Hola! I have returned! I have returned a different person from the one who left Boston on a blustery morning over a week ago. So much has transpired, so many tears (happy and sad), adventures, stories, laughs, memories, and so much horrible Spanish spoken by myself and my family that we owe the Cuban people an apology. Obviously my dad will have to translate, as he did one million times over, within a span of eight days. Muchisimas gracias papa!
In the two days since leaving Cuba, my head is swimming, my body feels bloated (I have what we now refer to as jamon ass!) but my heart is full. Next week I will have so much more to share but, since my brain is barely functioning on the four hours of sleep I had, I offer this as a teaser.
ONE: My dad went home
Obviously this was the reason we all wanted to travel to Cuba in the first place, and it did not disappoint! From the moment my dad met Anna, the woman who owned the house we were staying in, and started telling her his story (in Spanish of course) he was home. He spoke to everyone he could about his childhood, his memories and his love for his country.
With the help of our incredible driver Jesús we were able to locate my father’s elementary school, his childhood home, the home of his beloved nanny Hilda and the place of his father’s business. Jesús is now officially a part of our family, but we will get to him later.
The picture below was taken in front of my dad’s school, La Luz (The Light) in Havana, where it is still functioning and sadly, looks almost exactly as my dad remembers it. Pictured is my dad, me, my brother, my kids and my niece and nephew. What an incredible moment for our family!
With the help of Facebook and my SIL, we were able to locate 10 of my dad’s relatives still living in Cuba. Facebook, is there nothing you can’t do? Did I mention my love for the internet and social media has deepened since I was away from it for so long? #sorrynotsorry
Everyone in Cuba, when they are young or “little” are dubbed with an “ito” at the end of their name. My father was known as “Alito” meaning “little Alex,” which of course still applies in many ways. It was so endearing to hear his now 50+ year old cousins call him by that name and, in turn he would call them “Enriquito,” “Luisito,” etc. It was a reminder of who they were and how incredibly young they were, when they last saw one another. So many happy tears at the dinner we shared with 20 Cuban relatives!
It should also be noted that we waltzed into this place with no reservation, were greeted as if we were rock stars, fed until we couldn’t move and were bid farewell with kisses and hugs. The Cubans are very passionate, happy and fun people…obviously.
Nothing went according to plan when it came to the Havana Triathlon but I’m saving the full story, so I can be overly dramatic about the whole thing.
Let’s just say I was able to swim, run and bike while in Cuba.
This was the pre-race swim the day before the event…
Cubans do things very differently in triathlon than Americans, or Spaniards for that matter, and my race bib did not come with holes for my belt. Have no fear, Jesús went to our van taxi and reappeared with a scissor/knife to cut the holes to my bib. Gracis Jesús!
Since you don’t swim with your race bib on and, transition speed matters, most triathletes will just grab their bib belt and start running out of the bike transition and click it around their waist for the run portion. It’s highly technical.
THREE: Bathroom Appreciation
There is nothing like visiting a third world country to make you appreciate all the little, and not so little, things in America.
Although we had no problem getting toilet paper at our rental house, it was rare to find it in a public bathroom. You either had to bring your own (my SIL had three travel rolls in her bag at all times) or it was rationed out to you by an attendant. And, the one square they gave you was definitely not in proportion to the amount of soap and water you needed for your hands afterward, which was also very limited.
The sign below reads: “Aim for the middle or sit down!” And yes, every mother of boys is ordering this on Amazon right now.
P.S. There usually were no toilet seats so good luck with that second part… #quadworkout
FOUR: Cuban People
I cannot say enough about the people we met! Everyone was so friendly and, not just when we were with my dad and had a translator. They were genuinely interested in meeting new people, laughing at us trying to communicate (and at themselves trying to speak English!) and they are very proud of their country and heritage.
These ladies were extra friendly with my dad and husband in old Havana…
I never felt afraid or that my safety was in jeopardy at any time and my boys spoke to Cuban kids in the language of play, with zero issues and iPads, naturally.
My dad’s cousin’s sister’s son Johann (did you get all that?), is pictured below at the edge of the pool about to jump in with our kids. We asked my dad to translate the rules to “Marco Polo” for him but my dad laughed and said we had to tell him first! Of course no instruction was needed later when Johann was playing Minecraft on Vaughn’s iPad…
I absolutely love Cuban food…for about five days. Some of the chicken and meat we ate was absolutely magnificent but ordering Ropa Viejo (pulled pork) and Pollo (chicken) gets old quick. Tostones (fried bananas) are my favorite and they are delicious with oil and salt!
For breakfast, we had way more food than we could ever eat and had to tell the women who came in to cook to make less every day. Somehow, they just kept it coming. A typical breakfast included jamon (ham) and cheese sandwiches, fruita bomba (papaya), pineapple, ma mais juice, orange juice (the boys declared way better than American), eggs with more jamon (do you see where the jamon ass comes in?) and bread, yes more bread with butter.
I was not a fan of the “fruita bomba” which is papaya but my SIL read that papaya means the thing Trump likes to grab in Spanish so we tried to refrain from saying it. But not really.
Anna, our house host, introduced us to a chef friend of hers who worked at the restaurant down the street. He came to the house and gave my SIL and stepmom a cooking class (I was in and out because you know, cooking) but he prepared an incredible meal for all of us.
More about Enrique the chef later on too but he is a sneak peak…
Enrique teaching my stepmom, niece and SIL and my dad translating. Always translating.
The prepared feast…
And this is what the kids ate because they’re Americans between the ages of 5-8. That box of Fruit Loops cost $10 and had an 11% tax. And yes, we still bought it because that is the price you pay in Cuba to have your kids stop whining at breakfast.
That concludes the first portion of Allie’s life in Cuba! I hope you have enjoyed your stay. Please come back on Monday when the Rundown will be filled with beautiful disasters from race day!
Have a great weekend and don’t forget to appreciate your toilet paper.
[Tweet “5 favorite things from an #American in #Cuba! People, food, #racing and a homecoming.”]
What was your favorite of my favorites?
Do you have a favorite foreign/Cuban food?
What do you think your elementary school would look like in 50 years?