Cuba, Part 12
Our motorbikes did playful and sharp figure eights as the endless fields moved past us. We pegged our speedometers, as we rode into the hot, Cuban sun and between the towering limestone cliffs.
A feeling of absolute freedom surrounded us--riding the scooters thru the Cuban countryside--hundreds of miles from Havana. To say we were in the middle of nowhere was an understatement!
There were no cars passing us, no people, no buildings, no stores. There was no worrying about bills, or dental visits, or cameras on top of stoplights, or drinking in public. There was no "keeping up with the Joneses" because all the "Joneses" helped each others' families build the houses where they all lived and raised their children. Besides, all the Joneses had the exact same stuff.
Everything seemed simple and healthy. That wasn't the whole truth, of course, (not by a longshot), but that's the way it seemed that day. On this particular road, nothing was overtly different from, say, many pastoral settings in the United States, but somehow we seemed very far away indeed.
I turned my wrist and slowed my bike down in front of a farm with a huge plot of land and a dilapidated shed of corrugated aluminum, and Danielle followed suit.
I put the bike on its kick-stand, removed my helmet, and surveyed the land around us.
Danielle put her bike on the other side of the rode and hopped off.
"Why are we stopping?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. I just wanted to take everything in for a minute. JESUS CHRIST we're in CUBA!"
Danielle laughed. It never got old.
"Yeah, it still seems pretty crazy, actually!" she admitted.
It did feel crazy. My first trip out of the U.S. I had never been to Canada, even, and my very first trip I break the law just by going there. I don't know if it was the thrill of getting away with something, or if it was just being on a great trip of any kind, or maybe Cuba really was just that exciting. But a feeling of invincibility pervaded at the moment. I had the feeling that the entire world was my oyster and that this was the very beginning...that something significant in my life was taking place...that feeling you get when you have butterflies in your stomach, but there is no discernible reason for it. You can just feel that something is happening where you will be forever changed.
The sound of buzzing insects was all around us, and now that we were stopped, we became targets. Far off in the distance I could hear a tractor, but I could hear no traffic on our road, whatsoever. We had passed three cars the entire time. I could feel the beginnings of a potentially serious sunburn now that we were still.
"We are gonna be BURNED when we get back," I said.
"Yep. Did you bring any suntan lotion?"
"Sorry. I forgot. Damn it!"
"It's alright. I don't think it will be that bad."
I hoped she was right.
"Alright, let's hop back on," I suggested.
"Let's do it!" Danielle said.
We sped off as fast as we could go, completely forgetting about the previous houseguest who had flipped over his bike and lost a couple of teeth in the process, and had to immediately fly back to the States. I did have the momentary thought that if one of the bikes broke down, it was going to be a looooooong night, but luckily they were well-maintained.
Eventually, we turned around and headed back to town, and a strange lull overcame the both of us. We were no longer yelling back and forth while driving, nor pointing to things in the distance. I was completely inside my head about something on the way back. The dull buzz of the motor, the trees swishing by, and the warm weather, all had a hypnotizing effect. Occasionally, I would look over at Danielle and she seemed to be having a similar experience. I wondered what she was thinking about before returning to my own train of thoughts which carried us both back to the motorbike vendor under the large canvas umbrella.
We stood the bikes up near him, and he approached us with a smile.
"How was it?"
"It was fantastic," I relayed truthfully.
"Yes, it really was," Danielle agreed happily.
She was a little pink, as I looked at her face and shoulders more closely. She had a burn on her face except where her eyeglasses were. It didn't look terribly bad, tho. The back of my own shoulders were smarting a bit.
"Good, good!" the vendor exclaimed. "Well, it will come to thirty for the bikes." he reminded us.
I opened up my backpack, where my store of cash was and got thirty dollars. To my surprise, I noted that there was exactly thirty dollars in the little pocket, but I didn't see any other bills. I wasn't overly worried...I just figured I'd put the rest of the money in the other pouch of my backpack and handed the man his thirty dollars.
"Thanks a lot," I said, and we were off...headed back toward the guesthouse.
"Wait..." I said to Danielle, "...let's go to that park bench over there. I want to check something."
"OK," Danielle agreed.
We sat at the bench in a nice, empty plaza and I began rummaging thru all the pockets of my backpack. I was zipping and unzipping tons of zippers looking for the rest of our money.
"Is everything OK?" Danielle asked, slightly worried.
"I can't find our money," I said, still moving my hands frantically around each pocket.
I stopped what I was doing for a moment and my mind started retracing all my recent steps. I thought about when we stopped with our bikes in the middle of the road. But I hadn't even opened my backpack, then. I thought about when we were back at the guesthouse. Had I put the money in a pair of shoes or something, and forgotten that I'd hid it? No. I'd taken the passports and the money as I had done the whole trip.
Now a really sick feeling was forming in the pit of my stomach and in a fit of frustration I opened all the zippers on the backpack and shook it upside down, repeatedly, as hard as I could so that all the contents would fall out.
A bunch of items came out, including my Lonely Planet guide, but no cash.
"Oh my God," Danielle exclaimed realizing the gravity of the discovery.
The tone of her voice sent a shiver down my spine, so I tried to console her.
"Now wait a minute....just wait a minute....don't panic yet. I might have left it at the house. It's going to be alright. Seriously, don't start worrying yet."
"Jesus, what are we going to do if it's gone!"
"Let's cross that bridge when we come to it." I said.
"OK," she agreed, calming slightly.
I put the contents back in the bag and verified for the third time, that the cash was indeed gone. As I went to place the Lonely Planet guidebook back in the bag, I flipped thru all the pages, while holding it upside down by its spine, and a twenty dollar bill fell out and fluttered to the ground!
I had forgotten about that one! I stashed an emergency twenty in the guidebook just in case when we'd left the house in Los Angeles.
Well at least we had twenty dollars.
But I was really worried. In fact, I was about two steps from a full-blown panic.
Just the cost of leaving the airport in Havana, alone, was thirty dollars, and we had six days left in Cuba!
My stomach started to feel upset and heavy, as we walked back to the guesthouse.
What would we say to our hosts? How would we eat? How would we get back to Havana? How would we come up with the airport exit fee? How would we explain that we didn't have any money, when our hair and faces looked exactly like we'd been on expensive motorbikes for the last four hours?
Jesus, we were in trouble if there was no money back at the house. And with that thought my stomach started to rumble with hunger...
TO BE CONTINUED....