So as I write this, I am back in the States. But I know I have a lot of updating to do, so we’ll start with Santiago.
Santiago is the second biggest city in Cuba after Havana, located on the other side of the island. The city was nice, but I feel like we didn’t really take advantage of everything it had to offer. We were all a little sad that we were away from Havana for our last full weekend. The best part (worst?) part of the trip was actually getting there/home.
I have been on a lot of airplanes in my life, but never have I boarded an airplane through the butt. Yes, that’s correct. This plane is a leftover Soviet plane from the 80’s. It shows. So we enter the plane through the back and find our seats. Through some stroke of luck, I’m sitting with Honorio and Danny, with Steph, Songe and Emma ahead of us. We managed to escape los profes.
Anyway, after we settle in, we realize that the seats don’t lock in place. As in, I can push forward on Sonya’s seat and she goes forward. Apparently, she was feeling super nauseous at the time and I was only making it worse, but I prefer not to talk about it. After we take off, white gas starts coming out of these vents on the floor. Obviously, that’s the air conditioning. And then the miserable flight attendants walk down the aisle spraying some chemical out of a can- air freshener.
I decide to check out the bathroom, so I head to the back. After I get in to this miniscule water closet, I realize that it is ridiculous. Maybe Russians are extremely tall, but there is no way that I can effectively squat on this toilet. I have to kind of hoist myself up and brace myself between the two walls. There is no was I’m touching the toilet seat (yes! There was a toilet seat) because everything is covered in an odd blue substance. After I’m done I want to bathe in hand sanitizer, but I stop myself from causing a scene.
The flight attendants come and bring us coffee (even airplane coffee is delicious in Cuba) and we chisme the rest of the flight. Just my luck, but I have to pee again at the end of the flight. I once again visit this ridiculous bathroom, and upon further inspection, I note that there are five or six napkins precariously folded, for drying one’s hands, I assume. And! There is a small cup of a thickish green liquid. Mouth wash, perhaps? Quien sabe. On the way out, the door was stuck, locking me in the bathroom. After banging on it for a while, I finally get it open, hitting a flight attendant and Profe on the way. Whoops.
Anyway, Santiago. Things we did:
1. Saw a performance of “tumba francesa,” which is a traditional dance/song thing in Eastern Cuban. It was brought by the French when they came to Cuba after the Haitian Revolution. Very different than anything I have seen in Cuba. There were these two adorable little kida that I was playing with and taking pictures of during the whole thing. I gave them gum. We were best friends. David, Jorge, and later their friend Rafael. So cute.
2. Climbed this ridiculously steep mountain in super hot Santiago to see a statue dedicated to los cimarrones, or runaway slaved. It was very beautiful and scary and Cuban. I loved it.
3. Went to a famous church which is the home of the Virgen del Cobre, (Virgin of Copper), who is Cuba’s patron saint. The church was beautiful, very similar to other Latin American churches I have seen. But it makes me sad when you see such splendor in a country full of people with no money. You would think the Catholic Church would understand that beautiful buildings don’t help people feed their families.
4. Went to the trova festival. Trova is a form of music that comes from the Spanish troubadours. The music isn’t really my style, kinda nasally, almost yelling, but it was cool to see. Also, there were a bunch of ladies that were sporting some meannnn mustaches. Ay dios. In traditional Cuban style, it started an hour and a half late because the sound guy didn’t show.
5. Went to the town of Guantánamo. In my guidebook, I had read that there is a hotel that has a lookout point on top where you can see across the bay to the U.S. Base. So we were all pretty excited, even after the terribly bumpy 1.5-hour bus ride. But then we discover that they had closed that hotel. Too many Cubans were jumping off of it into the bay to swim across to the base. Since it is considered U.S. soil, once they stepped foot on the soil, they were given U.S. citizenship. So the Cubans put a stop to this pretty quickly. So we couldn’t see the base and the town was pretty boring, nothing to do or see really. And there are no tourists in Guanánamo, so the men were relentless in their hissing and calling out to us. They had to get it all out in one day, I guess.
6. Visited this cool fort right outside of Santiago. It was beautiful, overlooking the bay. You could see the whole city from up there.
I also discovered something silly: I had made a friend when we were in Matanzas. He took us out dancing and we all had a great time. This whole time, I thought his name was Osmani. While in Santiago, our tour guide told us that it’s pretty common for parents to name their children English words, even if they don’t know what it means. It dawns on me that my friends name is not Osmani, but Usnavi. Yes; his parents named him U.S. Navy. Oh dear.
The plane ride home was equally ridiculous. But before we even got on the plane, we got a good dose of Idiot Profe. Our plane was delayed, then delayed again, then not on the board at all. Someone alerted Profe to this (of course, he was not paying attention) who got up, walked around without talking to anybody, and came back, declaring that no one knew anything. Then he got a beer. A while and many Shakira songs later, Courtney goes to ask some guy who looks official what’s up. He tells her that the plane is delayed because of weather in Haiti (that’s where it was coming from) but it has left and is on it’s way. Courtney, a 20-year-old student who doesn’t speak fluent Spanish, got way more information than our professor, who is Cuban, fluent in Spanish, and responsible for 12 students. After Courtney tells him this, he curls up in a fetal position and goes to sleep. Woo hoo.
When we get on the plane, I discover that I am sitting backwards. Like sitting on a jumpseat, I am facing the back of the plane. Taking off was such an awkward sensation. And we got this weird muffin that was kinda good. It might have just been weird because I hadn’t had a muffin in three months. Mmmm muffins.
Our last week was really bittersweet. Everything was for the last time: our last time at 23 y K buying hotdogs for fifty cents. Our last visit to Tal Vez. Our last time at Fabio’s (although that happened twice). Our last walk to school. Our last time to HV. Our last time sitting on the Malecón. Our last bus adventure. Our last moneda cab. So many lasts.
I guess it’s normal to start thinking about the beginning when you’re at the end. While I was drinking wine and packing with Honorio, I remembered our first night in Cuba. It was a Sunday, and we started class the next day. No one really knew each other. Everyone was kinda tired after a day of traveling, and most people just went to bed. But Honorio asked if anyone wanted to pitch in for a bottle of rum. When in Cuba… We sat around playing cards, talking, being friends. Me, Danny, Honorio, Tara, And Meg. La Junta.
Leaving was a lot harder than any of us predicted. Saying goodbye to Maria, Chino, and Milady was so sad. Maria made me tear up, Milady wouldn’t let me. Chino made me cry. He hugged me so tight, with a thousand “cuidates” and “buen viajes.”
We had just started to feel at home when we left. Three months isn’t that long of a time. In the beginning, it was took a while to adjust because everything was so different than what we were used to. But after a while, I began to feel at home in my city, in my residencia. I had a routine. I had friends. I had a life. Just when I was starting to feel secure, I had to leave. And now I have to adjust all over again. It would have been so much easier if I didn’t care.
I think one of the hardest parts about going home is knowing that no one will be able to understand. And it’s not their faults, but no one knows what Cuba is like and what it does to you. I have changed so much in these past three months and the only people I can really talk to about it is the other eleven people I traveled with. And I guess that’s okay.
My first meal at the airport was a combination of nachos and buffalo wings. It was delicious. But all I wanted to eat was rice and beans.