Monday, May 2, 2016

Cuba Dispatch # 8: "Flying Home"

by Pa Rock
Weary Road Warrior

As I prepare this post, it is with the assistance of the rear-view mirror - because I am safely back at my little farm in the Ozarks.

We boarded the two large tour buses at our hotel in Havana at 7:15 a.m. Saturday morning.  For the next forty minutes or so I sat watching the last bits of Cuba slide by the bus window as we slowly made our way to the airport.  The place was packed and very busy, but we eventually made it through and were all on board when the plane was ready to take off.

The flight from Tampa to Havana the preceding Saturday had been fifty-one minutes from takeoff to touchdown.  The return trip took sixty-one minutes, suggesting the pilot who flew to Havana took a short cut.  :)

I left Cuba with more Cuban currency than I had intended, so I took it to the currency exchange booth at Tampa International thinking I could get it converted to dollars - but that was not to be.  The lady in the exchange booth had never seen Cuban pesos before and said they did not handle them.  She was excited about this new experience, however, and called one of her friends over to look at the bills.  My "extra currency" became souvenirs for the kids!

Two big preparations were underway as we left Cuba.  First, the following day - Sunday - was May Day, or "International Workers Day."  Our hotel had put notices in all of the rooms on Friday informing guests that the employees of the hotel would be involved in the big parade and would be leaving the hotel at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday to get to their positions in the parade route.  The hotel guests were invited to join them.  As we rode to the airport Saturday morning our buses passed the Plaza de la Revolucion which had been trimmed out and made ready for the big celebration.

The other big event was the anticipated arrival of the first cruise ship from the United States which was due to dock in Cuba on Monday.  Carnival Cruise Lines will be the first, but the others are sure to follow.  Fortunately Walmart has yet to announce plans to invade the island, and hopefully the government of Cuba will be able to keep the giant retailer away from Cuba's pristine shores.  There are many small shops owned by enterprising local entrepreneurs where tourists will be able to get all of their needs met.  They won't need the Walton's.

Cuba was an exceptional experience - much, much better than what I expected.  I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit the island and enjoy all that it has to offer.  The people there are warm and caring - and very similar to your friends and neighbors here in the United States - and they are, in fact, our friends and neighbors.

My thanks to the good folks at The Nation magazine for providing this unique opportunity.   I hope to visit Cuba again someday.

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