Sometimes it´s endless waiting in lines, delayed flights, lumpy pillows, weird tropical rashes, lobster that tastes like salty pleather, bored waiters who laugh at you, a squeaky chirp that starts around 6 am. Damn cute-looking bird. Sometimes travel is like the day we arrived at Playa del Estes, hopes high, the great yawning void of the unknown wide open with possibility. Who knows where we´ll stay? How we´ll get there? Who cares?
An hour of walking later, our guidebook´s "diamond-dust sand" acrawl with thousands of vacationing Cubans, the soul-crushing beats of Reggaetone mocking our search for peace and quiet, not a casa in sight, and a loud smack of thunder. M´s backpack is chafing him, my sandals are coming apart beneath my feet, and though the rain feels good, we do not want our money, passports, cameras, and ipods to get soaked. M curses my stubbornness, I curse the hungry mosquitoes, as we huddle under a tree, sweat mixing with hot rain mixing with fear. Less than 24 hours later we are on the standing-room-only public bus headed back to Havana, our tummies aching from the previous night´s UFOs (Unidentifiable Fried Options).
Redemption comes in many forms.
A sunset walk on the Malecon, unbroken ocean to the right, Havana´s balconies and French-shuttered homes aflame in gold and pink to the left.
An unexpected pink-marbled casa with real water pressure.
Pineapple pinwheels, mischief-making involving the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) and a poster, the moon from our rooftop.
Handing out cheap plastic whistles to the kids of Cuba, swarms of them with out-stretched hands and loud GRACIAS!, their piercing cries following our retreating footsteps for miles.
A little boy who tosses a bucket of bath-water from his balcony, a naked still-wet precocious giggle, which just misses us.
His surprise as we toss a whistle up to him in return.
And M, the newer traveler, more sensitive to the stony stares and jack-hammer craziness of unplanned budget traveling in high summer: happy to get back to Mexico City, where the air is cooler, the smiles are more plentiful, and the pianos are unlocked. Our first morning back on the mainland he treated the cafe patrons to his beautiful renditions of Summertime, Imagine, and the Darth Vader theme song. They applauded. And then Lacha, a Cuban artist who lives in Mexico, gave M a portrait he´d sketched on the paper placemat, by way of thanks.