The news in September 2017 was so disturbing. Reports on the Irma hurricane rushing through Cuba glued me to the TV screen 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 have collapsed, towns are left with no electricity and drinking water. Such a loss for this vibrant island!
Irma is long gone now and I hope that Cuban people will find the way once again to go through these harsh times. I have stumbled upon videos from Havana where people dance in the street surrounded by floods. Don’t you just admire the attitude! It’s like they have 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, made me remember all those wonderful things I have seen and friendly people I have encountered, and made me feel pleased that I was able to share the experience in this special blog series. It reminded me that I have actually traveled to Cuba during the hurricane season, even though I was lucky enough not to witness anything close to Irma. Nowadays the story is even funny, having in mind that it ended well. This is my homage to Cuba after Irma, sharing few more photos of wonderful sites around the country, and hoping that life on the island will go back to normal soon!
And here’s the story.
So, my plan was to go around the whole island while I was in Cuba few years ago. It’s not that close to head to the most eastern part of the island from Varadero, but I was willing to try and put couple of days into the trip. Already visited the central part of the island, Trinidad and Santa Clara, went to Havana few times (read more about those places in previous Glimpses), had few days left and I was eager to see if it was possible to go to Santiago de Cuba.
The weather was strange with a lot of humidity, it was raining from time to time, but still hot (just as it usually is in August). Planned to stay in that evening and to go through the guide book I bought in Havana, left the TV on. Turned to English speaking channels to see the forecast.
And I didn’t move for another hour or so!
“The latest news”, the voice said: “Cuba is hit by the hurricane!” Excuse me?! The hurricane, really? Coming from Central Europe, the only hurricane I have seen was the one in Hollywood movies! And it’s always devastating there, 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 most part of the night. Reports said the name of the hurricane was Ernesto, it did a lot of damage to Dominican Republic and it now came to Cuba. There was a footage on crushed houses, ripped out trees… “Will the Katrina disaster happen again, the one that took more than 1,200 lives…”
What?! Katrina, really?! For those of you who don’t remember, it was one 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 afterwards. I did somewhat understand the panic on the news channel.
“Call the embassy”
Didn’t sleep very well that night. Went to the lobby for a coffee and it seemed like a lot of people were leaving the hotel. “Can it be…”, I thought, “could it be related to Ernesto”. Went back to my room, listened to more news. “500.000 people left their homes in Cuba, hoping that Ernesto would weaken…” Turned off the TV, it’s better to go to the beach, “I’ll probably forget about it”.
The weather was nice, around 28 degrees, but a bit cloudy. I kept staring at those clouds. “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, leaving the beach.
Okay, so I have decided not to leave the hotel that day, to follow the news reports and see what will happen with that Ernesto. I have remembered a lady with whom I have booked the trip back in Serbia, saying that “there is no need to be worried, but the hurricane season has begun”. (The season lasts from June to November, with the highest possibility for hurricanes in September and October.) She even gave me the phone number to Serbian embassy in Havana, but in Mexico City as well?!
“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 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. My eyes got a bit red. Hesitated in the lobby, since I am not the person that panics that easily. Besides, I’m a journalist (even though in print media), I know how things are done is these situations and why those TV reports are so disturbing. But a lot of people were leaving, I was looking at them pulling their suitcases out. Still, Cubans who worked at the hotel were casual, calm as always. “Oh, who cares, just go there and ask!”
So, I went up to a 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 a million people were evacuated?”, I wanted to ask, but kept quite instead.) After a ton of questions, she explained that there is the 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, I smiled back, blushed a bit.
This was the second day I was spending entirely 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… Went to the room, turned that TV on again.
“Ernesto just got reduced to tropical storm, it got weakened while on the Cuban soil”, the voice stated. “You know what?”, I said out loud, turned off that TV and rushed out to the beach!
Had a blast for those last few days, having mojitos by the pool, going to a beach party I was invited to by some crowd from Spain, swimming like crazy and trying to learn few rumba steps. Didn’t take another look at the TV screen! I have just danced away my last hours in Cuba, this wonderfully vibrant country.
Cheers to you, Ernesto, and farewell!
The full Cuba SERIES