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"Notes" # 9 Pt. 1 Trip to Cuba


"Where do you start?
How do you separate the present from the past?"

These are the beginning lyrics of one of my favourite songs written by Marilyn Bergman, Johnny Mandell, and Alan Bergman. For some strange reason I hummed this song throughout our three day stay in Havana, Cuba.
I had been mentioning a trip to Cuba for years to my son, Brad, when visiting the Cayman Islands, where he has lived for the last 23 years. My feeling was, I'd like to see "Old Habana" (not a spelling error) before it got modernized. President Obama opened the door and there was a great expectation that the United States and Cuba would once again be friendly neighbours. So, before that could happen, with once again an American influence  taking over the look of Cuba, I wanted to see Havana in how I imagined it looked during its heyday of the 30's, 40's and early 50's. My only real images of Cuba came from the gangsters and crooked politicians I saw in the movies.
As a young man I knew very little about the history of Cuba. I had heard that the head of the Cuban government was a dictator by the name of Batista, and that he headed a brutal and corrupt government. (Apparently, when the Batista regime was ousted in 1959, he and his cronies absconded with more than "2 billion pesos, approximately 2 billion American dollars, which left a public debt of 1,350,000,000 pesos".  I suppose this contributed greatly to the poverty that we still see today in Cuba today.)
Fidel Castro came to power through what was known as "The Revolution." I knew about Castro because I was attending the University of North Dakota in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis arose between the US and Cuba. The Canadians attending that University were given the false information that if the United States declared war on Cuba the borders would be closed and we would be eligible for the draft. I remember, for about a two-week period, sleeping rather fitfully with an ear to whether or not there would be a war and having my 1950 Ford gassed up and packed with all my belongings, ready for a run to the Canadian border. My only other knowledge of Fidel Castro was that he attended our then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau's wedding. Apparently Trudeau and Castro had become friends.
As I was saying previously, President Obama opened the door to friendlier Cuban-US relations, but the feeling in Cuba these days is that Pres. Trump has slammed the door shut on that possibility. So maybe my fear of Cuba becoming Americanized will not be realized.
Now back to our trip to Cuba. My wonderful daughter-in-law, Suzanne, planned a fun weekend for the four of us in Havana. Unfortunately the weekend started out to be anything but fun.

As was my habit, I preceded my wife, Drinda, to Cayman by a week, so that I could golf my brains out. She was to join us on Thursday and we would all leave for Cuba on Friday afternoon. Drinda decided not to sleep the night before leaving Winnipeg, as she had to get up at 3 AM for a 5 AM flight to Toronto and on to Cayman.
The plane from Winnipeg to Toronto could not land as scheduled because the runway had not been cleared of snow and ice. However, the plane leaving for Cayman could take off on time and Drinda was now stranded in Toronto. No plane leaving for Cayman today, Thursday, but she'll come on Friday morning and will take off for Cuba on the afternoon flight. The flight on Friday would be with Delta and would get her into Cayman by 1:30 PM. Our plane for Cuba would have left at 12:45 PM. Obviously, that wasn't going to work! Change in plans - now let's get my dear wife from Toronto to Cuba. So after 10 hours of walking between three airlines and no sleep, she made a booking on Air Canada to fly to Cuba for an additional ticket price of $700. There apparently would be no refund from West Jet for the Toronto to Cayman flight as weather is considered an Act of God and therefore they are not liable. Hence they are not responsible for a refund. Maybe my argument with West Jet ought to be, "Isn't everything an Act of God?"
Forget about the money; we can't let anything get in the way of our crazy fun weekend. Suzanne sprung into action on her cell phone and arranged to have somebody meet Drinda at the plane when it landed in Havana. She also arranged a safe place for Drinda to stay and for somebody to meet her when she arrived at the Airbnb.
Meanwhile back in Toronto, the Air Canada agent would not sell Drinda a one-way ticket to Cuba unless she had proof of a ticket showing when she would be leaving Cuba - in this case, back to the Caymans with us. Suzanne, our amazing daughter-in-law, showed incredible patience as she walked Drinda through the procedure to get a hard copy of her ticket from Cuba to Cayman to prove she would leave with the rest of us on Sunday. Neither Drinda nor I are the slightest bit tech savvy-my smart phone is just a phone with a camera (no data), and Drinda's is an old flip-phone. So there she was sitting at a computer supplied by the Toronto airport and Suzanne walked her through the entire process that yielded a hard copy ticket to give to the Air Canada agent who was then able to sell Drinda the ticket to Cuba. All this after 40 hours of no sleep--this lady, my wife, is a hero in my eyes.
There's more! The original flight was to leave Toronto at 7 PM and arrive in Cuba at 11:30 PM. In fact, the plane left at 1 AM and arrived in Cuba at 5:30 AM with another hour and a half to get through customs. So off the plane trudges my 75-year-old wife, sleep deprived, in a strange country where she doesn't speak the language-I am more than a bit worried!
I need not have been concerned as the driver that Suzanne hired was more than reliable. He waited all night, sending us periodic updates of when the plane might arrive, and was there when Drinda walked out of the airport in Havana. He took her to the Airbnb and the maid and owner of the accommodation both met her and made her feel safe and comfortable. She got to sleep around 7 AM and we picked her up after we landed a little after 3 PM.
Great people the Cubans! I have to be honest with you; I nearly crushed Ernesto with a big hug and thanks (he did very well financially also). He took care of my wife and I was extremely grateful.
Ernesto became our driver for our wild weekend in Havana (and it would have been if I could have stayed awake past 10 PM)!

This was written by Suzanne:
As you step out of the well worn, well used garment you have been inhabiting for the past year may you lovingly lay it aside with much gratitude.
And may your new getup be woven through with threads radical grace, radiant presence, overwhelming beauty, shining courage and wild-assed joy!!

Pt. 2 Trip to Cuba -- soon