Our last day in Cuba is also our last full day on the cruise. Our excursion starts early – we are heading away from Havana and to the countryside to visit La Terrazas, which our hosts/tour guides describe as a program.
The journey is long, and this tour more than other is a bit heavy-handed with the propaganda.
In some cases, our guide is in earnest if misinformed. In other places I’m just not even sure if she believes it or just knows the party line.
So: small things. We pass a nondescript wall beside the road after a while and she tells us the the home of El Presidente is back there on those grounds, where only the family ever has access. So, she tells us, when your news shows you anything about the palace, that is not true.
Ok. Um. Our news never ever bothers with the Cuban president’s housing. I mean: EVER. It’s not even a thing.
Likewise there’s a point at which she refers to emigration of Cubans to the US.
Now, there are sort of three periods to this: the 60-70s when people fled for political reasons. The 80s when Cuba opened its prisons and Miami was severely if briefly flooded with refugee/criminals (think Scarface), and the 90s+ when the collapse of the Soviet Union meant big cuts in support and people started leaving for economic opportunities. Those of you who remember the boy will maybe know he came in this last period.
So anyway she mentions this and acknowledges that this middle period they sent us criminals and sort of awkward-apologizes that this really disrupted the US for a long time.
Nope. Not really. Regionally perhaps but nope.
The boy used to tell me this too. That growing up in Cuba they were always given the impression that Cuba looms large in the American psyche, and it shocked him to realize on arrival that Cuba, outside maybe of select community pockets, is not even a blip on most people’s radar.
And it’s unsettling to realize the average Cuban family has ration cards even today. Supplemented by what little additional goods they can afford as well.
Or the statement that a lot of the wealthy people at the time of the revolution just left the country and their property, so the government gave it to the people.
Or, you know, the government seized their property for “the people” to use, and that made the previous owners not-so-much interested in staying. Pot-ay-to, Pot-ah-to.
But all that set aside as old news – and who knows what Cuba’s future may hold? – La Terrazas is very interesting and quite lovely. One of the poorest rural communities was outreached and this community created. And it’s beautiful. Closed to outsiders other than to visit; this community is for those original families and their descendants.
As with all of Cuba, healthcare and education through college are free.
And Cuban doctors are very in demand in much of the world, particularly rural South America, they tell us. Which is beneficial to those communities and the families of the doctors.
But S and I have some sidebars on these items. If you can make a better living as a taxi driver than a doctor, or by leaving the country to practice, doesn’t that make more sense? Is it really demand from those places or departure for economic opportunity?
And they have free healthcare but severely limited access to meds and equipment.
Which sort of seems like a wash compared to our system, where we have all the equipment and meds you could want but they are not universally affordable.
Nothing works perfectly this side of heaven.
Still the place is very beautiful and these people who have benefited from the program quite reasonably appreciate it.
The day is full, and the people we meet are kind, and more than once we tell each other: It is easy to love the version of Cuba they want us to see.
We know it’s not the whole story. We see glimpses of a broader story around the corners.
But who has an easy simple story? Not them.
I suppose it’s all just whatever devil you’re used to dealing with.
We return to the ship with one last night with our ladies in the dining room. One last push to get ourselves packed up and our luggage out the door (this will take us several tries, in fact).
And then we have just disembarkation and a last day in Miami to look forward to.