Over the course of our eight days in Cuba, the moments that stood out the most weren’t necessarily what you might expect. While it was exciting to snap photos to capture the iconic profile of Che Guevara in the Revolution Square and have a mojito on the outdoor terrace of the Hotel Nacional overlooking the waves crashing into the Malecon, in fact my most memorable moments occurred in the confines of our motor coach.
On the winding drive to Trinidad, with pit stops at an amazing artist-in-residence Korimacao near the Bay of Pigs as well as a restaurant that offered us the chance to taste crocodile, instead of just taking in the views of the majestic Sierra del Escambray mountainside, our entire group was drawn into conversation with our Cuban host, Osmin. Conversation topics touched on everything from ration booklets, the education system, and entertainment. We were surprised to find out that a recent hit movie featuring Cuba, “Chico y Rita,” was unheard of there. We were even more surprised to have the chance to look through a typical Cuban family’s libreta de abastecimiento ration booklet, detailing the basic food items allotted by the government to be distributed at the corner bodega. Osmin explained that the rations are typically not enough to last for the month and any food for sale in local supermarkets is for sale in the foreigner currency, making it prohibitively expensive for the average Cuban. It thus becomes necessary to find a way to make money in the foreigner currency, typically in positions related to tourism, which present the opportunity to receive tips. Osmin did not shy away once from discussing issues affecting Cuba in a well-rounded manner, detailing both benefits and shortcomings. His candid nature enlightened us to the realities of Cuba and also confirmed one of the hallmark characteristics of Cubans-- their incredible resourcefulness and resilience.
While it was a running joke that the motor coach was our favorite spot because of the A/C that made it one of the cooler locales during our Cuban experience, the motor coach was my favorite spot as it provided a quiet place to discuss and process as a group, with our Cuban host as our in-house expert, the magic that is Cuba.