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”

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”

Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 3

The transport truck drops us off beside a path that cuts through a field at the foot of the mountains. We skirt around a hefty bull grazing near the woods, and in about 20 minutes we arrive at a small, wood-framed house, half hidden amongst the trees. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 3”

Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 2

At each stop on this trip, the state of the washrooms deteriorates at an inversely proportionate rate as the scenery grows more spectacular.

“What’s wrong?”

Claudia has suddenly sat up at the edge of the bed.

“I have to go to the bathroom and I’m too scared to go out there by myself.”

That makes two of us. Continue reading “Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 2”