The news in September 2017 was so disturbing because not only that it was hurricane season in Cuba but a storm called Irma rushed through the island. Reports of the damage glued me to the TV screens for hours. The monster storm was tearing off roofs, wrecking the power grid, and damaging crops for a couple of days on the island, leaving Cuba in need of assistance.
More than 10 people were killed, some of those beautiful old facades in Havana collapsed, and towns are left with no electricity or drinking water. Such a loss for this vibrant island!
Irma is long gone now and I am happy that Cubans found a way once again to pull through harsh times. I stumbled upon videos from Havana where people were dancing in the street surrounded by floods. Don’t you just admire the attitude? It’s like they found the will to celebrate life once again, even in such conditions. It makes me so humble.
These tragic events made me think of my trip to Cuba and made me remember all those wonderful things I saw and the friendly people I encountered. I was also pleased that I was able to share the experience in this special blog series.
It reminded me that I also traveled during the hurricane season in Cuba, even though I was lucky enough not to witness anything close to Irma. Nowadays the story even seems funny, having in mind that it ended well. So, this is my homage to Cuba after Irma, sharing a few more photos of wonderful sites around the country.
And here is the story.
Hurricane season in Cuba
So, my plan was to go around the whole country when I visited. The southmost part was not that close to Varadero (which is in the far north) but I wanted to dedicate a few days to island exploring. I already visited the central part of the island, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Santa Clara, went to Havana a few times, had a few days left and I was eager to see if it was possible to go to Santiago de Cuba.
The weather was strange those days with a lot of humidity. It was raining from time to time, but still hot (just as it usually is in August). So, that night I planned to stay in and go through the guidebook I bought in Havana. My TV was on and I found an English-speaking channel to see the forecast.
And I didn’t move for the whole hour!
A hurricane, really?!
“The latest news”, the voice said: “Cuba is hit by a hurricane.”
Excuse me?! The hurricane, the real one? Coming from central Europe, the only hurricane I have seen thus far was the one in Hollywood movies. And it always seems devastating, the worst it can get.
Come again, the real hurricane?!
“Half of million Cubans were evacuated from the east part of the island”, it said again.
It was one of those US news channels that you think the world will end right then and there after seeing their reports. And I didn’t have any alternatives, didn’t understand Spanish. So, I was glued to the screen for the most part of the night and couldn’t believe I was hearing about hurricane season in Cuba.
Reports said the name of the hurricane was Ernesto. It did a lot of damage to the Dominican Republic and it now came to Cuba. There was footage of crushed houses and ripped-out trees.
“Will the Katrina disaster happen again, the one that took more than 1,200 lives…”
What?! Katrina? For those of you who don’t remember, it was a tragic category 5 hurricane that hit the US in August 2005 and we all watched for a long time how devastating it was and how hard it was for people to go back to their lives afterward. I did somewhat understand the panic on the news channel. After all, it was hurricane season in Cuba.
“Call the embassy”
I didn’t sleep very well that night. After having coffee in the lobby, it seemed like a lot of people were leaving the hotel. “Can it be…”, I thought, “could it be related to Ernesto?” I went back to my room and saw the news. “500.000 people left their homes in Cuba, hoping that Ernesto would weaken…”
I turned off the TV, it’s better to go to the beach. “I’ll probably forget about it.”
The weather was nice, it was around 28 degrees Celsius. I kept staring at those clouds. “I don’t know why I do that. I don’t even know how that hurricane leech forms”, it crossed my mind. But I was still staring.
And it seemed that people were a bit nervous and leaving the beach.
Okay, so I decided not to leave the hotel that day, to follow the reports and see what will happen with Ernesto. I remembered a lady with whom I have booked the trip to Cuba back in Serbia, saying that “there is no need to be worried, but the hurricane season has begun”. (The hurricane season in Cuba lasts from June to November, with the highest possibility for hurricanes in September and October.)
She even gave me the phone number to the Serbian embassy in Havana but in Mexico City as well – “just in case”.
“Why Mexico City?” I asked.
“Well, you never know,” she said.
What did she think, that I would swim to Mexico if Cuba was hit by a hurricane, across the whole gulf! And then I might find the phone booth coming out of the water and just call the embassy. Well, why not just swim back home instead, right?
Another night went by. I didn’t sleep much. I hesitated in the lobby since I am not a person that panics that easily. Besides, I’m a journalist (even though in print media), so I know how things are done in these situations and why those TV reports are so disturbing.
But a lot of people were still leaving, I was looking at them pulling their suitcases. Cubans who worked at the hotel were casual and calm as always.
“Oh, who cares, just go there and ask!” I said to myself.
So, I went up to the Cuban lady at the counter.
“Why are all those people leaving?”
“Their holiday is over.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the hurricane?”
“Oh, no, it’s fine, it’s still too weak.” (“Too weak and half of million people were evacuated?” I wanted to ask, but kept quiet.)
After a ton of questions, she explained that there is a regular evacuation plan in case of a hurricane and that all the guests would be transferred to Havana.
I thought about it for a minute and then said: “Okay, thank you for the info. May I just please ask one more thing? I understand that women and children, families come first. But could you just be so kind not to forget about me, since I am here alone?”
She smiled, and I smiled back, blushing a bit.
This was the second day I spent at the hotel. I had two more days left before going back home. There was no way to go to Santiago one way or another… I went to the room and turned the TV on again.
“Ernesto just got reduced to a tropical storm, it got weakened while on the Cuban soil” the voice stated.
“You know what?” I said out loud, turned off the TV, and rushed out to the beach. I didn’t want to think about hurricane season in Cuba, not for another second.
I had a blast for those last few days, having mojitos by the pool, going to the beach party I was invited to by some guys from Spain, swimming as much as I could, and trying to learn a few rumba steps. I didn’t take another look at the TV screen and just danced away my last hours in Cuba, this wonderfully vibrant country.
Cheers to you, Ernesto, and farewell!
The full Cuba SERIES