Well, I’m finally out from under the mountain of mail and email and other obligations that faced me upon my return from Cuba. Now I can take a few moments to write these few words about my experience.

The first thing that banged me over the head was seeing my boarding pass


After the brief flight, we deplaned at Jose Marti International Airport, where, with surprisingly little delay, they stamped my visa.



I was scheduled for two days in Vinales, heart of the tobacco country, three days in Cienfuegos on the south coast, and three days in Havana. During the entire trip, there wasn’t five minutes that went by where I didn’t see a car of this vintage.


I could get into all the details, but I won’t bore you with them here. I will, however, say that from the jump, I knew this would be an opportunity for me to build bridges to the Cuban people, one person at a time. I took every opportunity to engage ordinary Cubans, trying to see the world through their eyes. Being from Key West was a big plus, since historically, there’s always been a deep tight connection between the two islands, being only ninety miles apart. Every day, I wore a different guayabera, the Cuban national garment, and on these guayaberas, I wore a flag pin showing the Cuban and American flags together. Much to my surprise, the people showed me a lot of appreciation for these simple efforts.


I knew that any mention of politics would be completely counterproductive, so I avoided the topic at all times. Instead, I stuck to things of mutual interest: music, food, baseball. Oh, and speaking of baseball, we went to a game in Cienfuegos. Turns out, this is playoff season in Cuba, and Cienfuegos was playing Pinar del Rio for the right to go to their version of the World Series. We had fantastic seats, down the third base line just past the home team dugout…



I have to say, though, that with a final score of 13-3, and with seven errors committed during the game, the level of play wasn’t nearly what I’d hoped for. It was still quite a thrill being there, though, and was one of the brightest highlights of a trip filled with highlights.

Poverty was in abundance every time I turned my head, and I was struck by the near-total lack of any middle-class housing. What decent housing I did see, I was told was occupied by government officials.

Music is an extremely important component in Cuban life. I couldn’t believe how many places had live music every night. You’d find it in bars, restaurants, plazas, and in what looked like nothing more than roadside picnic stops. The musicians were terrific, and I bought CDs from every group I saw. The money for these CDs went directly into their pockets without having to whack it up with the government, so I opened my wallet to them. On a couple of occasions, the music and singing very nearly brought me to tears, it was so expressive. Like this guy, for instance, one of the most soulful trumpet players I’ve ever heard.








When we finally got to Havana, I was stunned at the view from my hotel room. I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels in my life and have looked out over more air conditioning compressors than I care to remember, but I’ve never had a view like this one.









Much has been made of the tumbledown condition of the city, and it was certainly evident while I was there. The government, however, is finally making an effort to preserve some of these grand old buildings. Lots of construction was taking place, with scaffolding covering the facades of quite a few downtown structures.

Of course, a trip to the Floridita Bar was compulsory, and while my hypoglycemia doesn’t permit me to guzzle daiquiris like Hemingway did during his years there, I did manage to scarf down a couple of mojitos sin azucar. And while I was there, I got to speak to Ernest himself, and tried to explain some of the finer points of writing. I’m not sure if he was listening, though.


After eight days, I returned home, buzzed and exhausted at the same time. I think I can say with confidence that I did in fact build some bridges across the ninety miles of the Florida Straits.

I will return.

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8 Responses to CUBA, MI AMOR

  1. Joyce Ann

    With whom did you go? A special sympathetic group? How long did you have to wait for permission? Did you need a Visa? Do you have to “grease palms” to get where you are going? How effective was your Spanish? What can you say about the food? (Lots of pulled pork?) Is the water clean? Was your room clean and decent? Do you think they miss us? Did you ever get into the countryside? Please write more. Thanks.

  2. I’ll post about all that next time.

  3. Joyce Ann

    And I thought you “amored” Key West. My vote goes for KW! Had friends in Dallas in the 60’s who were in the first wave of refugees following the revolution. Some sad stories there. Did you get the sense you were in a Communist country (You pretend to work and we will pretend to pay you, etc.)? I had a boss whose family fled Hungary for Columbia (way back then). He grew up in Columbia, but became an oncologist in the U.S. His wife’s family, also Hungarian, fled to Canada. They go back to visit now, but he gets frustrated, because the Communist mentality still has a grip on the population. “Customer Service” is not a concept they understand.

  4. I loved your conversation with Hemingway. Sorry he did not listen.
    Where is the musci cds’?

  5. Joyce Ann

    Is a guayabera something like a Filipino or Mexican “Wedding shirt”? Were you able to buy these in Florida before departure? Who was snapping the photos?

  6. Joyce Ann–A guayabera is also known as a “Mexican Wedding Shirt.” I buy most of them at a specialty place up in Miami and also from a company in Mexico over the Internet.

    It’s generally comes with short sleeves, is worn outside the pants and usually has four pockets with stitching down each side of the torso. The more elaborate the stitching, the more formal the occasion. Long-sleeved guayaberas are often worn in place of suits for very dressy occasions.

  7. Joyce Ann

    Probably reminded them of their old pal Ferdinand Marcos. Guess you wanted to be a diplomat since your days at Georgetown with Bill Clinton. My daughter teaches at a Houston “International” magnet school. She teaches/coaches a program called: Junior United Nations. Would love to get more info on your visit.

  8. Joyce Ann

    BTW–look like you’ve been working out–tummy and cheeks are disappearing–good work! Getting nice results. Would Hemingway sail between Key West and Cuba? Ninety miles is not as far as Waco is from Austin; It is about as far as Madisonville to Houston; Houston is about 50 miles to Galveston; Fort Worth is only 50 miles from Dallas; Dallas is about 65 or 70 miles from the Red River border into Oklahoma. Such a small world can be so large sometimes, I guess. And, get this: I was asking my husband to come up with song titles mentioning mileage. Somehow we got onto “Take me back to Tulsa. . .” by Bob Wills, et al. My husband then remembered that Bob Wills’ brother (or cousin) Johnny Lee Wills (also had a swing band) had a son that went to high school with my husband (Nathan Hale in Tulsa). The son (also Johnny) played a concert at the school once on his 12 string guitar. And, I have forgotten all this time to tell you my husband went to high school with Mary Kay Place (remember “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”?. And, there were others who may or may not be connected to Cuba, but are examples of our small world and building bridges. (I would think you and Ernest would agree on writing tight, sparingly, macho, and active, right?)

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