(james benedict brown) on the road

A Cuban Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized by James Benedict Brown on 30 December, 2005

On Thursday afternoon, we flew north from Cuba to Canada. Some pretty hefty turbulence made us take an elongated flight path out over the Atlantic rather than over the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, as I had come on my way south a week earlier. I spent much of the time sunk into my seat dozing and watching the clouds below us. The vertical panorama from the apex of the sky to the ocean below us was a wondrous rainbow of blues, pinks and yellows. Small freckles of clouds hung inches above the water, while vast thick sheets of higher altitude clouds hung just below us.

There’s very little to see other than that. Normally anyway. About one hour before we landed in Montréal, less than 300 metres below us and to our left, a WestJet Boeing 737 airliner shot past in directly the opposite direction. I’m guessing that’s a bit close, since I had could read the word ‘WestJet’ on the side of the aircraft’s fuselage. Perhaps you know the feeling, when you’re cruising in an airliner at 33,000ft, that you’re not travelling very fast? Well, if you ever see an aircraft flying past you at close quarters, you suddenly realise you’re going pretty feckin’ quick.

I was too spaced out to be that bothered. I talked to the cabin manager about it. She told me not to worry and we chatted about life in general. Perhaps she was right, or perhaps she was hurridly pressing a red button on her telephone as I returned to my seat…

My week in Cuba was a breath-catching experience, and perhaps the best thing to have done since my arrival in Canada. I must confess it was not problem free. I thought I could escape the loneliness of a Christmas on my own by going somewhere different. But of course there are always those quiet in-between moments when thoughts of things and people far away catch up with you, and conspire to attack your indepedent spirit. As I posted before I left, I was nervous about going on my own to a country where I did not speak the language and to rediscover the joys of solo-travel after six years. It was not easy. Cuba is not a country that welcomes the solo traveller, or the budget conscious.

During the day I toured the city (beautiful) and the museums (astonishing, especially the Cuban collection of the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes) and lounged with my books in sunny parks and town squares. It was a dreamy way to float around an incredibly beautiful place. A walk along one block in any direction from the intensively restored and tourist-centric old town returns you to the Havana we’ve all seen in film and television: crumbling buildings, no running water in places, old cars, animals and children playing in the streets… and yet Cuba has a literacy rate that’s higher than the United Kingdom. You cannot dismiss the country as being of the third world.

At night-time, however, my demons returned, and with little Spanish it was tough finding places to experience the Cuban culture that everyone raves about. The music was everywhere, but it would have been nice to hear it somewhere other than in a tourist hotel bar or in an old town café. Travelling away from the bright lights and the beaten track for so long has spoilt me; I seem to expect to be able to go where I want in any country and find the ‘real’ thing. It’s not impossible in Havana, but without the language to ask successfully (and I did try) and the money for the cab fares to the far flung but highly recommended clubs, it was difficult for me. And on top of all this, it seems I chose the one destination that would suit my significant other down to the ground… and she of course wasn’t there to see it with me.

I will definitely go back… partly because there is still so much more to be seen, but mainly because I don’t think I did myself justice in this incredible country.

*j*

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