Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.
My time in Cuba has come to an end. This also means my time on the road is at its end. My sister Kat could not have suggested a better place for me to rest, write, think and feel. The rhythm in La Habana fit perfectly with the melody of my reflections.
For more than a year I’ve traveled around this beautiful world with a backpack, a passport and a smile. Letting go and surrendering to an unknown path was difficult but in the end it was the one thing I could always trust.
Unimaginable coincidences, the hearts of strangers, luck and a whole lot of love and support made this journey of a lifetime the epic adventure that it was.
My perspective on daily life has been altered. The things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met have changed my life forever. Thank you for being a part of it all.
Tio Tito’s cafeteria is around the corner from my casa particular. I’ve been hitting it up once a day (sometimes twice) since I changed my CUCs to Cuban pesos. It’s been my lifesaver! I basically planned all my outings around meal times so I could be certain to eat for cheap at Tio Tito’s!
To give you an idea of my savings I’ll let the numbers do the talking…
Fresh Squeezed Juice: 3CUPs ($0.12 U.S)
Ham and Cheese Sandwich: 8CUPs ($0.30 U.S)
Small Pizza: 24CUPs ($1.00 U.S)
A few days into my stay I found out they had fresh squeezed juices: Tamarindo, Melon, Naranja and Fruta Bomba.
Me: “What’s Fruta Bomba?”
Tio Tito: “Papaya.”
It’s my favorite so of course every day after finding this out I would ask for jugo de papaya (papaya juice).
On my last full day discovering new parts of La Habana I stopped in Tio Tito’s to pick up a small pizza for dinner. As I waited for my pizza I asked if they had papaya juice.
A few taxi drivers eating sandwiches overheard me ask for papaya juice and started to laugh.
Me: “What’s so funny?”
Taxi Driver 1: “You’re not from here, huh?”
Me: “No. Why?”
Taxi Driver 2: “Here it’s called something else.”
Me: “Oh right. Fruta bomba. Jugo de fruta bomba”
Taxi Driver 3: “Yeah cuz what you asked for is something different.”
They said all this with giggles and pink faces. Papaya must’ve had another meaning but I was too embarrassed to ask. When I got to my casa Dora senior was sitting on the sofa. I sat down next to her and asked “What does papaya mean?”
She covered her mouth with one hand and began to laugh. “What happened? Who said that to you?”
I told her my story and she lost it! Dora senior bent over her lap with laughter spilling out from her gut.
Me: “What does it mean?!”
She was laughing so hard she couldn’t speak. Instead of telling me what the street meaning of papaya was she showed me. After releasing one of her hands from her belly she pointed to the area in between her legs!
It took but a second for me to join Dora senior in uncontrollable laughter! All this time I’ve been asking Tio Tito for pussy juice! What makes this even more hilarious is that I had a 92 year old lady explain it to me!
She’s the mother of my host and at 92-years-old she still has it together. Most of her time is spent watching TV…up close and loud. Her site is on its way out and her hearing isn’t far behind. She still makes her bed every morning, takes showers without any help and washes the dishes every night.
Since I’ve been on this tight budget I’ve spent a lot of time in the apartment with Dora Senior. She’s shared tremendous stories of her life in Cuba as a kid before, during and after the revolution. “When the fighting started we couldn’t go to school. It was too dangerous. Dead bodies were always in the streets.”
They had money. They could’ve fled. They didn’t know it was going to be the way it was.
While I enjoyed a cold Cuban beer outside of a cafeteria I met Ulysis, a tall 42-year-old Cubano with green eyes and caramel color skin. For about an hour I listened to him tell me how much he hated the American gringo and loved Cuba. Throughout our (mostly one-way) conversation he compared Cuba to America with Cuba always as the victor.
Ulysis: “I hate Americans, I hate Obama and all that America stands for. Cuba is the best country to live in and I have no reason to leave. I love it here.” He pounds his fingers to the center of his chest and says “This is my country!”
Me: “Have you visited any other countries?”
Me: “How do you know you won’t like it somewhere else?”
Ulysis: “Because I’m happy here. All Cubans are happy here.”
Me: “There are a lot of Cubans in America. Why do you think they left?”
Ulysis: “They all left a long time ago. They didn’t like the change. They don’t know how great it is now.”
Me: “Do you think you’ll ever leave Cuba?”
Me: “Why not?”
Ulysis: “We aren’t allowed to leave unless it’s for work. Besides, I have no reason to leave.” He slowly looks to the ground and says “I love it here.”
Streets in La Habana vieja are communal spaces. When neighbors want to gossip, play a game of baseball or beat the heat from inside, streets become an extension of a Cuban’s home.