. . . . Holy Cow!
Greetings -- not from Cooba, but a Hampton Inn in Ft. Lauderdale.
Got in from Holguín this morning. The Postmambo Travelers continued on their various home journeys. El V and I have processed to a Hampton Inn, with airport shuttle service, laundry facilities, and just fine wifi in the room. This is a suite, though. We got a complementary upgrade on our reservation for some reason.
El V's washing clothes, as he goes to Havana tomorrow. I'm waiting until I get home, and hoping that the laundry facilities haven't been shut down for some kind of renovation or something. Pulling all the packing back together again seems more than I can handle right now. Seriously, and I mean seriously, short of sleep. Haven't had caffeine or breakfast today yet either (it's noon). I wasn't ready for either of them, served especially for us, by the swimming pool at 6:30 AM at the beautiful soviet era Hotel Pernik. Breakfast doesn't start officially until 7 AM, but this is what we get with our Amistur Cuba guide, Jesús, and his pull . . . .
I was online once only, for about 10 minutes, on the 5th, but that is it.
Another adventure completed, another adventure with the most wonderful and adventurous people. This, despite, one-by-one, every single member of the group, went down to some mysterious but awful bug that lasted at least two days. The only people who didn't were Nan, a beautiful dancer from California who is 68 but looks about 50 at most, and young J (his dad M, came from Albuquerque to travel with his son and with el V -- he's a mad drummer), who, as the director of the Sarah Lawrence College Cuban Studies program, has lived here by now for three years -- and, you won't believe this! -- me! So I'll probably go down tonight or the moment I get home.
My flight to LaGuardia is around 11 AM tomorrow; B's meeting me to help with the baggage.
Whew! we did it. The Travelers are very pleased. This is particularly so for the woman whose life partner is now in assisted living due to Alzheimer's. For years they traveled together all over, often, for their own pleasure and because of work (they were an award-winning television advertising video team throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's). This made her a bit weepy at the start, that she was taking a break for herself (his kids are taking care of matters while she's away), without him because he'd love it so. But after about 5 days, she was laughing, cracking jokes and, she said, feeling like herself again. She also looked about 15 years younger than when she joined us. We could see in front of our own eyes the healing power of being away from all of it for a while, including the internet.
Visions of granola and tea dance in my head! Also, how strange, to be looking at screen again after so long away from that as well as everything else.
So glad to be going home. This trip was, against expectation, harder the previous Postmambo Oriente trip.
One of the reasons was that somebody (excluding the brilliant bus driver, Julio, tour guide Jesús, N, J, and me, was always sick, and unpleasantly so. Thank goodness we spent most of this trip based in the Hotel Meliá Santiago, so people could crash out in a dark, cool, comfortable room, and not have to sit on a bus with serious stomach upset and fatigue.
The second reason is that it was unexpectedly hot, even for this part of Cuba, in January. Last Postmambo Oriente trip, it rained all the time, which evidently cooled things off, despite it being later in the season -- March. In western Cuba it has been getting down to low 60's every night, and even the 50's. It was nearly 90 everyday where were were, brilliant sunshine, beautiful nights, but the days were very hot and humid.
The third reason was that we had more elderly Travelers -- all very fit for their age, very experienced even with nature adventure travel, spending long weeks in Mongolian yerts (the coldest thing anybody can do), living in Asia and traveling around everywhere from Russia and China, to Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Mexico and Africa. They were game as heck. But getting sick, and the heat and the humidity did take its toll on them
I judged by previous experience, so in packing I got some of it wrong. That Oriente trip of 2017, like last year's Central Cuba trip and the 2016 western Cuba trip, were quite cool. So I put in more warm clothes, none of which I used until dressing for the last dinner at a restaurant that was open air, last night, when the temps in Holguín province fell into the 60's.
I had packed a dozen identical Ann Taylor loft white t-shirts, plus three other t-shirts. I wore them all, as well as the more dressy blouses and shirts for the evenings. All my underwear except for what I need tomorrow is dirty laundry.. I should have packed more t-shirts and underwear, while leaving out the long sleeved shirts and the light sweater and shawls.
But I did use my flashlight -- even had it with me when we ladies needed it at a baño break to see where we were going. The flashlight passed along our line in the dark informing us of our progress toward relief . . . .
My three hand fans were indispensable. I loaned out two of them. The really efficient, effective one, whose stakes are made from wood, even helped one of the Travelers who came damned close to heat stroke, because of dehydration -- a side effect of his blood pressure meds in this very hot humid situation. As he's over 6 feet, him falling over backwards would have been difficult to deal with, but el V and others noticed immediately that K seemed to be passing out. Fortunately, T, one of the Travelers, a repeat Postmamboist, is a full-fledged M.D. -- OB-GYN is her specialty, but she's really good with people getting sick while traveling, knows exactly what to do in these situations, has all sorts of medications in her bag, and our guide, Jesús, is, of course, like Julio the bus driver, trained in first aid. T sent Jesús for COLD water to bring down K's body temperature by drinking, soaking a bandana to wrap around his neck, and apply to his face.
She also ordered fanning. My Cienfuegos 2018 fan was called into service for this, as the other fans present were, T said, "Very pretty fans, but they don't do much. Constance's is the one." When I go to Havana next month with el V for the Havana Nocturne tour, I'm going to get a special one at the Casa de los abanicos (fans), with her name, the date and place where K nearly passed out painted on it. I also found two more wood stake fans from a vendor, though not quite of the quality of my Cienfuegos fan, are good.
K recovered so well after this episode though, that not only did he refuse to go to a doctor or the hospital, but danced with with wife to the music being played by the Congo Paseo Franco (this Postmambo Oriente trip was heavy on the French, i.e. San Domingue-Haiti connections and heritage, which includes Vodun). I got, I hope some sweet photos of this. He did not parade with us and the musicians through the neighborhood streets though in the mid-afternoon sun. It also showed the Cubans that white Americans can actually operate quickly and efficiently as a team, as well as with compassion
Ah, el V's going out to bring lunch back.I don't have to move! It is cool in Fort Lauderdale in comparison to what we've been experiencing, but I have no desire to go out in the noonday sun right now. Or, well, do anything, or go anywhere.
I'm not doing another long trip of this nature again, no matter what -- and that includes not going on the Postmambo Haiti trip in March. I could handle it physically pretty well, because everybody was treating la reina de rubia so helpfully. But, still. However, most of all -- I've seen as many casa templos and heard descriptions of all of them translated into English for hours and hours on end, that I never need again to see, experience and have described any of it. I've watched so much ritual, cultural heritage dancing and drumming since 1990, that I've a hit the wall on this sort of experience. But! for the others, for which it was new, and the musicologists and musicians and dancers among us -- they couldn't get too much (and that includes el V).
Gads, was eastern Cuba ever BEAUTIFUL! There had been months of drought here back in 2017, but now all was as lushly, densely green as one thinks this part of the world is. I loved the drives. Baracoa was, again, enchanting. As part of our activities in this province we toured a cacoa farm run by 5 women -- who were so sexy, hip and hot -- and lordessa can they wield machetes! One of them saw my fascination with her blade and proudly stated (in Spanish), "I am a warrior!" We bought LOTS of chocolate, of all kinds, literally made by hand there. This is organic, integrated diverse farming, from the chickens and swine who also eat the leavings of the organically cultivated coconut trees and fruit such as mangoes, to the coffee trees, under whose shade the cocao trees and fruit can grow -- and without which shade they cannot. (Coconut and mangoes as such, are fruit too heavy, for as they fall, they crush the young cacao fruits, but coffee berry trees are just perfect.)
This is incredible chocolate. Among the purchases we made were individually wrapped bonbons, with centers made of a powder of dried plantains, cinnamon, and something else I didn't quite catch, held together with coconut oil. There is at least 4% caffeine in this chocolate. Everybody ate a bonbon when we got back on the bus and -- woo, the chatter, so clearly there was caffeine, because lunch and coffee of any kind had been long ago that day. I got a lot of bars wrapped in foil, and some more of the carved hardwood little pots of hard coconut oil. There just isn't anything better for the skin. I've used up what I brought back from Baracoa two years ago, so happy to refresh the supply.
We had so many adventures it's going to be hard to readjust, the Travelers say, to mundane life. After all, not only did they hear a vast range of music and religion indigenous to Oriente (well, Santeria only arrived in the 1930's and 40's, but it is very powerful and still growing), not only did they participate, they also were present at the rituals surrounding the reading of 2019's Odu at the Casa de Caribe, by the regional babalawos, after la Letra del año 2019 (a/k/a Odu) was cast, to determine which forces -- orishas -- would be dominating the new year -- and the results released by the island-wide council earlier in Havana -- they were at a ceremony in which the information of the Odo was given out to all of Oriente's Santeria 'families.' Thus, there they were when the huge goat and many chickens were sacrificed --- cooked and eaten later, though not by us. We went back to the Meliá to prepare for dinner at the night's scheduled restaurant and pick up the Travelers who opted out of this event, which was, needless to say, quite acceptable. Others opted out of the a company dinner though, in favor of sitting on the hotel's quiet courtyard patio alone and thinking about what they'd seen, and to a degree participated in. For those of us together at dinner the discussion was all about life and death, life growing out of death and death devouring life. It was philosophical to a high degree -- plus there were quite a few vegetarians among us, and several have vegan children or grandchildren.
That was a particularly organic day to meditate on the relationships between the dead and living. We began at the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia) where Fidel's cremains are now interred in a modest monument. This viewing began with a description and discussion by the director of the cemetery explaining, as in cemeteries globally, space is short. So the bodies can be interred for two years, then the remains are removed, processed, so only the bones are left. These can then remain with the martyrs of the Revolution, or be re-interred in family plots. After this we were given a brilliant presentation by one of the religious scholars and practitioner of the Palo, religion, which is all about the earth, what comes out of it, what goes into it, the dead and how the living interact with them -- and this too included exhuming remains . . . .
Two of the Travelers provided a heartfelt address last night at our farewell restaurant dinner, to el V, the other Travelers and the entire utterly surprising experience -- none of them really had any idea -- one cannot. They all agreed there was no way to describe the experience to their friends, though their photos, videos and recordings can help. Even, the Kid (to us), who has his Ph.D. in Cuban studies, lived in Cuba for three years, and traveled around it, was fairly gobsmacked. His dad, M, is a maniac for Afro Latin drumming. He came from Albuquerque, to do this tour with J. There was W, a musicologist, specialist in Jamaica, from Harvard, who also plays music. As there is a lot of Jamaican derived culture and history in this part of Cuba, as well as the other stuff, he was so happy. He's also a really good musician. More than once W just got up, asked to join whomever was playing and played. He could really do it. He didn't make a fool of himself (as I've seen others do -- though never Postmambo Travelers) -- he represented Postmambo proud. And all the dancers among us -- they were able to partner with professional theater performer-dancers as in Baracoa with the brilliant Bara Rumba troup, and keep up very well. White Americans showing again who and what Postmambo is, building the brand's reputation throughout Cuba.
Such Travelers! All of them liked each other a lot. We had so many adventures it's going to be hard to readjust, the Travelers say, to mundane life, which may well be expected after seeing a goat sacrificed in front of their faces..
Now, have been checking the weather. At the least, we can say I'm looking at a very uncomfortable flight tomorrow due to what looks to be one major winter storm, which on our corridor will be located as I fly particularly in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., i.e between here and up there. Wish me luck!