I wouldn't have thought a day that involved more than seven hours on a bus would qualify as a great vacation, but it turned out the be the most amazing day of the trip so far. Sleeping on the bus was unheard of - there was an island to be seen, so I used enormous amounts of willpower to keep my eyes open and my camera ready. Click here for a photo album of the views - and please forgive the ones with glares, reflections and other imperfections. It was the trade-off we had to take for the whole air-conditioned bus travel option.
First stop: a children's performance at the Santa Maria Art School and Cultural Center. It was humbling to know the show was all for us - the building was breathtakingly beautiful, and we arrived in time for the last-minute nervous whispers and adjustments of hair, costumes and makeup. (From the performers, that is...the travelers were too used to the humidity to care about hair and makeup any longer!)
There is undeniably something about children that overcomes any barrier of race, culture or language. I couldn't understand the script but the story was clear, and the talent was very, very impressive. I fell in love with all of them. It started out with, of course, some pint-sized salsa dancing...
And then kicked into a good old-fashioned love story of Romeo and Juliet...
Which got much more interesting when the Cuban version showed up. Tough girl dodging the pathetic advances of the wimpy suitor, a fight between the mothers and comraderie (and drinks!) between papas and there you go, true love at (almost) first sight.
I've staged enough kids' performances to know this was incredibly impressive in any context or society. The kids could sing, dance, and were so darn cute I wanted to take all of them home with me. I'll admit that I cried for five minutes after the bus left...thank you to all my orange bus friends who didn't comment on the sobs from my corner of the coach.
It was the chance to be part of a proud community. Childrens' parents, who also served as choreographers, costume designers and musical directors, crowded around our seats to enjoy the performance with quiet pride. And when this beautiful girl invited me to dance with her, you'd better believe all pride went out the window. Despite my awkward white-girl moves, I had the best dance of her life and lived to tell about it. Even better: my fellow travelers threw dignity to the side and also danced their hearts out. I think everyone would agree it was at the top of the great moments in our trip to Cuba.
The video is again sideways - but I promise, it's worth the neck cramp to watch these kids.
In spite of the tears and protests, we had to tear ourselves away to continue the road trip. We had to get to the next stop, since the roadside restaurant (Los Caneyes) was something of a Tour Guide Reality TV show. Those with good drivers got their groups seated at the buffet; those who lagged behind were left waiting outside for us to finish. It took great willpower, but I skipped the ice cream buffet to make some new friends like this quiet resident.
And then, it was all about Che. The museum did not allow cameras so you'll have to use your imagination, but it went something like this: Che was the perfect baby who never cried even when other children did. Che never failed at anything he tried, and indeed gave up many opportunities to focus on the greater good. He was the most humble man on earth who never forgot the meaning of family ties...he was "deeply sensitive to any injustice to anyone in the world." I don't mock the sentiment or admiration of a national hero - heaven knows our memorials to America's founding fathers aren't exactly big on the negative details either. But I do know that Che was a complicated figure and the simplified summary provided in the museum made me want to do more of my own research when I got back home.
Yes, I got that photo I wanted - the Che-style one with the beret and the far-off dreamy look. No, I'm not stupid enough to post it online since I believe that's a top-10 way to end a political career.
More hours gazing from the bus window, and then we saw this: a 45-minute drive into the ocean.
Not a single one of the pictures I took accurately capture the blue-green color of the water, but this gives you an idea of how perfect it was (fellow travelers - did any of your photos come out any better?):
And then we arrived in heaven. My experience with beach resorts is limited (meaning, I've never ever stayed in one) but I'm pretty sure this ranked as awesome by anyone's standards. I had my own apartment, numerous pools from which to choose, the most breathtaking beach on earth, great friends, and FOOD!
The night that followed is one of those have-to-be-there kind of things so I won't even try to recapture it with words or blurry photographs. It involved an "international show" that, as far as I could tell, tried to get the worst possible music from every major nation on earth (no offense to Lionel Richie fans, but do we really want him being the sole representative of American music?) and a LOT of reasons to laugh until I could no longer breathe.
And then there was a moonlit night on the beach with the laughter of friends, the crashing of waves, and the most informed discussion about U.S.-Cuba policy I've ever had. It was totally worth the agony I experienced when my alarm went off a few hours later to signal the next day ahead.