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Trip 21 -- Cuba

Part 3: The sum of its patterns

Mr. Price, my seventh-grade Spanish teacher, would have us copy down "notas culturales" to give us insight into lives in Spanish-speaking countries. For Chile's capital, we were taught that "It is often called Santiago de Chile to distinguish it from the Cuban city of the same name." That came to mind during my time in the east. Santiago gets its "de Cuba" excessively, in conversation and on the destination signs of buses, lest anyone consider trying to go overland from the island to the bottom of South America.

Enramadas, the pedestrian street, stretches for 14 blocks from the port in the west to the Plaza de Marte in the east. José's house, where I landed late at night, was toward the eastern end. I walked to the plaza and had a dinner of pork stuffed with ham and cheese on a balcony.

On the way back was a swanky-looking bar, St. Pauli. I paid the $5 cover and was relieved that they accepted a passport picture on my phone as identification; I had left valuables at José's. I asked for a negroni and received a $2.75 gin and tonic. The ordering system was confusing, involving the writing of drink names in duplicate on slips of paper given to me at the entrance.

There was a snare drum in the middle of the floor, and once in a while a staff member would come out and play along with the club music. Seats were reserved, so I stood with others and watched people dance.

I wasn't feeling it, so I told the person scribbling the orders that I wanted to pay, but she said I was good to go. The $5 cover charge included a $5 drink credit, she explained. Might as well have another one, then.

In the morning I learned that the snare drum might be the only live music I would hear in Santiago. All official musical events were suspended, so there would be no Casa de la Trova, no Coro Madrigalista, no concert at the Sala de Conciertos Dolores, nothing at the Casa de las Tradiciones, none of the venues for which I had planned three nights in the city.

I walked east 20 minutes to the leafy Reparto Vista Alegre in the hope that the usual Sunday rumba might take place at Casa del Caribe. Others showed up, too, only to have their ritual foiled. So I joined in a different Sunday tradition, drinking on a patio along Avenida Manduley. I stuck with fresh lemonade while Cubans around me polished off beers. A music video of "We Are the World" played. My neighbor made a valiant effort at singing it, but he knew only the vowels, not the consonants. I helped him out. After about 32 choruses, the song faded out, and I felt let down.

A particular tavern looked good for dinner. I found the drinks area first, and I asked a group where to go to eat. "Come, I'll show you," one said.

"It's OK, I can find it." It was to the right and up the stairs. But he was already leading me.

He brought me to a table and sat down when I did. If he wants to eat that's fine, I thought, but I'm not paying for him. I wondered how long I could hold myself to that.

Then someone walked in whom I recognized from Baracoa. She had danced every night at the Casa de la Trova, and I'd assumed she was Cuban. But she'd also been on my bus to Santiago, and I'd learned she was French. She was with her Cuban friend. I invited them to join us.

She introduced herself as Mimi; she had abandoned her hard-to-pronounce French name in Cuba. Her friend was Andy, a dark-skinned Cuban. My new "friend" was George, a lighter-skinned guy around 30 in a baseball cap.

George had eaten. I went up to a counter with Andy and Mimi. They ordered, and I asked for a menu. The prices seemed high, around $10. I requested the roast pork with rice, about as basic-Cuban as it gets, plus a draft beer.

"If it's possible," George said, "could you buy me a beer?" That was all right, as drinks were bound to be inexpensive. A buck fifty.

The puny portion arrived. I ate it quickly, and Mimi and Andy were still having theirs when I was brought my bill: $14. That's $10 for the food, and two beers, and...maybe they added on service as some places do.

"How much is it?" George asked. But I had already given them a twenty.

The staff brought my change, and Mimi noticed. "How much did you pay?" she asked.

"Fourteen CUCs" -- convertible pesos, one to one with the dollar.

"No!" she said. "You were robbed. They should have charged you in national pesos."

"Give me one CUC," George said, "and I'll show you that a beer should cost only six national pesos." But I didn't trust him with my money.

Sure enough, Mimi and Andy were charged about 60 national pesos ($2.40) each for their food and drinks. My mistake had been in asking for a menu. Mimi and Andy had asked for "a meal." By looking at the menu, I'd marked myself a tourist and committed to the higher prices.

"Always talk to me first," George said. "I asked, 'How much is it?' And you were quiet." He and Mimi raised a fuss, and they got me my money back.

"What do you want to do now?" he asked.

I was waiting for Mimi and Andy, but it seemed they wanted to be on their own. "Let's go down and have one drink. I'm ready to get out of here." I didn't mind buying George one more. He'd just helped save me $12 on dinner.

We went back to the lower tavern. The bartender looked to have not moved from that spot for about 60 years. "Do you want to meet girls?" George said.

"Oh, I don't know--" But they were already there, Yaimé, dressed in orange, and Eliani, in black. Yaimé was by far the more talkative.

"Shall we get a bottle of rum?" George asked. "Six CUCs." The bartender couldn't change my twenty, so George walked me to a cafeteria across the way. The clerk made the change.

"If it's possible," George said, "could you buy me cigarettes?" Sixty cents a pack. I could have said no, but this was all inexpensive and I had good company. I didn't have much money on me anyway, so how far could it go?

More importantly, George found me music. On another side of the square, we went upstairs, our $6 bottle of rum still in hand, and caught part of a set that had been the end of a salsa lesson for a large tour group. The music here was fast and furious. Nine players: trumpet, claves, guiro, cowbell, drums, two singers, and two guitars.

I would have loved to isolate each instrument and see how they all fit together musically and mathematically. This whole was so much more than the sum of its patterns, with various syncopations, accents, and surprises. To see all that charted on paper would have clarified things immensely. I wondered how much of it was ever written out.

Yaimé attempted to show me how to dance to it. "Two steps left, then two steps right," she said. George cheered me on. That's as far as I got.

They decided they wanted something a little less traditionally Cuban. "Let's go to St. Pauli," Yaimé suggested. That was fine with me, since I knew the drill and could be in my bed in two minutes. We walked the short way to St. Pauli and gave the remains of our rum to the bouncers at the entrance.

Conveniently, they wouldn't let me in with shorts on. I could go back, change, leave my phone, and take just a photocopy of my passport, and then I really couldn't spend too much or lose anything of value.

"Do you want me to come with you?" George asked.

"No, I'll be back in five minutes." I didn't want them to know where I was staying, but that plan was soon thwarted because José, my host, was the bartender at St. Pauli that night. It took me a moment to recognize him; I'd only seen him shirtless in the house.

I didn't mind splurging the $50 on a table, knowing we'd get that back in credits and someone else could deal with those strange ordering slips. It was a small price to be with a fun group. I said to José, "I'm thinking about security. These people I'm with -- are they OK?"

"George is fine. I don't know the others." A couple of George's other buddies had joined us.

There was no snare drum that night. We ran out the credit on drinks and pizza, and I walked back to the house, feeling reasonably responsible, only slightly buzzed, and happy to have provided an enjoyable time for several people in Santiago de Cuba for less than the cost of a typical night out in Manhattan de Nueva York for one.

Santiago's main square, Parque Céspedes, was the scene of extreme juxtapositions. The neat cathedral contained placid paintings, an organ with pipes sticking out, and a chart of the electrical panel. The cathedral's clock chimed the time while the ugly red LED sign above the national bank displayed it digitally, perhaps the most out-of-place thing in Cuba. In the shadows of a 16th-century residence and the white city hall next door, people checked their e-mail, changing benches as necessary to catch the shade.

I stood on the cathedral's balcony, overlooking the park, next to a group doing calisthenics and practicing washing their hands in the air. Below me a woman had fallen on the street, unconscious. Several people dragged her to the side. An impromptu band played mockingly joyous music in the background. Someone summoned a taxi to take her to the hospital: a pink Chevrolet from the '50s, sputtering into place as shiny new motorcycles zoomed by with their unconscionably obnoxious horns. The taxi left; someone would stay with her instead.

The aforementioned residence, a beautiful building of latticed wood and white stone, was built in 1515 and is now a museum. I was alone on the upper floor. The rooms were refreshingly free of caption and light, enabling me to wander as if I'd stumbled upon the place years after its abandonment and encountered it with its original giant cabinets, centuries-old inkwells, handsome oil portraits, spectacular angled ceilings, and four-poster bed.

On the ground floor, in contrast, I was led around by a woman who spoke so softly that I could barely make out that I was walking on the original marble floor and that this thing was from France and that thing was from Spain. Several times she questioned my reluctance to take a picture, trying to trick me into paying the $5 photography fee.

A few blocks away, the Museo Emilio Bacardí Moreau was part art museum and part history museum. The eldest son of the rum maven, Bacardí fought for independence and became Santiago's mayor. The art was upstairs, and it encompassed Cuban painting and sculpture from the past two centuries plus a collection provided by the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

In the Prado pieces, I was struck by a sculpture of Aristotle by Donato Mora of 19th-century Spain. The bald thinker was seated, wrapped in a sheet, with a wrinkled forehead and clasped hands. He seemed to be disapprovingly pensive, as if saying to the world, "Look what you've done." Then, in the next room, the Cuban painter Gerardo González Ramírez's 1936 "Estudio de mujer" was the study of an aged woman in an elegant blue dress, sitting with her legs crossed and her left palm up, with stark eyebrows and a weary gaze.

The room was full of portraits, and they all seemed to be staring at me, the only visitor. A hundred eyes were focused on my solitary presence, blaming me for the state of the planet today. The collective genius of all those artists seemed to say, "You all had to rush through life, and now it's crashing down on you. Good luck."

There were just a couple of smilers, including a tender meeting of a couple in a florist's shop while a girl smirks off to the side. This was by Juan Emilio Hernández Giro, who also painted national events. But after this uptick, it was back to paintings of worn-out musicians in a park; a sullen violinist; and a pair of sad kids leaning on each other, having retired their guitar and accordion.

On the ground floor, I was taken through Cuban history, starting with Taíno artifacts and moving on to the Spanish conquest; the mesh iron glove worn in battle must have been particularly uncomfortable. Then it was on to gruesome slave-trade instruments, personal effects used in the war against the Spanish -- formidable rifles, pocketwatches, books, and commmunications equipment -- and a mummy that Emilio Bacardí brought from Egypt.

The train between Havana and Santiago runs in each direction once every four days. The agent in Camagüey had suggested I see about tickets five hours before my desired train's departure, but I went in the afternoon the day earlier. The ticket office was full; there was a separate window outside for the waiting list. The agent wrote my name and passport number into the bible-sized ledger and gave me a tiny piece of cardboard on which she wrote the train number (2), the train's date (March 17), the time I was due to report to the station (noon), and my position on the waiting list: 450.

Near my homestay was a tiny restaurant called El Tren with awkward seating. The doors opened inward and blocked any view of the outside from the front tables. Apart from a poster with a couple locomotives and the Eiffel Tower, there didn't seem to be anything relevant to a train, but I ate there to try to augur some luck riding one.

As I left, I asked, "Why is it called 'The Train'?"

The server laughed. "It's because of a song that the owner likes called 'El Tren.' He's a singer and he likes to sing it. It's by Los Van Van."

I had heard about this modern-salsa band in Baracoa. I had stepped into the Casa de la Cultura to catch a show but merely interrupted a back-room rehearsal. Near the front, though, was a painter in a studio. We talked about music and he played me some of his favorite songs. He wrote suggested groups' names on a piece of the kind of perforated paper used in old dot-matrix printers. One of them, written in huge letters and underlined, was "Van Van." Next to it he wrote "Bueno."

After dinner I had one last walk down Enramadas to the Parque Céspedes. It was hard to tire of this walk, sitting in the park or just standing and enjoying the old-style signage. It was also hard to ward off people for whom the act of enjoying one's surroundings was an invitation to exhausting conversation. It always started with "Where you from?" or "Where you going?" or, in Havana, "Can you tell me the time?" Its purpose was always to make a sale or offer a taxi ride. Hustlers on Enramadas could be particularly persistent.

"Where you from?"

"Over there," I'd say, gesturing behind.

"Where you going?"

"Over there," I'd say, waving my arms in front of me.

"What do you want?"

"I want you to stop asking me questions."

I arrived at the train station at a quarter to noon. It was cloudy and therefore not too hot to be waiting outside. There did not seem to be 450 people there, more like 150. Many had numbers that were much higher than mine. Someone next to me had number 788. I caught glimpses of just a few numbers below 450. Maybe I had a chance after all.

"When are you going to call the waiting list?" people started yelling, once noon had passed.

"Just give us a few minutes!"

A man with a soft voice came out around 12:15. We had to listen closely to hear him. First he said there were 95 tickets available. Then he began calling numbers in increments of five. Only he started with the 600s. I'd been hovering since I'd arrived. Had I missed my chance?

"What's going on?" I asked someone next to me, showing him my number.

"That's the second round."

The announcer got to the 700s and the 800s. I realized that people with those numbers had slips dated March 13. They were finishing the previous train's waiting list! They would start over at a thousand. I wasn't 450th at all; I was 850th. The last number called was 970.

People with tickets would check in at two o'clock for the train leaving at five. At three they would continue with the waiting list in case anyone no-showed, but the odds of there being 480 no-shows was almost zero.

The Viazul bus office was next door. I considered the possibilities. I could take the overnight bus to Havana and spend my last three nights there, but with so little music going on, and with Havana's museums having done little to impress, I didn't need so much time there.

There was a train from Bayamo to Havana the next day. I could take the bus for two hours to Bayamo, a much smaller city where getting on a train might be easier. At the very least, I'd see a city that my Rough Guide called "one of the most peaceful towns in Cuba," with "near-zero levels of hassle" on the pedestrianized streets. That was my kind of town.

I arrived at 5:30 and walked up the long car-free General García. It was full of kids playing. It had benches, restaurants, brightly painted murals, and electric poles masked by sculptures of giant paint cans. It ended in Bayamo's Parque Céspedes, which, unlike Santiago's, was also closed to traffic. Cuba's national anthem was written by a Bayamo native, and its sheet music was etched into a giant plaque. Behind it, a neon green digital clock was somewhat less intrusive than Santiago's, and it weirdly blanked each digit momentarily when it changed.

It took a few tries to find a place to stay, but I scored well: For $25 I had my own apartment, an airy yellow one with a terrace and a refrigerator whose door sported fruit magnets. Davis and Roberto lived next door and could get in through the back if they needed to. "If you need anything, just yell, 'Davis!'" she said. Before she retreated to her own place we rehearsed getting in, since it involved two keys and a hard-to-reach padlock. I had dinner at La Filarmónica, a tribute to a 19th-century cultural society in Bayamo that had included theatre, poetry, chess, and culinary advances, but the music as I dined was overproduced Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I showed up at Bayamo's train station 15 minutes before opening time. Outside was a bustle of horse carts and bicycle taxis. By now I knew how to join a queue in Cuba by yelling, "Quién es el último?" The last person to have joined raised her hand. Shortly thereafter someone else shouted the same question, and I raised mine. The crowd may look like a disorganized mob, but everyone knows their position in line.

At 8:30 a young, no-nonsense man came out and rattled off instructions. His Spanish was too fast for me, but it went approximately like this: "There are a lot of you out here and no tickets available on today's train. Some of you might want to buy a ticket for another train, but because there's a train today, we aren't selling tickets for other trains. The waiting list will be called at three-forty. If you're not already on the waiting list, you're out of luck. If you still want to come inside, you'll have to stomp your feet on the mat that I just doused with hyperchloride and spray your hands with it. There are fifteen seats inside. That means only fifteen of you will be allowed in at a time. If you come in, don't talk to each other. Only talk to the person at the ticket window. But since there are no tickets, don't talk to her either. Now, who still wants to come in?"

Fifteen of us did, and we took our place in order along the seats going around the room. Whenever the next person got up to go to the ticket window, everyone else would slide over one seat. I figured I'd see if somehow I'd missed something, but no luck: There were 200 people on the waiting list and no seats set aside for foreigners. I walked over to Viazul and secured a ticket on the midnight bus to Havana.

Bayamo has five museums. The provincial museum was inexplicably closed, the wax museum didn't interest me, and my Rough Guide emphatically recommended against the museum outlining the events connected to a rebel attack on army barracks in 1953. The archaeology museum seemed interesting but after paying the $1 I realized I could have seen most of the exhibit from the street. It included some fishbone necklaces and other effects of the indigenous people who existed before the Spanish invasion; these were less advanced than the Taíno, who had developed terraced agriculture. There was a wood-sculpted diorama of indigenous people by a Bayamo native that included aborigines in daily activities such as canoeing and cultivating, plus a couple of sadder depictions: a hanging and a native tied to a post in front of a priest.

Back on the Parque Céspedes, the house-museum dedicated to revolutionary fighter Carlos Manuel de Céspedes himself was the best museum in Bayamo, with some of his possessions such as fine dishware and furniture. The building was one of the few colonial buildings to remain after the fire of 1869, in which the revolutionaries, having enjoyed a brief freedom victory, burned their city down rather than submit to the impending Spanish army.

It was impossible to buy bottled water in Bayamo. Markets kept sending me to each other; the Agua y Jabón store had thousands of containers of cleaner but no water. A mean fast-food place had no water but had soft drinks and overpriced liters of juice, which I would have happily bought except the staff required me to consume the lot on the premises. I realized that I had an apartment to myself, so I went back and boiled my own water. It tasted like the pot I cooked it in, but it was fine for drinking.

Bayamo gives way to nature as soon as you hit the outskirts. Behind a softball field with kids playing, a grassy area was strewn with trash. I walked uphill to the closest thing Bayamo has to a Malecón, overlooking a river where a rancher was grazing his cattle. This was a popular place for lovers to show affection for each other, be they teens or dogs. A few blocks away, I descended to a park, with kiddie rides and food shacks that were all closed. A trombonist and a French-horn player were practicing scales on one of the benches. I took the path across the river and had a peaceful walk through the forest, where trash goes to be burned.

For my last meal in Bayamo I dined at the rustic Mesón La Cuchipapa, with its kitschy decor of farm implements and varied menu. I started with ajiaco, a hearty soup of pork and root vegetables, and then had goat in wine sauce, accompanied by a cocktail of sambumbia, a mixture of aguardiente (crude pre-refined rum), honey, and sugarcane. I was invited to extract the cane juice myself at the restaurant's entrance by turning the large wheel while my waiter fed the stalks into the press. A group of tourists saw the action and soon I was distracted by steady lights on their phones as they contrived to video my performance; I paused the cranking until they turned the intrusive flashes off.

I still had a couple of hours before my bus to Havana, so I went to the bar La Esquina across the way. The bartender took great pride in the decades he had put into his craft. I ordered a fresh lemonade, and every step was artfully calculated: lime juice, sugar, muddle, seltzer, swish, more sugar, muddle, more seltzer, swish, add a slice of lime and a sprig of mint. When I had a second, I asked for less sugar, there having been four heaping spoonfuls in the first.

I showed up for the bus an hour early as required, but it hadn't even left Santiago. We got under way after 2 a.m. I slept through the night and the morning. We pulled into Havana at 4 p.m., three hours late. I walked the 20 minutes to Casa Novo, where I'd stayed two weeks earlier. Luckily they had a spare room, though there were plenty of options.

Near sunset, I walked along the Malecón eastward toward the old fort. I gazed at the sea, away from the traffic, enjoying the peace and breeze.

Someone came up behind me. "Taxi?"

This interruption was one too many. "Why would you possibly think I want a taxi?" I yelled. "Seriously, what is wrong with you people? What would make you think that someone standing and staring out toward the water and enjoying the scenery could possibly be looking for a taxi? It's ridiculous." There may have been one more gerund before "ridiculous."

He muttered something and shuffled away.

But my questions weren't rhetorical. I really would like to know how someone having a sound mind could see a person struck with awe at the beauty of the ocean, facing in the exact opposite direction to the road, obviously content and with no desire to move, and think, "I bet he wants to overpay to get somewhere quick!"

As the last light faded away I walked up a few flights of steps to Nazdarovye, a Russian restaurant with propaganda posters overlooking the Malecón. I enjoyed stuffed cabbage and chicken Kiev, although they were oversalted.

Havana's museums continued to run the gamut of quality. At the Museum of Playing Cards, the window was open but they were closed because of the coronavirus; I could still make out some impressive stick-figure specimens. At the Hotel Ambos Mundos, I walked up a few steep flights to the preserved room where Hemingway stayed for ten years. For my efforts I was told that they had raised the entrance fee to $5 from the $2 stated in my 2019 Rough Guide. They might have gotten $3 out of me, but more would have put me too close to needing to exchange more money on my last day. At least I got to ride the original cage elevator down.

The best museum I visited in Havana was the Casa de África. After a history of the slave trade on the ground floor, I went upstairs for an introduction to Afro-Cuban religions, including a secret men's society involving conical frilly hats. Then there was a fascinating collection of African musical instruments, such as a giant aerophone gourd that responds to the wind and a Malagasy rattle made out of a cow's jawbone. There were also giant ritual masks and, up another flight, art and sculpture.

In the afternoon I walked out to Vedado, the newer area of town, with its bare-concrete Plaza de la Revolución backed by giant steel stencils of Che Guevara and the revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos. Vedado had its leafy patches and appealing restaurants but also long blocks and wide avenues with swift traffic.

I spent a horrifying 45 minutes at the main branch of the national ice-cream chain, Coppelia. I figured out who was "último" in the line of about 25. There was little shade, but we weren't allowed to wait on the shaded grass, which had already been damaged by cigarette butts.

Every few minutes an employee would yell "Cuatro personas!" and the next four would rush in. People sat together according to when they arrived. This summons came every five minutes or so, but at one point there was a gap of over ten. It was a half-hour before I was able to proceed.

The three people with me went directly to a table; I paused briefly at the posted menu. A "mixed salad," five scoops of various flavors for 7.5 national pesos -- that's what I would have. Scoops in Cuba were small, so five wasn't excessive. Many people ordered two servings at a time.

I'd lost my group of four. There were only about ten tables -- no wonder getting in took so long. I sat and was directed to go upstairs to pay first, which confused me, as no one else had been given that instruction. I realized that upstairs was the separate section for people intending to pay in convertible pesos, with a shorter line but more expensive.

I ran back downstairs. Miss Cuatro Personas tried to force me back up.

"No, I'm paying in national money!" I said.

"Then you have to wait in that line," she said, pointing to where I'd just been standing for an eternity in the heat.

"I did. I was with...those people." I found my group after all.

"Was he with you?" she asked them. They confirmed.

I sat back down and ordered a mixed salad. I asked what flavors were available but the waitress didn't tell me; she just brought back a bowl of five pre-plated scoops that were all different.

"What flavors are they?"

"Mixed," she said, and she walked away. The mango was good. The coffee wasn't my preference.

I gave another waitress a ten-peso note and waited for change. One peso came back, and eventually another. "Ya?" she asked.

"Cincuenta centavos," I said. I wasn't leaving without the other 50 cents.

Finally I got the proper amount. Partly I insisted on every centavo because they had treated me so poorly; partly it was because by now I knew that the bus fare to the airport was not one peso but only 40 centavos and this way I would have the exact change.

"This place sucks," I shouted to Miss Cuatro Personas in English as I hied myself out of there.

Across from Casa Novo was a restaurant called Michifú that had huge drapes and a candlelit piano. I figured I'd splurge and take time on the eve of my departure, knowing it would be my last meal out for weeks. It was more French than Cuban and cheaper than I expected. I had pork pate and rabbit a la provençale and eventually the pianist came in and played light jazz, accompanied by bongos. Opposite the bar was a large painting of a man gazing up at a woman crouched over a toilet, dressed in a bra and boots, looking into the distance. The background was red and at the top was a globe sporting a hammer and sickle. The bill was brought in a tin that said, "Keep calm; you only live once."

After dinner I followed my ear into a little bar with an eight-person modern-salsa band. It featured a trumpet, a trombone, and a violin, and notably half the group were women. Apart from a few singers and the quartet I'd seen my first night in Cuba, those were the only female musicians I'd seen.

My final morning in Havana, I took one more walk along the Malecón. Havana has especially bright mornings, and the Capitol Building gleamed. The Caribbean seemed to ripple inward and outward at the same time. By the fort was a lone fisherman and his bicycle. Along came one jogger. In one of the dozen rectangular tubs, a man washed his clothes, accompanied by his dog. Handsome city when it cooperates, I thought, as I walked back toward the Casa Novo.

"Taxi, señor?"

Almost made it.

As I packed, I found 15 CUCs in a shirt pocket, an effect of nights out without my wallet. I'd done a dry run the day before, so I knew where to pick up sandwiches and pastries with my last national pesos before getting on the P12 bus to the airport. I kept a few coins to get me into the city the next time.

My boarding pass indicated that I was 24th to check in for JetBlue's flight to New York, and based on the empty seats, maybe the last. The plane from JFK had only eight passengers. I'm grateful that they ran the flight at all.

On arrival, immigration was a breeze; the only question was whether I'd been anywhere else in the previous two weeks. Three of us waited for the Q10 bus, giving each other space as deemed prudent for virus containment. With more people, I might have yelled, "Último?" and we could have tracked each other without queuing.

Cuba stated it would not close its borders due to the coronavirus. Anything can change, but the country needs tourism. When things return to normal, Cuba should continue to be directly accessible from the USA, and OFAC -- the government department overseeing visits, presumably standing for Old-Fashioned Asinine Conservatism -- will have other things to worry about. So I'll emphasize that Cuba is easy to reach, allowable, and worth the effort.

Just don't expect to take a train, and watch out for wild nights in Baracoa.

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