I knew the ready beforehand images—pictured palm trees, mojitos, time capsule Detroit cars, fortresses or Deco buildings flaking in the Caribbean salt breeze, salsa cigars rum and Fidel—I knew those shards were fanciful, maybe past half false, but I tolerated them in me just so as not to have a blank. We find enough to ground all of that in a few hours in Havana, we’ll spend more in that lovely city when we return at the other end of our pedal across the island, then too in a day in Santiago including a New Year’s Eve’s raised chiming ice filled glasses to a five stroke clave celebration.
But it’s in the subsequent thick experience of movement and days, in the backroads dust and the chest pressing heat, in the hundred laughter cheek kiss embrace conversations we have, it’s there that the void gets filled, making me ride grinning at how close it was but hidden in my own vision by decades of politics, isolations, missile crisis boat lift, Miami expats.
Ahead are hundreds of k’s of broken dirt back lanes between sugar cane fields, cow paths, stony clusterfuck hike-a-bikes, doses of wading and lifting sweat skin biting fly swatting. We’ll wild camp and set up our tents on people’s porches and in their yards and on ball fields, we’ll play dominos in the shade on a 90 degree January day, drink rum with campesinos, drink water offered to us from ice filled gas cans strapped to harvest equipment. We’ll roll into still air towns to ask around after the uncertain possibility of a plate of Moros y Cristianos con yucca.
But Cuba fades as a place instead into a timbre of the emotions of everyone around us, their lucid joy, their global outlook in the knowledge that they’ve gone a different path to have less difference between one another. Their generosity to us, taking us in and taking time, telling stories not as declarations but as invitations, nodding when they see us and calling out in friendship, Cubans tell us that they’re poor, then they say, so they’re in it together. They say that their tranquility, their strength comes from knowing that no one is better than anyone else but they’re all Cuban. Yes, there’s a fractal history there, but when we’re sitting in the shade, feet kicked up, looking out onto the pineapple fields and we’re nodding together, the complexity fuses into something indelible and whole, self aware humanity shared.