Cuba has been on my bucket list for years. I’ve always wanted to see the country as it is now, frozen in the 1950’s, unchanged while the rest of the world moved forward. My husband, Barry, didn’t want to go so my best friend Pat and I booked a trip with the League of Women Voters before President Obama’s visit. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because regulations had suddenly changed, a typical problem when dealing with the Cuban government. When we were notified that the problems were resolved and a trip was scheduled for May, we didn’t hesitate. In fact, we may have been the first travelers to send in our registration.
This is not the first time a planned trip was cancelled. Many years ago, Barry and I were all set to leave for Israel with a tour group when one of the many wars broke out between Israel and Palestine. A couple of years ago, we had to cancel an Eastern European River Cruise when I broke my heel (I tripped over a computer cord) and wouldn’t be out of the cast in time for the trip. Thank goodness we had trip insurance and were able to reschedule for another time. It was a marvelous experience traveling down the Blue Danube River (it wasn’t very blue) and seeing the Eastern European cities which were still recovering from years under Russian rule.
It’s a good thing I buy trip insurance because I had to use it to cancel a trip and get a refund for a cruise to Greece and the Greek Islands. This was another trip that Pat (who I have known since we were nine years old) and I were planning together. I was leaving from the Rochester airport because we were living at our cottage on one of the Finger Lakes for the summer. My suitcase was half packed and I was counting down the last 48 hours before it was time to leave when I decided to water a plant hanging outside the front door at ten o’clock at night. I reached up with the watering can and started to pour when, suddenly, a bat flew out of the plant, the tip of its winging scratching the right side of my cheek. And, you guessed it; I had to get rabies shots over a period of weeks, which meant I wasn’t going to see Greece this time.
Breaking bones is also something I do on a regular basis. Years ago, Barry and I escaped a Rochester, New York winter with a week’s vacation on St. John’s Island. We had a wonderful, restful week in the sun and on the beaches until the very last night. We went for dinner and walked home in the dark over a cobblestone sidewalk. I caught my shoe on something and fell forward, breaking the little finger on my left hand and bashing the left side of my face into the cobblestones.
We decided to visit the St. John’s emergency room where a doctor took an ex-ray, held it up to the overhead light and affirmed what we already knew; the finger was broken. He said I’d need surgery on it but we decided to go home and see the doctor in Rochester. He gave me a horse pill for pain that we thought we might be able to sell on the street for a good sum (I was afraid to take it). By the next morning, I had a black eye and swollen purple bruises across the left side of my face. We took the scheduled plane home later that morning and Barry stayed at least three feet in front of me, afraid he would be blamed for my beat-up appearance. Our first stop after the plane landed in Rochester was the hospital emergency room. I didn’t need surgery but it was a close call.
Pat and I have traveled together before; once to Antigua, Guatemala where we were immersed in Spanish lessons. She studied all day but I took the afternoons off to roam the city. I made the mistake of showing an interest in the young women who were selling woven table runners, tablecloths, blankets and placemats so I had an entourage following me everywhere I went. Finally I purchased something from each of them so they would go away. The only mishap we had in Antigua was the eruption of the local volcano which was about a half-hour drive from the city. Fortunately, the lava only went down the sides of the mountain so we were safe. It was an amazing site from the roof of a local restaurant. We were actually in more danger on New Year’s Eve when the local citizens all gathered right outside our B & B window to celebrate. That’s when we realized we were right in the middle of the city and there were no regulations on fireworks! We joined the crowd for a short time but left after several fireworks went off within two feet of our feet. Explosions and small fires continued until the wee hours.
Pat also joined Barry and I and another friend on my dream trip, an African animal safari. Except for a few days of traveler’s disease, I didn’t get sick. Barry, on the other hand, developed a major case of what he called “risk desensitization”. The first risk situation was immediately after our arrival when we were told our post trip to Madagascar had been cancelled because Americans were being kidnapped. The second risk desensitization came when our guide stopped in the middle of a heavily forested area to view a lion. We had been swatting away flies for ten minutes when the guide said we probably better go since those were tsetse flies which carry sleeping sickness. Barry’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. For a change, I knew enough to keep my mouth shut.
By the time we encountered the third risk, Barry was pretty desensitized. At our second hotel stop, we went for a walk before dinner, admiring the herds of zebras and elephants at a watering hole far below us. Then we came to a small post that was about four feet high. In the middle of the post was a button and the words printed above it were Panic Button. It didn’t take much imagination to know what this meant. Barry shrugged his shoulders and looked pretty calm. I, on the other hand, kept turning around to be sure we weren’t being stalked by some hungry animal.
The fourth event happened towards the end of the trip when we were about to get on a small plane to fly to a new destination. Pat noticed an information plate on the side of the plane and commented that she had read about these planes in a tourist book; they had been manufactured in Czechoslovakia and the book warned tourists to avoid them because they were prone to mishaps. By this time, Barry was risk desensitized and I was in a panic. I have a bit of a fear of airplanes anyway and this set me off. Barry and Pat walked up the planes steps ahead of me, laughing, and I could barely get my legs to work. The plane was full, about thirty passengers and the entire back of the passenger cabin was filled with suitcases. I sat next to a German woman who didn’t speak any English. She took one look at my face and kept patting my arm and telling me everything was fine (in German). Obviously, we made it and since then, I have become risk desensitized to airplanes.
And now I am off again to a destination I have waited years to see. Pat and I are certain this will be a memorable trip. We are going to see old and new Havana, Hemingway’s home, the village of Viñuales Valley, and much more. Best of all, we are going to have an opportunity to visit a sewing factory and meet women who live and work in Cuba. We might be a little late to see the really old Cuba because I understand it is already overrun by tourists but I don’t think the environment has changed much. As I have for every trip I’ve taken, I will make memories and write stories. Watch for my next essay which will be about (you guessed it!) Cuba!