The irony of my being in Cuba was that I got charged for a visa even that I didn’t need one (being Russian), and that everything was so cheap but I couldn’t buy anything, because for some reason they didn’t exchange rubles and I was totally out of euros. I yearned to go to that crafts market next to the port to buy some art, but there was no way! And no ATMs around, as you can imagine.
My salvation was Lindsey, whom I bumped into on the way back to the ship. She had some cash left and I promised to pay her back on the Bahamas, which I later did. Now I wasn’t a hobo anymore and could enjoy the life of a tourist. Together with Amy, whom I got to know during our TED discussions, we went to meet a local student. Local meaning, of course, the master’s student who belonged in the student union which belonged to the party. But she was still very nice. I think her name was Andrea. We’ve heard about a chocolate factory nearby and walked there and got some hot chocolate the place was famous for [so. much. milk]. Andrea didn’t order anything. It took us a moment to realize that Cubans could not afford that $2 cup of chocolate. They could not afford a drink in their own city. That was sad. We bought her a cup, and were so ashamed of ourselves for bringing her there. Whatever they may say about socialism and shit, it’s not okay when in the end there are still people who’re more privileged than others. We moved to a little cafe with a super mean waitress – I couldn’t but keep making fun of her as she reminded me of these Soviet movie characters. Then we continued the walk.
We walked around the city, chatting about things. Andrea grew more comfortable, and even told us her sad love story. And also shared her biggest dream – to see the body of Lenin on Moscow’s Red Square. At that moment I had to use all my strength to keep from comments. A person had a dream. It’s worse not to have any dreams. But I couldn’t help thinking what gap laid even between a present and an ex-communist culture. After all, the Russian Federation is just twenty years old! I was very sad for Andrea, though I know I shouldn’t have been. She sees it differently. She has a dream.
Timing in travel is everything; timing is more than that if you’re on SAS. I had to part with the guys if I wanted to make it to the market without a taxi, and taxi was my ultimate no-go during SAS except Africa, where there was no other way. I walked as fast as I could. Thankfully, the old Havana isn’t so big.
First I made my way to the stand I noted during the last visit – a local artist offering his visions of Cuba in bright, but not aggressive, and very well-mixed colors. Together we admired one of his works, depicting a fisherman at sea. “You know, – he said, – there’s nothing like being in this (he pointed at the boat) in the open sea, alone, with your feet in the water. This is (he shook his head), this is freedom”.
He rolled the painting of my choice – I could only get the small one, for even with Lindsey’s money I didn’t have much – and packed it for me. Refused to take the coins in addition to bills – he was afraid I’d be left without cash. I explained him that I was from the ship and it was leaving soon, but he still refused to take the coins. We exchanged contacts. He said he sometimes lived in Spain, in case I would want to buy more art from him. His name was Hermes Guon Giraudy, as I figured from his email.
I was thinking whether I should go say goodbye to Ruben. I was afraid he would expect me to buy something from him, and I had no money left. But I decided to go, and it was the right decision. He was so glad to see me! We talked for a while, and then he took one of the small paintings from his stand and gave it to me as a present. I was so touched. I insisted that he signed it, and he did – slowly, attentively, and – in Russian, still remembering the language after all these years. We hugged, and I promised to write. As I was leaving, a woman next to his stand came over and gave me a tangerine.
I was walking down the street eating a tangerine, with two little pieces of art in my hands, and thinking of how amazing all these people were. Everyone I met on Cuba was so friendly and so sincere.
Allright, thought I. My last day on Cuba won’t be complete without a glass of some fresh juice. I only had about one CUC left, but that should’ve been enough in the city. But I was in the port area; first cafe I went to didn’t have juices, and the host at the second one (that looked kinda fancy for Cuba) said they had pineapple, and it was two CUCs. Darn, thought I, that’s unfortunate. I’ve counted my coins – 1.15. The guy was surprised I looked like a tourist and didn’t have money. He spoke very little English, but I was able to explain that I was on the ship and the ship was leaving. I was ready to go, but he waved his hand at me, took all my coins and told the bartender to pour me a glass of juice. Well, you can tell how touched I was, with all the events of the afternoon combined!
I drank my juice, thanked him heartily, and hurried back to the ship. As I was walking towards the customs, I saw Alex and Ksenia talking to Luis, the interport professor, in Russian. I joined in, and we thanked him. He was surprised I was also Russian. And then, as we were leaving, all the people on the bench nearby – the head of the university of Havana, some professors and party members – all suddenly said goodbyes in Russian, which was completely unexpected.
We headed towards the customs, and ran into Marisol, the interport student. After all the farewell hugs she quickly became very businesslike, pointed to the cameraman standing next to her, and announced: “okay, now we kiss, say goodbye for the camera, and leave”. Well, that wasn’t difficult; and she left immediately after the filming was done, right out of the friendly embrace.
Yup, thought I, Soviet Union says hi.
We stood on deck six aft, watching the ship slowly departing. It started to rain. Some of the Cuban students and university officials gathered on the second floor of the port building, holding a transparent and waving to us. We shouted and waved to them, and soon the lights of Havana disappeared in the distance. We were headed to the Bahamas.