Cuba part 11: Night watches at the marina

Having Ben as my boyfriend has really given me insight into this beautiful country. I get to experience the culture from the inside without the worry of being taken advantage of. He knows everything about Cienfuegos, the history of Cuba and music. When we go out, his presence means I can relax and have a good time as well as meet his friends. I love having an inside view. 

I also enjoy when he does the night shift at the marina. We are rarely alone for long as the staff like to come out and talk to us. The first night I hung out with them, I brought them Colombia sweets and coffee. I was automatically in! They showed me how to make coffee Cuban style (which is really good!!) and gave me an insight into Cuban living. 

The themes of our conversations run from food, wages, working girls, history and education. Mostly there is a lot of banter and laughing. If they use slang, Ben interprets for me. My understanding of Spanish is so good now I can even contribute to the laughter by making jokes. I have been waiting to get to this point!

Last night we talked about wages. Let me give you an idea of true poverty. Not for a group of people, but the majority of a country. A custom agent here makes $25 USD a month. They work 180 hours a month. If they don’t have the $25,000 to buy a house, they will pay between $25 and 40 for rent. If you’re bad at math, rent is the same or more than the wage. 

People think Cubans get coupons for free food. They don’t. The price of rice, beans and bread is very low. They describe it as enough to eat, if you don’t eat a lot. 

A pair of jeans? $40. All of the nightclubs charge to get in. In Cienfuegos it’s about $2.50 and a drink is about $1.50. What is cheap for us is out of reach for most Cubans. Of course there are people who have family that have made it out of Cuba and are receiving money from them. Those people are very fortunate. 

I told Ben that I couldn’t do it. I said that I have been well nourished since birth and have a hard time being hungry. I couldn’t imagine eating the same thing and not enough of it just because there’s no other choice. 

The most incredible thing about this whole conversation was that they weren’t complaining. They were simply educating me on how things are. They were educating me on why foreigners think it’s so cheap here, but for them so much is unobtainable. They said there is no reason to be sad or upset about it, because it’s the way it is. Sometimes if they have an extra six pesos (about 10 cents) they splurge and buy a pizza on the street. Then they’re out of money. But they believe life is about enjoying. I hear from so many people “Disfruta la vida!” That’s when they’ve just spent the last pesos on a cheap bottle of rum. 

So I will! Of all the countries I’ve visited, this is by far the most poor and by far the most happy. Everyone is smiling and telling jokes. In the night clubs, everyone is having so much fun and laughing as they try out funny dances. They are carefree with a passion to enjoy life. 

Then you go 80 miles north to a country where so many people have so many things and eat all of the time without worry. Yet everyone is complaining, running around in a hurry and stepping on everyone to get to the top. To me, that’s not living. I prefer to live in a community, laugh and share with people who have less. I have also been very fortunate to receive when I haven’t had much. Life works in a circle. 

Anyway, as I sat there on the night watch laughing and learning Cuban slang, I couldn’t help but be grateful that this country is teaching me a different way to live. A life about acceptance, making the best of what one has, bringing joy to others and most importantly, how to make and be part of a true community. I don’t have a lot, but I have more than them. I’ve been happy to buy a few drinks and offer some food to the people at the marina. I do it within my means and to them, it means a lot that I’m sharing. Take care of others and the world will take of you. 


Cuba part 10: Poverty can be blissful

Six hundred and eighty US dollars. Shit. I exchanged 200 yesterday for CUC because we found a guy who gave us a great exchange rate. Panic sets in as I thought I had more. I tell myself to take a breath and remember I have options. I need to be smart and choose well, but I have options. This is more than 95% of the Cubans have. 

Ben is working and he comes over for one of our quick chats. He asks if I’m ok, he’s really good at reading my face. I explain I had less money than I thought and need to go to the travel agency tomorrow to find out how much flights cost. I choke back tears as I tell him I still don’t know where to go. Then I apologise for talking about the same thing over and over again. He’s called away and I think how he would love to be in my position right now. He’s not allowed on a boat to leave Cuba and he can’t afford to buy me a coke (actually tukola), much less a plane ticket out of here. I realise how spoiled I am and vow not to complain. After all, he doesn’t complain and he would have a lot more right to. 

Today I went to the travel agency. Ticket to Mexico $277 and to Cartagena $800 something. Well thank you universe for making my choice for me. I have to go to Havana to enquire about Panama, I don’t have money to waste doing that. Isla Mujeres via Cancun it is. I feel good about it. I vow to be more social at the marina in case a boat is going to Mexico, Panama or Colombia. For I have a variety of homes to choose from and a job in Mexico, but it’s not well paying and I still need to eat. Ok, I’ll stop lying to everyone and myself. I would also like to return to Captain Cool. 

When I was talking about my next move with Ben, I said that I had to think good because I would have to stay there for a while and I am going to be happy about my decision. I’m tired of living in this “Well maybe it could be better….” state. There is good everywhere, it’s time to feel settled somewhere instead of living here until the next thing. One thing Cuba has taught me is that my iPhone is mostly evil (I write on it so it isn’t all bad!). My state of mind has significantly improved since not having easy access to the Internet and it was pretty damn good before. 

Now I’m not saying that things couldn’t change in a heartbeat and I do move on. God knows that’s happened a hundred times already. I’m just saying I have stopped looking/hoping for it and have decided to have my eyes wide open to what’s in front of me at the moment. So far, it’s working incredibly well for me. 

I leave the travel agency feeling like a weight has been lifted, for the decision has been made for me. The decision I knew was right, but didn’t quite have the strength to make on my own. I have to change some CUC for CUP (the Cuban national money which the Cubans get paid in), so I walk and stand in line with all the other Cubans. They look at me in shock when I talk Spanish. I just smile. I look like a tourist today. The sun is a killer so I have my big tourist type hat to protect my skin so I can continue to play with toy boys for as long as possible. 

With my CUP, I start to explore the outskirts of the city. There’s a big line at the bastido tienda (it’s the most refreshing fruit milkshake I’ve ever had) so I went and ordered one. I stood outside drinking it while listening to all the banter from the locals. I returned my empty glass (it was glass, there really isn’t that much plastic here which is great. If you don’t bring your own plastic bag, chances are you will be juggling all of your merchandise all the way home. I learned the hard way) and went in the opposite direction to el centro and the marina. 

The ambience is very different here. There are national horse and buggy taxis. There aren’t people shouting “Taxi!” “Where are you from?” I’m almost ignored. I look at the buildings which don’t differ too much from the centre. Some are run down with caved in roofs and ceilings, chipped paint and appear derelict other than the furniture inside, with maybe even a tv. Others are beautifully painted and well maintained. I see a big run down building in the distance and make that my goal. It’s better to walk with purpose, not like I feel at all that I’m in danger. I enjoy looking in each of the open doors. No, it’s not rude. Quite often there are little cafes or shops with no advertisement. You just have to look inside to see what treasures await. I’m looking for lunch or one of those delicious cookies everyone is eating and I can’t find anywhere (I’m still on the hunt). 

I admire all the old cars in their various conditions and watch all the people hustle by on their way somewhere. I only see one woman on her phone, how different to anywhere I’ve been in the last five years. I reach my destination and see it’s an old church. Wow! It takes up a whole square block and it’s all closed up. No money to maintain such a magnificent building. It is what it is. 

I notice there’s a busy street up ahead so I continue to walk in hopes I can find the chicken I’ve now grown an appetite for. Or maybe a fresh juice. The heat is quite unbearable. A dry heat, but one that burns so deeply it feels like my blood is boiling. I come to the corner and see there’s a bus station and once again I am bombarded with offers of taxis “Classic cars, best price!!” I politely decline and start walking toward the marina. 

Down the new street I haven’t yet explored, there are more horse taxis and local run down buses. Who cares. They work and get you from A to B in a very economical way. I rode one for free, accidentally. I enjoy studying the architecture of the houses. I’m no architecture expert, but I think they are from the Renaissance era. There are pillar type things attached to side of the houses and valances along the roof, which have elaborate designs carved into them. If you look close, you can see the colour the house used to be before the paint chipped off to expose the clay/brick substance (I hope my photos make up for my lack of architectural terminology…). Some of the houses probably haven’t been painted in over 50 years, because what’s more important? Feeding and dressing your family or having a beautiful looking house? Sounds like socialism has taught them some good values if you ask me. 

I see a group of four guys sitting in the doorway. Their conversation stops as I get closer. I walk by and one of them quietly says, “I love you.” I ignore him so he shouts it out. I turn my head and give him a cheeky smile as I keep walking. This evokes a cheer and “Esoooo!” from the group as I giggle and keep going. I have been in Latin America for 20 months, I know how to handle the cat calls. Actually, I know how to handle them better then the ones from the US. I know the Latinos do it to appreciate a beautiful woman and nothing more, unless she initiates. They don’t follow you (for long) or become aggressive. Many American men seem to do it arrogantly thinking I’m going to drop my pants and sit on them right then and there. Then they become deeply offended when I reject them. Please! Appreciate beauty, but then give women respect. 

I continue on my search for lunch with a lighter heart and a soft smile on my face. I continue to look out for cafeterias and settle for a pizza place which sells personal size pizzas for 6 pesos. This is something like 3 cents. It was a damn good pizza. I walk down the street eating while fending off the calls for taxis and a “beautiful woman” like me who shouldn’t be walking in this heat. 

A small sense of panic rushes over me as I think about my financial situation. But you know what? Cuba has very strongly demonstrated that it will always be ok. I mean always. I appreciate life and the people in it and as long as I always continue to do that, life is going to take care of me. The panic subsides and as I hit the malecon, the strong smell of garbage decaying in the sea knocks on my nose. Who cares. Cienfuegos is a beautiful place with beautiful people. 

I’m still a chicken shit. I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell Hank I’m looking for another boat to get out of here. Actually, maybe I’ll just tell him after I find one or am on my way to the airport… Damn, I can’t text him here!

Cuba part 9: Freedom from the Internet 

Wow! I am just in heaven. I mean heaven. I have broken free from the attachment of my phone and the world is blissful!

It costs just over two dollars for one hour of Internet here. Not only that, but you have to be in a designated place. I am on a tight budget so I would prefer not to use it other than to tell my family I’m having the time of my life. Free wifi doesn’t exist here, not for tourists, not for Cubans, not for employers. No one. 

You know what’s crazy? People don’t walk around on their phones. My new Cuban boyfriend doesn’t even have a mobile. His mum gave him one on our “first date” in case there were problems. It is so liberating setting a time to meet and having to be there because I can’t text, “Sorry, running late!”

I wake up in the morning and grab my yoga mat without any thought of who I should send a message to or who may have sent me one. No disappointment when no one did. Just me, my yoga mat, the rising sun, the calm bay and the rowers who either greet or whistle at me depending on their sex. My mind is free. 

When I’m out, I’m out. I tell Captain America where I’m going to be and he either comes or doesn’t. We can’t call each other to change the place or see where the other is at. I’m free. Neither me nor my Cubano look at our phones because, well he doesn’t have one and I have no desire to be anywhere else or thinking about another place. 

I truly feel like I’m in a story. In fact, I’m writing my story as we go along. There are so many twists and turns it could take and they are all under my control. As the customs agent told me, I’m a very unique woman and although Cuba is full of beautiful women, the stars in my eyes have created a list of lovers who want my attention. I could write an incredibly scandalous love story if I was insensitive enough to walk all over people. I just smile and eat up the attention. 

The story I’m writing can’t be interrupted by anyone I know. I am literally alone, isolated from technology and the world of those I love most. I miss them and hope all is ok, but I’m accustomed to being far away and to be honest, I am in need of getting lost by myself so I can find my way. 

Captain America keeps asking me if I have been on the Internet (he has incredible difficulty). I say I have no desire. He still tries to convince me to go on, but he doesn’t understand. My parents can track me and send a message if they are truly worried, the rest of my family and friends know that this is how I live. They understand and I’m grateful. 

I am free from the heartache of Captain Cool. I can’t check Facebook messenger various times a day or be there to reply immediately when he is on. I am left free to heal and to allow the men around here to treat me like a princess and remind me there are so many people out there. If you suffer from a break up, learn Spanish and go to Cuba. It’s really helped me heal. Cuba repaired my heart and I will never forget it. 

My Cubano said there’s no way we can communicate when I leave. He said if I ever come back, he will be in the same house, still probably working at the marina so I can easily find him. I told him I would write him, but he can’t reply because I have no address. How much more out of the rat race could I be? I love it. 

I’m grateful to be totally caught up and in the moment. Cuba has an incredible energy that doesn’t allow one to sulk or be sad for long. Everywhere you look, people are smiling, laughing and teasing each other. My Spanish allows me to be included in these groups and I laugh along with them. It feels great to be accepted and part of their community. A community with so much laughter, so much hope, so little in terms of wealth and opportunity, but so rich in soul. 

Is it the materialism that has killed western society, or our dependence on these tiny hand held devices which can change our mood with the drop of a hat? I remember a story from my yoga scriptures which talks about how someone has died and until a person finds out, they are blissfully unaware and perhaps happy in their own world. They find out and all changes. I don’t know what’s happening out there and I can only hope everyone is ok, but for now, I am blissfully alert in this moment in this unique and incredible country which has refuelled my soul and taught me what it truly means to live. Smiling and enjoying every single ounce of joy life has to give while ignoring the crap it throws. This is the simple life and one that suits me perfectly!

Cuba part 8: A walk with Ben

I was writing in my journal after dinner when Captain America poked his head down the hatch and said I had a visitor. I hoped it wasn’t the security guard from today who invited me to a party. I know exactly what he wants and I’m not giving it to him. 

I poked my head out and seeing Ben brought a big smile to my face. He asked if I wanted to go for a walk. Of course! We talked about our days as we strolled down the malecon which is becoming a daily ritual I really enjoy. I told him I met a captain looking for crew who is going to Rio Dulce, Guatemala. From there I could economically get to Panama where I can always catch a free ride to Colombia or meet Captain Cool there. 

I told him I didn’t know what to do because after meeting someone who is such a genuine and true gentleman like him, I realised there are so many different people in the world. He thanked me for the compliment and looked genuinely touched. I can’t even describe how refreshing it is to spend time with a guy who may want sex, but hides it and treats me like a human instead of a vagina. This is the first time in years, if maybe ever. I can just relax and have so much fun with him. 

I proceeded to tell him that it was a shame he wasn’t allowed on a boat because I would love to steal him and sail away with him. His response was the most profound ever, especially coming from someone who still has a lot of life ahead of them. “I could think about these things, but I would just go crazy so I don’t. I can’t change it. All I know is that I have time with you now. I don’t know how much, so I am just going to be with you now and enjoy every single second. I know you’re going to leave and I may never see you again, but I will never forget you and how happy you’ve made me.” 

His words brought tears to my eyes. His words are something I constantly read in my yoga scriptures and forget on an hourly basis. His words are the ultimate truth for that is exactly what life is. What we have is now. Now means living each day until an opportunity comes our way. Not frantically looking for an escape and some comfort because I feel a bit lost. I’m here for a reason, both in my mental state and this beautiful country. I just looked at him and wondered how I could be like him. 

I realised one thing is that maybe it’s because he has so little. Not necessarily material possessions, but opportunities and even ways of thinking. He has a great family and friends very close to him who make him feel loved and secure. This combination of things has allowed him to accept his situation and simply enjoy what he has at any given moment. 

I travel the world in search of new ways of thinking and meeting people and to see how to make life simple. Unfortunately it’s also bringing me many opportunities which are making me think too much! Maybe all I needed to do was sit in my hometown and enjoy the things I had there. It’s too late now. I have the knowledge and I can’t go back. Plus my values and ways of thinking have changed so much I feel like an alien when I’m in Wisconsin. 

So. What to do? Sit with the uncomfortable feelings. All of them. Sit with the moods, insults and judgments from Captain America. It’s not all the time. I’m learning how to manage him and he’s not a bad person. We are just totally opposite and it can be a challenge. I’m going to sit with my heartache about Captain Cool and work through it how I need to.  

I’m going to keep opening up these beautiful gifts from the universe. The gifts of the lights of people who are lighting up my path. I’m going to slow down my thinking and enjoy now more. I can’t Magic the perfect boat to take me where I want to go (which changes hourly) so I’m going to relax. I’m going to accept that things feel uncomfortable when I’m not in the moment and not do anything to change it other than focus on the good of that moment. Those uncomfortable feelings normally aren’t about right now. 

And damnit, I’m going to keep up my puma ways and see if I can work my way through the 20’s!! 

Cuba part 7: A Cuban dance party 

Well Cienfuegos has started off with a fiery start, just like the name! I love it!! The harbour is beautiful. There’s a city on one side with French inspired design, a couple of refineries on the other side and hills, hills and more hills on the third side. I have the best of everything!

As we pulled into the dock in the early morning hours, I saw a single scull and quad rowing by. Complete with a dinghy and screaming coach. I felt like I was back in England! I really want to check out that club and maybe I can get back in a boat. It’s been six years since my bum moved on a seat. Seeing them injected the feeling of power, exhaustion and absolute excitement of pulling with all my strength and that little bit more I always managed to find. 

A digression, what a surprise! I set foot on the dock and was determined to meet as many locals as I could. I’ve heard so many rumours from people about Cuba and what it’s like. Many from people who don’t speak Spanish, so I’m ready to get the story from the horse’s mouth. 

We step into a bicycle taxi. The driver doesn’t speak English. What a relief!! Finally, I am somewhere where locals actually live. After 12 days this brings me pure joy. I start asking all kinds of questions about his life and Cienfuegos. Juri is a lovely man who loves to laugh and make jokes. Cuba has already stole my heart. I look all around us, yep! There really are old classic cars everywhere, but wow are they in great condition! The streets and buildings are a bit run down and for some reason, it reminds me of my grandma’s hometown in Michigan. I feel right at home. 

After a brief exploration and organising the boat to be here for a while, I sit outside and enjoy the sunset. The security guard comes over to talk to us. He doesn’t speak any English (yes again!!) and I of course bombard him with questions. He is equally as inquisitive about my life for most sailors that come here don’t speak English or aren’t friendly. 

I have tired of the captain and before “Ben” leaves, I ask him if he can take me to a party tomorrow night. I’ve been around long enough to know what this suggests so I add that I would like to meet his friends and hang out like Cubans do. He agrees and we set a time. 

After an eventful day with another local, who deserves his own entry, seven o’clock rolls around and I’m ready to go. Ben is dressed to the nines and already being a gentlemen. I knew he was the right person to ask! We walk along the malecon, which is the waterfront and he shows me all the sites and tells me about the history. Wow I am grateful to know Spanish so well!! We bump into some of his friends and he introduces me as his amiga and they are all so friendly. 

We stop for a soda and as it’s still way too early for dancing, we walk back to sit along the malecon. It’s what everyone does into the early hours of the morning. I love it! We hop up on the wall and start talking about so many things. We both laugh as we open our mouths to talk about something. He tells me all about his opinion of the government and I see it in such a different light. He doesn’t feel suppressed or disadvantaged. He’s mainly frustrated about the wages. He is proud to be Cuban and to have a socialist government. He asks me what it’s like in my countries and said he never heard some of these things before. He had no idea what it was like. 

More than anything, Ben wants to be a captain and a sailor, but he isn’t even mad his government won’t let him do that. I questioned the reasoning why they can’t go in boats and it didn’t make sense to me. He said, “It’s hard for you to understand, but I know.”  

We go to a discoteca which has karaoke playing. I hate karaoke, but we listened at the gates for a while and they were actually really good. We go in and find some seats. Ben is the most intelligent and knowledgable 22 year old I have ever met and he tells me about the history of all the songs. He is singing along with a big smile on his face. Of course I have a big smile too. 

The karaoke ends and they start playing music. Ben says that if I want to dance, I should let him know. I’m not drinking alcohol (I need a detox after 11 days with the kid!!) so I’m shy. I tell myself I’m an idiot. I’m in Cuba, the culture is to dance, so I should join in. Ben says it doesn’t matter how I dance, just move. I decide he’s right, strip off my ego and we go to the dance floor. 

It’s an open air club. When I look up, I see the beautiful starry night and remember the dance party I had for one a couple nights go. There’s just a major difference. There are a lot of people with me, some watching and instead of the stars being the dance party guests, they are reminding me how I am just a small part of the universe. There are real disco balls and strobe lights and the gentle breeze is even more gentle. The corners of my mouth turn up and I let go a little more. 

For those of you who know raggaeton, the dancing can be described as clothed doggy style sex. I was happy Ben wasn’t into that and we just danced along together while he sang every word to every song. A man called over to him and he waved him over. It was his friend who is a professional dancer (and amazing!!) and his friend’s girlfriend. They danced the traditional style next to us and we all laughed. 

The more beers they had, the more brave they were getting. His friend told me to watch his girlfriend and do the same as her. Then he placed Ben’s hand on my hips and told him to follow him. We were all laughing and the dance competition began. Then it was the girls turn to pin the guys up against the wall and have a dance off. I was laughing so hard and the feeling of freedom and enjoyment is as strong in me now as I write this as it was when I was there. It was a beautiful moment. I love when people accept me into their culture and share it. 

The music stopped, we bought a $4 bottle of rum and went to a private party on the beach, meaning us four. After some convincing, they got me in the water (it was cold) and while his friends went over to the side to have sex, Ben and I floated on our backs and talked about the stars. He of course snuck in a cheeky kiss and I let it happen. When in Cuba… He tried for nothing more and I can’t remember the last time I had been treated with such respect by such a gentlemen. It was way before his age. 

After the shivering put a stop to my fun, I came out of the water and walked back to the marina which luckily was next door. After changing into some warm winter clothes, I crawled into bed with a sweet smile on my face thinking how great it was to feel like an innocent teenager again. Yep, Cuba and the lack of Internet is reminding me of what it truly means to live in the moment. 

Cuba part 6: Dance party for one 

The sea is so calm, there is hardly any wind so we have to motor sail, but that’s ok. I have plans…

The captain wakes me up just before 1 am to say he’s tired, can I take over? Of course! This is my hour, this is what it’s all about. I’m used to sailing with passengers who could come up at any time of the night to ask a question or sit outside to gaze the stars. This always prevented me from totally relaxing. I’m getting used to this sailing with no passengers, although it will sadly have to end soon. He’s not like captain cool. He doesn’t wake up to every sound change, so I know I will have hours of time all for me and I can sing as loud as I want. 

I go inside to get my supplies. A warm jacket, my headphones and a bocadilla (a traditional colombian sweet). I go to sit on my favourite seat, which is on a bean bag near the hatch to go inside. I lean my back against one grinder with my foot on the other. I look up, oh yes, it’s a beautiful starry night. I pick out the North Star and view the saxophone constellation, butterfly constellation and all the other ones I have made up in my time in these coordinates. 

I choose the music on my iPhone. I start out slow with all my favourites. Bruno Mars, Atliyan Childs and Damien Rice to name a few. Then I decide I need a good stretch after a week away from yoga. I make a play list of my favourite yoga music which evokes a strong sense of strength, freedom and passion. I start doing yoga on the deck, timing my breathing with the music and absorbing the rhythmic pattern of the waves as my body moves with the gentle movement of the gorgeous calming ocean. I look up and take in all the stars, I smile with each shooting star and think how beautiful it is to be in this moment right now. I allow the salty spray of the sea mist to spray my face and take in the healing energy she gives me. This my friends, is my drug. It is my calm, it is my life line, it is the place where nothing can upset me and I truly believe all will be ok. 

I have listened to my body and now it’s ready to move. It’s time to put on some Faithless, London Grammar and whatever random dance music I can find on my phone. I start in the cockpit as I have to check the course and speed before the party really starts. I dance behind the helm, pretending I’m in the DJ booth and calling all my friends to come dance. 

When I’ve checked all is ok and my love (autopilot) is steering us good, I walk up to my favourite seat. I kick the bean bags out of the way and use the grinders as supports so I can really groove. A peaceful, happy and liberating smile gently softens my mouth. I let my mouth fall open as my head drops back and I look up at the sails and the stars. I am in absolute heaven. I am experiencing nothing more than absolute liberation and freedom. There is no one to watch me, no one to distract me and no one to judge me. It is just Mother Nature and I and we are rocking this world!

I walk up to the bow and use a stanchion as my dancing partner. My view is unrestricted here. I have la media luna (half moon) to starboard as the dance floor light. Next to it, a lightening storm acts as a strobe light. I look over to port and the lighthouse guiding us into Cienfuegos acts as a disco ball. My favourite music is playing and I’m moving like no one is watching, because no one is!! I lie my head back and look up, the stars are twinkling to the rhythm of my music. I welcome all of those guests to join my dance party. As I’m gazing up, a shooting star shoots across towards a ray of lightening which has just struck. My smile grows bigger, I am totally lost. I am lost in the rhythm of the waves, the way my body moves so freely, the occasional mist that heals my body, the electric energy of the lightening in the distance and the powerful energy radiating from the stars above my head. I am truly in the moment and so grateful to be on this dance floor enjoying the best dance party I have ever been to. 

I see the signs of the sun starting to come up. I slow the beat of the music as I know the captain will be up soon. We timed it to enter the harbour at sunrise as it’s supposed to be stunning. I go back to my favourite spot on the bean bag and play some Jorge Dexler. I reflect on the beauty of the sea and my choices in my life and feel so at peace. So at one with nature. 

I watch the gorgeous sunrise as it peaks up behind a hill at the entrance to Cienfuegos. I zip up my jacket as a cool breeze welcomes my face from the mountains. I hug my knees and remember Irau and to be happy with what I have. Life is beautiful, focus on the good. 

Sadly, I have yet to capture and keep this moment on land. For the moment we docked and I stepped on the dock, a heaviness came over me. I started to think about how I could leave and where I could go. Luckily, the thought of Irau’s warm eyes and contagious smile reminded me that’s not what life is about. It’s about enjoying what is in front of me now. 

It’s a challenge, but not as big of a challenge as when I will have my own boat stocked with an enormous quantity of food so I don’t have to leave my dance party for months… 

Cuba part 5: The curse of opportunity 

Opportunity… Is it a good thing or bad thing? I really don’t know. I realised today that I have been very self absorbed in my own shit, which is really what? It’s about love, it’s about making some money, it’s about which of the five countries I have connections in to make home. After talking to my favourite Cuban so far (there have really only been about five), I realised how spoiled I actually am. 

Let me introduce you to Irau. He is going to turn 50 this year and said it with a big smile. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone happy about it. He is a tall man with a big belly and when he calls your name on the street, it sounds like you should walk a little faster. Then you to turn to see who it is and it looks like you should run like hell. He either looks sad or like he’s going to murder someone. He has one of those unfortunate resting faces. Then I smile and wave and his face lights up. He flashes a huge grin with a little gap in his front teeth and you know everything will be ok. Irau is the man to get stuff done. 

I asked him about his life today and he asked about mine. He works in a laundry service on the island of Cayo Largo 20 days on and 10 days off. Actually, not 10 days off because he likes to stay on the island helping cruisers in hopes he can get tips. With these tips his wife and 18 year old daughter can have a tiny bit more than their basic needs the government doesn’t really supply. He works 12 hour days and has to wake up two hours earlier than his shift because all the workers in his complex have to share a bathroom in the morning. He laughed and said he has no time to rest.

Irau asked me if the captain was my husband. I said no, I volunteer on his boat. He asked if I wanted a Cuban boyfriend. I laughed and said no, men are trouble. He said Cubans are full of happiness, maybe I will fall in love. He is not the only Cuban who has this kind of life, yet Cubans are full of happiness… I can imagine many of you are reading this are thinking you couldn’t be happy with that lifestyle. If I told you their living quarters were worse than every prison I ever set foot in, in the US, England and Poland, you may drop your jaw even more. 

He asked me where I lived when I’m not on a boat. I explained my family are in the US, but my friends are in England and right now my heart is a little stuck with a lover in Colombia. He couldn’t even fathom ever having been given those opportunities. He can’t even go 80 nautical miles to the next country because his government won’t let him. 

Irau said some beautiful things to me, it seems to be a pattern that’s happening right now! He told me to listen to my heart because it rules all, it really does. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that I have been so caught up with what opportunity I should take next, while all he can do is hope that things will change for him and his country so he can have a better life. Whatever that means. 

What I want to say is that this man and the other Cubans I meet don’t have a lot of opportunity. Many of their friends and family have risked death to cross over to the US by water because it’s a place of freedom and opportunity. The first time a Cuban said this to me, I laughed and quickly shut my mouth. Minorities are still at a huge disadvantage in the US, but they are more free than in Cuba. That’s nothing to laugh about.

I looked at Irau and really listened to his story and his way of talking. I realised that because he has no opportunity, he accepts his situation and makes the best of it. He laughs, he helps people and he works hard. Why? Because he has no other choice. Well, he could be angry and revolt or be sad all the time, but that’s no way to live. 

I am sitting here with this stupid struggle of what to do next. In every port we’ve been in (where there have been boats!!), at least one other captain has asked me to sail with him. I could go to whatever part of the Caribbean I want. I have endless choices of where I could work both on sea and land because I was born in a country which gave me unlimited opportunities and drove a good work ethic into me. 
I had a good talk with myself and said, “What the hell are you crying about?” I am unhappy because I have so many choices and this incredibly kind hearted man is happy having none. It’s like going into a restaurant with a ten page menu when I’m really hungry. There are so many things that look good that I get a bit stressed and long for the restaurant with three choices. After I order, I think for a while if it was the right thing. If I’m like that with food, imagine it with life choices!!

Now I am determined to be happy to have so many opportunities, choose one when it feels right and then love the shit out of it! I have been too greedy and selfish. The thing I love about travelling and talking with the locals is that I am given the opportunity to frequently be grateful for what I have even though I may not be so proud of my roots. 

Irau said his heart skipped a beat the minute he saw me. Mine did too, but for a different reason 😉 The truth is, I may have given this man my smile and warm heart, but he gave me an important life lesson I hope to goodness I will never forget. I guess I am losing my sense of peace, but thankfully the universe is putting these gemstones in my path to remind me life is so much more simple than what I’m making it out to be. 

Enough tears, enough feeling sorry for myself, enough thinking about what to do. Cienfuegos, here I come!! I will make sure to put 100 fires in that city and keep the light and life lessons it’s going to give me burning in my own heart!

All I hope for that big teddy bear of a man who stole a cheeky kiss on the lips when he said goodbye, is that he remains at peace whether he has opportunities or not. For that is the goal he has unknowingly set for me. 

I will stop babbling this evening and take the opportunity to watch the stars as we sail to Cienfuegos. For they are twinkling extra bright this evening and it’s giving me a recharged, fresh and hopeful energy!