I got bitten by something the first or second night in. Due to having to move so fast and the dimness of the light in the hotel rooms (hotels very nice!), I didn't notice the big bruise on my neck until my fingers encountered a series of large bumps radiating from my throat and around to the spinal bump below the skull. I got scared, thinking of eggs laid, etc. But it was a rash (which in Cuban Spanish comes out as 'herpes' thereby scaring me even more) I was told by the clinician I was taken to see, irritated by sweat and my long dangling earrings. Soap and water. I used mouthwash as a disinfectant too, washing it frequently with a cotton swab, since sweat was unavoidable. I put cortisone on it too, though first neosporan.
|Our Lady of Assumption Church in Baracoa. It houses what remains of the Sacred Cross of Parra. planted by Christopher Columbus in 1492 -- but it is made of native Cuban wood, thus not from Europe. This bit of material history honestly gave me shivers when I viewed it.|
|This is what remains of a much larger cross. Over the centuries pieces were taken as holy and material history relics. Now what is left remains on public display but behind a glass enclosure.|
My own ankles swelled long before we ever got of the Holguín airport and to the hotel -- recall we arose at 3 AM and then didn't get to the hotel until around 4 PM. This was followed almost immediately by dinner -- with scheduled music at the lovely restaurant, not a group assigned by the state -- and then to another music event -- with those terrible seats. The circulation is cut off for the entire time. This may be where I got bitten, since the tables were on a (beautiful) patio.
By the time we did the reverse trek and B and I got back to Thompson Street -- I've never been so depleted in my life. Not only physically, but mentally. There was never any time to process what we were seeing and hearing. B commented to me on the way home that maybe this time "even el Vaqueor gets it, that he was over-programmed." I was too worn out, hurting and sick to sleep the night we got back. So up at 6 AM -- another night of less than 5 hours of sleep. But by 6:30 PM Wednesday I was O-U-T. Slowly my bedtime has been inching a little later, every night now. I may make it to 10 PM tonight!
However, as on the January 2016 Western Cuban music tour, this was a most splendid and intrepid group of Travelers. They took everything in stride and they loved the music. Their only criticism, if they had any, was, they'd have liked some time off and not such a rigorous and relentless schedule. They were wonderful and they are what made the trip work all the way down the line. I loved them all and enjoyed getting to know them so much. One has tended to forget that our nation is filled with kind, intelligent, decent, generous people who are also fun to hang out with. Just this alone was good for us all.
Nevertheless, I was still astounded at how quickly "the bus" bonded with each other, our guides and the driver -- guide and driver this time calm, patient, cheerful, cooperative and eager about our activities, the opposite of the driver and guide on the January 2016 tour.
B also mentioned during the trek back home that the inability to spend much if any time online with the devices also incited people to interact with each other, the landscapes and experiences much more than if there was constant internet service. I'm not sure, as though not music professionals, (which so many in the January 2016 expedition were).
That we weren't predominately professional music people didn't matter -- as they loved the music and had so much experience traveling in places that aren't always comfy. All have specialties and professions, and whatever was needed at a moment, one of would probably be able to provide. Some of us are essentially introverts that can find spending every waking moment with other people not always easy, but we all managed that splendidly too, and that has to do with who these people are. We understood each other.
The eastern part of Cuba has been having a terrible drought. Santiago had seen no rain for year. I arrived, however -- and the rains began! Just as on my trip in January 2016, it rained and rained, almost all the time. While on Ned's other two trips with Travelers, during which I stayed home, there was not a drop of rain. So Santiago owes me . . . and it is indeed, by its lights, repaying -- see further down . . .
How quickly the trees, flowers, crops and other botanicals, the whole countryside, responded to even a little rain. The dried out trees began perking immediately, so much so that it was visible at least to me, who recalls what this part of the world usually looks like. By the time we left, the sides of the mountains that were brown as we flew from Ft. Lauderdale into the airport of Holguín, were turning green. Maybe I could hire myself out to drought-ravaged places? But wait! What about my own city and state?
The eastern province, Oriente, has changed enormously. It's still the poorest part of of Cuba, and Guantánamo the poorest of the poor parts. I have been there before though, and to my eyes, it too looked enormously perked up, materially. Additionally, there were things I wanted to buy as gifts, which I've never had the least interest in doing in Havana, and in Holguín particularly, the center of the diversified agricultural region, the airport tiendas were a thousand thousand times nicer -- the departure lounge in every way was nicer -- than Havana's Jose Martí's. Good place to get duty-free. The things I bought outside of the airport are still in Ned's suitcase, as I swapped such things out in exchange for taking all his dirty laundry home -- mountains and mountains of dirty laundry from both of us -- an expedition in a hot, sweaty and rainy-to-monsooning period will do that.
I was so happy finding things for gifts even more, maybe, than my other favorite totally personal bit -- when a brilliant woman from Alabama, who was raised a good deal in San Antonio, and now, among other things runs white water rafting expeditions down the Grand Canyon for challenged people who would otherwise never be able to have such an experience -- blind people, people who can't walk, autistic -- and imagine what kind of organization and back-up there is for this! -- well, Martha and I broke protocol and went and peed in the monte instead of standing in line for the baño, standing guard for each other. We felt like such outlaws. 🚽 Then A bought us beers, applauding our pluck, beers since we'd peed we now dared drink before getting back on the bus -- and the beers were -- Heineken, not the national Bucanero or Crystal. 🍺
El V left us early on Tuesday, the day the rest of us flew back to the US. He's still in Havana; yesterday he had lunch with Pablo Milanés -- a very big deal.
Wednesday, el V and CD were summoned to a meeting with the two women who run the Casas de Cultura of Cuba, and Culture policies and activities in general. These officials are 1000% behind what he and CD are doing with these Postmamboist Music seminars and want more -- he called me from habana vieja's casa de los abanicos where he was replacing my worked-to-death fan. They were laughing, and I would even describe Cd as giddy -- something one doesn't see often. Again as Ben observed on our flights back to NYC we didn't get to see her brilliant, beautiful smile and laugh much this round -- she was far too busy (she's also organizing Cuba Disco, the annual Cuban international music festival in Havana, which is coming right up) and anxious that everything go right -- working working, working, every minute.
I had told them both I was never going back to Cuba -- it's just too physically hard, but from casa de los abanicos Ned chortled, "O yes you are!" Both el V and I are officially invited to a cultural and history conference in Santiago early in July. The conference is going to pay for our airfare and hotel !!!!!!! -- Cuba!!!!! paying for somebody!!!!! -- to do a presentation of Slave Coast.
Well, it will be good preparation for what we will have do for the Vera Cruz performance in October -- in Spanish. And if I didn't go, it would be a dis to those who invited us, and that wouldn't be good for el V. I can't do that. Also, I . . . don't . . . think . . . I have to ride a bus for hundreds of miles . . . . and never get any sleep.
The breadth of music and culture the Travelers experienced -- is not to be compared with anything others get out of going to Cuba, at least in a group. And much of what the Travelers experienced could not be set up for an individual. Without el V and CD, this can't happen. No one can copy his tours. Nobody else knows all the ground, the people and have the connections and experience -- and the trust of everyone involved.
It was so good to be away from everything here.
We all felt that way. While in Cuba no one was impatient to connect when connection was possible. People checked in on their kids and so on when opportunity arrived (kids basically adults, of course, not little kids or infants), but otherwise didn't bother. Had no interest in the news outside of learning that back home it was snow and deep freeze, while where we were was beautiful and warm.
We regained equilibrium, perspective, sanity and dignity, despite the grueling aspects of the expedition.
Nor could it have happened without such a prepared and passionately involved group of people. I miss them.
El V gets back on Tuesday -- direct flight, no 3 hour layover, only a single security and customs line instead of two, and he's had a week of being able to sleep and not travel, so he'll be rarin' to go.
In the meantime I'm curious about what el V's been up to in Havana. They -- he and CD -- apparently are doing a smaller group thing for the Rumba Festival in October. He cannot let this one pass him by as CD got Rumba categorized as a UNESCO world heritage patrimony this year, and she got to rumba via el V. This will be casas particulars not a hotel -- the rooms are exhorbitant in the hotels -- but also a bus for transport. This would be self-selected set of rumba heads, so it may well work.
That Wednesday meeting with the Directors de Casas de Cultura and Patrimony -- whatever it / they are called -- I can't keep these agencies and the people who run them straight -- seems to be directed toward more actitivies. Other potential Cuba projects are being thrown at him as well. Who knows? But unless things go entirely off track in the USA -- always possible -- more Cuba in the future, it looks like. Nothing could make el V happier.