. While waiting, we grabbed a few more bottles of rum for ourselves at duty-free, and, a few bites for the ride home.
We left 85F Havana for 30F Boston! We got home to find an immense amount of snow on the ground, and a storm on its way. But you know what? I actually did not care. I missed home so much!
My review of our trip.
Never has a place left me with such complexity in my soul. I walk away from this trip emotional.
The poverty. The social and economic issues and history. The constant propaganda. The oppression. The buildings all in ruins. The trash collection not constant. Yet, the people were kind. From the moment we stepped foot into the country to the moment we left we always knew that the kindness from the people would be a constant in our day. Where we had mostly visited had such immense poverty, Cuba still shined like a diamond. Albeit in the rough, but still shining.
Through its people.
We started seeing a trend after our first day. Everyone we met was highly educated, college/university graduates, and they were all proud to tell us that they had free education and free healthcare. Funny how familiar this sounds as our own country is at odds with those pro and con in this area of politics. I am not discussing politics, merely stating the obvious. It’s also interesting to walk around in a city of millions where we never saw one child acting up, and we saw thousands of families on this trip. We saw no parents yelling at their children. Not saying it doesn’t happen, it’s just we never saw it in front of our eyes. Also, we never saw anyone belligerent in the streets. No one strung out on drugs. No homeless. Not a person who smelled offensively -dirty or of body odor; everyone was dressed nicely, smelling of detergent. The houses we could see inside of were neat and clean. I mean. Do you guys know how rare this is on that scale?
I guess what I have been saying all along is the reason I am emotional from this visit. The people in Cuba are truly exceptional people. I am so glad I had this opportunity to see this country. A country I had always figured would be off-limits to me forever. I am so glad that I got to see the beautiful sights, historical and special to Cuba, even if at times they were depressing. I feel like this country is on a rebound to being great again. I hope so too.
I am also so glad to have met Maria and her husband Juan Carlos with their daughter of Vistalmorro. Ernesto and Lester who drove us around great distances and always had a smile. Julia and Silvio who own La Rosa de Ortega; with Jose Carlos and the staff. The elderly lady at the school. The antiques dealers. The bartender with the glasses at El Floridita. Our waiter at Varadero60. Iris and Ana of the Casa Cubana de la Familia, and the elderly couple downstairs. The random guy at the artist market who called me beautiful. Our taxi driver on Valentine’s Day Eve. The Afro-Cuban artist who walked me personally around her gallery. The waiter from La Fondita Heredia. The group of colorfully dressed women in the park. The multiple taxi drivers in the city who drove us home after a long day. It is all due to their generosity, kind watchful eyes, soft words and open heart that made me love Cuba.
“Havana, ooh na-na
Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na (oh, yeah)”