I have my own personal thoughts and interpretation of ‘all the things going on down there in Cuba’, but one of my last moments on the streets keeps replaying in my head; and it just might set the tone for the stories that follow.
“Mucho color” (Spanish for ‘very hot’ when referencing the weather), I said to the somewhat frail older Cuban gentleman sitting atop a somewhat rickety chair under the shade of a beautiful, somewhat rickety Cuban architectural structure. I was shopping in the street vender area of Cienfuegos when the sun began to really beat down on me this last day of our visit. As I stepped up onto the curb to finally get a bit of reprieve from the mostly humid heat, the gentleman replied, “No it’s not” in perfect English. He then asked if I was from the cruise ship in port. I replied, “Yes”. He asked, “Are you from America?” Again I said, “Yes I am”.
My beautiful wife had graciously and lovingly provided me with one of the best birthday gifts one could ever imagine. Although she bought a new watch on “my” birthday for herself this year due to a ship credit refund that could only be spent in the ship store, I had succumb to a year-long sister-to-sister plan for a Viking Cruise from Miami, Florida to our ultimate destination of Cienfuegos, Cuba. This trip was my gift. I had met some very interesting people, visited some very interesting places, ate some great food and learned a thing or two along the way. And, just to let you know, I had several hundred pictures that were lost from my IPhone, just a day after the trip; so I will try to do my best novelist writing so you can visualize along with what memories I will still have along the way in this multi-part series. I had many great photos. It’s a shame. Sorry.
Cienfuegos is a fishing port city along the southern coast of Cuba. This day we were part of a street walking tour from our cruise ship in this quiet, yet robust city. Our tour guide for the day was a local Cienfuegos resident of 29 years and a very proud younger generation of that city. She had allowed our tour to walk the streets unattended and the wife and I needed to buy some last minute trinket gifts before returning to our ship for the afternoon ride back out of the channel.
The gentleman on the chair asked, “What state do you live in?” I told him I was from California as I fussed with the bags of gifts I was carrying. I had mostly made my interpretation of this remarkable island of Cuba by now as being mostly a sound country under a socialist rule that was really no different than some other countries I have visited while in the Navy. Cienfuegos, Havana and the outlying countryside we had traveled through the past few days seemed quiet, reasonably clean, graffitiless, devoid of any billboard advertising, except for mostly Castro political posters, and the very interesting display of automobiles and warm Cubans desiring our tourist monies. Most of our ship were visitors from America but I had observed visitors in both cities that were from different countries around the world.
“How’s everything in California?” the gentleman on the chair asked, again in perfect English. I kinda himmed and hawed and mumbled a bit then said , “It’s ok, life moves forward”. He replied, “It sucks here”. That was the first time I heard anything, or any words about how bad the country might be. We spoke only a few more words after that about the tourism in his country, and the repeated visits from our particular Viking Ocean Cruise Lines ship over the next several weeks. I parted from the old man in the chair, yet I still saw the hope in his eyes. The hope I had observed everywhere in Cuba; a land that I saw bountiful with wonderful people, food, culture and splendid architecture. There is so much history here to learn. I am extremely grateful for my opportunity to witness this country first hand.
I hope to bring more stories to you over those next several weeks while the information is reasonably fresh in my head without my reminder photos.
Good luck hanging in there.