Helping out: Cuba’s Special Period – 1991

How did this happen? How did I end up sitting in front of this Communist official, completely dependent on him – or someone – helping me get back to Varadero?

It’s 1991, in a town several hours from Varadero. I’m sitting on a wood chair in front of a Poder Popular official. I watch him open his desk drawers one after another, riffle through papers and pull out all manner of miscellany. Except for the gas ration coupons I need. Continue reading “Helping out: Cuba’s Special Period – 1991”

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Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 2

Even though it’s December, 1991, and I’m in Varadero, Cuba, this won’t be a beach vacation.

I have two suitcases full of clothes, soap, shampoo, aspirin, toothbrushes, toothpaste and sundry other items. Two people in need stand next to me. Only problem: at this time, getting around the island unobtrusively is next to impossible for your average tourist.  Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 2″

Helping out in Cuba – Soap, Shampoo & Che – Part 4

I stare at Che. The iconic poster hangs on the wall behind the official’s desk. It’s hot and stuffy in the office; air-conditioning hasn’t hit this part of Cuba. Was I insane, or just stupidly naive about my hare-brained scheme?

The Poder Popular fellow stops his search.  He sits back and looks at me.

“Maybe you’ll have to stay here in Cuba.”

He laughs. “I can’t find the gas ration coupons.” Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba – Soap, Shampoo & Che – Part 4”

Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 3

I’ve driven straight into 1959.

Not many people are on the streets, and hardly any vehicles, except for an occasional 40-year old Chevrolet behemoth.

The town must have been lovely at one time with its pastel-coloured houses and their red-tiled roofs. Now it needs several coats of paint and the broken patches of cracked plaster and stucco repaired. Continue reading “Helping out in Cuba’s “Special Period” – Part 3″

Dance on an Empty Highway – Cuba 1991

“In case anyone asks, tell them you’re our cousins visiting from Canada,” Raul instructs us in Varadero as we drive off in a massive 1953 Oldsmobile, our transportation for the week.

I wonder how Claudia (a young Latin American friend who’s come with me on this trip), born of Bolivian parents and 8 shades darker than I am, and myself who, although pretty fluent in Spanish, am obviously not Latina, could be cousins to people who have never left Cuba and don’t have any relatives living in the U.S. or Canada. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway – Cuba 1991”