So we find ourselves without a car on a dark silent night at Hotel La Union in Cienfuegos. Any happy bubbly buzz from the wine that was shared 5 ways dissipates. I wonder how far it is to walk, I wonder if it is safe, I wonder if we should just stay right here and hang out with these soft sofas and naked neoclassical statues.
Mom goes back into the hotel and (later tells me) asks them to call someone.
Maybe calls were made on phones, maybe calls were made from room to room and out windows because minutes later a glassy eyed guy wearing a fat trucker hat sideways shows up with a car that is part white and part green and apparently the doors on the passenger side don't work so the fact there is no Taxi sign or license is way down on our list of priorities.
Daniel and Iliana need a ride, we need ride, so Tita asks the driver to take them home and I get to see parts of downtown Cienfuegos I haven't seen, blocks on blocks of of pastel colored white frosted houses that mirror the French Quarter in New Orleans. Minutes later we stop in front of their doorway and we all exchange hugs and good wishes and yawns and off they go into their night.
After the two doctors (pretty much everyone I hang with in Cuba is a Cuban doctor or is the parent or child of one, I haven't mentioned that, please ask me about that later) leave the car, Mom and I are left alone in the back seat.
All the windows are rolled down, allowing the salty October Caribbean breeze to fill the Eisenhower-era car.
Our driver goes too fast, stops for nothing.
I want to take pictures of the darkness, of the silence, of the complete peace for you, but it wasn't visible it was palpable.
Our driver with the crooked hat and missing teeth spoke to us in slurred sentences, calling my mom TIA and calling me HERMA.
Herma??? short for hermana?? I liked it, I wasn't worried -- OK I was worried because a clearly intoxicated driver was carting us around on the other side of the Iron Curtain but at this point I was in a country with no seat belt laws and no 911, so what could I do but roll with it? I'm pretty sure that Mom was telling him where she grew up and stories like that but I was stuck on the thickness of the air and the stubborn silence that seemed to have fallen over this city.
Our driver turned the huge car here, then sharply there, then raced along that super straight road that dead ends at Palacio Valle. He won. When he pulled up under the Hotel Jagua awning, then Mom and I both slid out of the backseat on the drivers' side. We said our goodbyes and Mom asked what we owed him and he said $5 and normally I would think she gave him $20 but the dinner at the restaurant didn't have menus with prices and turned out to be freakishly expensive (remind me to review all of this on Yelp!) and we didn't have much more than $5 in cash left between us.
He takes the money happily and off he goes. I wish I'd taken a picture but then again we were exhausted. We walked across the empty lobby full of art and plants, off to the mirrored elevator which took us to the top floor and the room next to the room where Castro stayed. The balcony outside our front door overlooked Palacio Valle and a clear murmur of voices and light bubbled up from the building. I get the feeling we've missed out on something historically interesting by not going there at night.
The door to our room is still fat and swollen from humidity. We push and shove and BAM it opens. Minutes later Mom and I are in our separate flat hard communist beds, thankful for this time together.
She says we don't ever need to come back to Cuba and I agree. Never again. Nope. We don't completely mean this -- we are exhausted, things cost too much, and we miss having cars and internet.
I turn the TV because my mom sleeps with the TV on and because I want to preemptively drown out any banging and knocking on our hotel wall tonight. Shaquille O'Neal is being interviewed, and is discussing his PhD program. Fantastic.
I can't say exactly when I fell into a dreamless uneventful non-communist sleep but I do remember waking up soon after dawn and parting the curtains, looking to the sky and hoping to see a single plane in the sky.