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OMG What was he thinking?

Well I was going to change some money actually. In spite of the fact that it was after dark in Baracoa, Cuba. I suppose it wasn’t that urgent, I just felt like going for a walk in the soft Cuban night. And we were running out of cash.

It was January 2018 BC. (That’d be Before Covid.) We’d bought a tour from G-Adventures with a specific itinerary so I could experience La Farola to Baracoa. Its an incredibly twisty highway ranking as an engineering marvel. Check out giggle earth. Its like the highway’s tied in knots. Started by Batista but abandoned apparently because he wouldn’t pay a fair wage to workers, finished under the Castro regime. Accessible only by boat until La Farola, Baracoa may have been the place where Columbus “discovered” America.

I was becoming increasingly bothered about sitting midway down the bus. I’d been talked out of a car rental and really really REALLY wanted a front row seat. As there is on many tours, there was a princess occupying the right front seat with her purse permanently resident in the seat beside her. Damn.

The wife of one of the two Irish couples on the tour, sympathized and spoke to Gerael, the guide, about it.

I got the jump seat in the stairwell! Right up front. Inches in front of the picture window. Me and Raciel the driver! Up yours princess! As an ex-bus driver I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. That became my seat for the rest of our tour.

Aside: I can’t help remembering years ago, being invited to the jump seat in a 737 on the way back to Whitehorse. Nineteen ought seventy six or seventy seven. (CPAir employee of relatively good character; crowded airplane.) I’ve been so privileged!

But back to the story:

Baracoa was a peaceful town in 2018, the treatment of tourists being of a more gentle nature, and mostly in the town square where genuine crafts were offered as opposed to being thrust upon you. And I noticed that if we walked by ourselves, or as a couple, people tended to respect our space.

I forget the name of the hurricane that beat the hell out of the seaside area the previous season, but it left a right -of-way a hundred yards wide. I’m really not sure how that donkey cart lost the wheel that managed to smack Raciel’s bus right between the headlights. We were offered the option of observing the police in action or going on a walking tour for a while. I thought of sticking by Raciel, but I really hadn’t noticed anything until the bang. To busy rubbernecking. Best not complicate things. I went on the walking tour.

Raciel had the body damage fixed by the next morning, and off we went to the cacao plantation.

We gathered around a table that showed the steps in making cocoa accompanied by an interpreter/ biologist and a woman who did the necessary demonstrations. Step one: Hold the cacao pod vertically in the left hand and whack it with a machete while turning it three or four times. She still had all her fingers. We checked.

Lifting off the top half revealed something like an oversized cob of corn with white niblets the size of plums. They had kind of a clear slimy coating that looks disgusting but is really sweet. She urged us to slurp it off. Some of us did. Then some of us pocketed some niblets and smuggled them home in our luggage.

Hey, its not as if cacao is ever going to be an invasive species in the Yukon is it? Well my niblets sprouted!

They got to be about a foot tall when I remembered the interpreter/biologist saying that cacao and banana were symbiotic. So off I went to Cliffside and bought a banana plant. Turns out that cacao is anything but invasive. They all died. My banana plants are doing well though.

All right, let’s get back to what I was thinking later that day. Hmm. Need cash. Beautiful evening. Ask the host at our b&b: “Is there a bank open right now? I need to change some money.” He made a call, and yes the bank was open.

So off I went in the warm, dark Cuban night, six or eight blocks to find the bank. Lots of people out and about, but not at all busy or crowded. “Hola’s” exchanged every once in a while. Peaceful.

And into the bank where I encountered the first and only Cuban people that did not smile at me. I don’t know if that’s because they were bankers and not predisposed to smiling, or if they were worried about security, or if I’d kept them beyond their regular workday. Whatever. I bought a thousand bucks worth of Pesos and stuffed them in my shirt, my pockets and my wallet.

In retrospect I bet they were thinking: “What is that crazy tourist thinking?”

I bet that’s what you’re thinking too.

The walk back was just like the walk there: comfortable, not busy, peaceful, “Hola” every once in a while…

This is what I was thinking:

I Love This Place!


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