Hello Everybody—we just concluded a very fun, funny, and educational expedition, from February 13-22. Some of our group flew home through Miami at the beginning of the week. The rest of us stayed over for a few days. Besides being very busy, I’ve had trouble accessing the internet. I will post more details later, but here is our trip in a nutshell.
Most of us flew from LAX non-stop to Havana a week ago Saturday. You could hear the excitement in our Captain’s voice when he announced we were heading from Los Angeles to “Havana, CUBA!” (This was on one of the new, Saturday-only LAX>HAV charter flights.) Our American Airlines charter flight was only about 3/4 full, so at cruising elevation, we could wander about the cabin and visit with other travelers. We talked with several “conservative Orange County Cuban-American Republicans” who were thrilled with the new flights and President Obama’s normalization plans. One said, “unlike many in Miami, we California Cubans want to end the Cold War and move into the 21st century!”
Another very cool thing about our flight was that we flew on a brand new “luxury 737.” It had huge overhead bins, and plush seats with wi-fi screens in front of each passenger. I fly a lot, but I’ve never seen 737’s like this one. We were also given a free meal, instead of being charged (like on earlier charter flights on American Airlines).
A very interesting thing happened on the second day. We had just finished our daily program when our guide Bianca was called to interpret at some type of official function at the Central Park Hotel. We went there and saw a camera crew from the NBC television affiliate in Tampa. We found out that a congressman from Tampa had called a press conference, and the scheduled interpreter couldn’t be located. There were some official-looking types in suites running around, so when we reached the security door, I pointed to Bianca and said “I’m bringing the interpreter.” They let us on through.
We soon found out that not only was Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa at the conference, but there were 5 other U.S. Congressmen present, including two from California: John Garamendi from northern California and Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach. Predictably, it was bi-partisan, consisting of Democrats AND Republicans. I managed to video-record the whole conference on my iPhone, so I will post it on YouTube after I return home over the weekend. I tried to impress Bianca with the value and prestige that should come with interpreting for six U.S. Congressmen. However, after a full day as our guide, she would have preferred to just go home to her family!
Bianca seems to be a type of V.I.P.-magnet. On our last expedition in December, she noticed the President of Costa Rica–Luis Guillermo Solis– at the next table during our Farewell Dinner. He had just arrived in Cuba, and his entourage just happened to be eating at the same restaurant. She wandered over, spoke with him, and managed to get a photo with him. Several others in our group also obtained photos with the president.
The pace of change in Cuba is accelerating. Hotels are full, there are no rental cars available anywhere in the greater Havana area. The amount of Cuban currency available is inconsistent, day-to-day. However, there are more private restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns. Since we have been here, President Obama has announced that he will visit Cuba just after the spring equinox. (There are also serious rumors that the Rolling Stones will be here about the same time. Just when I though things couldn’t get any crazier down here….)
Meanwhile, after checking-out the press back home, I’ve noticed reports by exile Cuban-Americans to the effect that “President Raul Castro has thrown all non-Communists in prison for merely saying out loud that things are not perfect in Cuba.” That would be all of my friends here, along with another ten million of Cuba’s eleven million inhabitants. I guess that seems fair. After all, many Cubans watching CNN International on TV could easily believe that the U.S. is full of white cops who everyday just love to sneak up on completely innocent African-American teenagers on their way to church (or to work) and shoot them in the back.
Hysterical, politically-driven emotional reporting goes both ways. Since it is late, and the music has started, I’ll sign off and finish wrapping up reports about our February Expedition mañana.