I read Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's Dirty Havana Trilogy sometime in the late '90s. Shortly there after, I found myself wandering the streets of mystical island-country's capital, dancing through it's archipelagos to a soundtrack of Afro-Cuban jazz, sustaining myself on fried plantains, languishing on pristine beaches while seeking the ancient esoteric wisdom of the aboriginal Taíno culture.
I wandered Castro's dream, unknowing that it had emerged a model of modern permaculture. Only problem was my fantasy excursion to República de Cuba was playing out on the beaches of mind. My feet were still permanently planted on Manhattan concrete.
Some of my moneyed friends had been taking the trip regularly for a decade, though they were not forthcoming about exactly how they were getting there. Presumably they were departing from the Dominican Republic or some other less restrictive shores than these.
Now in Los Angeles, I saw the elusive 90-mile gap closing fast when Obama recently announced that he'd "cut loose the shackles of the past" and ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba some 50 years later.
Normalized travel with Cuba is almost within reach from the U.S. so now seems like the time to visit. In fact, things are looking better and better for Cuba. Even Russia is showing love to Cuba. Vladimir Putin recently approved a measure that writes off 90 percent of the more than $30 billion in Soviet-era debt Cuba owed Russia.
In some small ways things are looking better in a lot of places these days. The U.S. government is no longer denying the reality of climate change; which means I can get to Cuba before it sinks. Oddly, my goals seem to be aligned with the Republicans who want to sell grain to Cuba. Rumors that there are already Republican bills in process that will be introduced in the near future to normalize trade, and subsequently, help me travel from Los Angeles to Cuba direct. Legislation could pass quickly and the travel ban will vanish before Fidel's ashes are scattered over the Caribbean.
Optimistic, I decide to book my ticket now, but a preemptive call to the airlines puts me in contact with Shelly, a perky young woman at a call center in North Carolina, who seems confused by my request. "We don't fly from 'Merica to Cuba," she says, recommending that I book an expensive ticket to Mexico City and another to Cuba. Shelly recommends to fly business class, but after a little footwork, I discover that our less-lethal sister nation to the north, Canada, is happy to help me find my way to Havana for considerably less. Not as big on embargos as the empire due south, a helpful young woman named Erica connects me to a flight from Toronto to Varadero near Havana, and with that I'm cleared for take off.
I'm not suggesting that the wheels of democracy are going to move at light speed, but there are enough people who could profit financially from normalized trade with Cuba that fantasy could become policy relatively quickly. Regardless, my next post could be about lessons in permaculture and sustainability from Dirty Havana. Viva Fidel!