Monday, July 30, 2012

The Love Bus

The drive from Camaguey to Havana is around 7 to 8 hours. Later, when were neck-deep in paperwork and bureaucracy and running back and forth to Havana constantly, my brother-in-law, our personal driver, would cut the drive down to 6 hours at top-speed. But back then, on our first trip, on the bus, it was a 12 hour trip.

I've taken rickety bus trips through the terraced fields of Southern China fearing for my life at every turn, I've taken the Greyhound all over Canada, once barely surviving a 4-day bus marathon from Montreal to Vancouver Island, I've traveled across the world on planes and trains and ferries and boats and even ended up sitting on a trucker's lap once as he let me, the deeply-stoned hitchhiker, steer his 18-wheeler down the highway towards Calgary. Some of these adventures were terrifying, some boring, some awe-inspiring...none of them came close to the pure bliss I felt curled up against Juan for 12 hours as we traveled halfway across Cuba.

See ya later striped building in Camaguey!!!
The air conditioning was too cold. I didn't care. The music too loud. I didn't care. I was hungry. I didn't care. All I cared about was the man in the seat next to me. We would take shifts, him sitting up with his arms around me, trying to make the small space as warm and comfortable as possible for me so that I could sleep. After an hour or two, I'd sit up and let him rest in my lap, softly rubbing his arms and back, twisting his frizzy hair up into funny shapes and then patting it back down. I'd catalogue every bit of him - here a small scar on his forehead, here the curve of his forearm, here the way his mouth opens slightly to push out breath while he sleeps, here the way he purses his lips to the left when he wants to kiss me, here the way he scrunches up the space under his nose to say 'Que?' (I did not yet know this was a mannerism shared by 11 million other Cubans). I wanted to memorize every part of him, build a sense memory of him that could either help me get through another separation from him or let me keep him with me as I moved on completely.

Yes, even in the midst of these simple, beautiful moments, I was still looking for a way out. I still believed that there was no future for us, that at the end of this trip I'd say goodbye and mean it. Every sweet word he said, every soft touch, every tender moment was tinged with both sadness and intensity....little memento moris peeking up behind everything whispering 'This will end this will end this will end'. I tried to block out their voices, enjoy the moment, not worry about the future but in every pause I'd hear a door slowly creaking shut.
'Alas poor Juan I knew him well'...picture it with orange hair and a sunburn and you've got me 
Around 3am, we pulled into a road-stop with a few fast-food type restaurants selling pizzas, ham and cheese sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs. As it was intended for Cubans they charged in national money (CUP), not the convertible pesos used by tourists (CUC). Juan told me to put away my money and walked off confidently to buy us each a hot dog and a pop with a dancing lime on the side. I was so proud as he reappeared back at my side with the food he'd purchased me. So happy to have our busmates see him paying for this meal. I didn't care that it was just a hot dog and a lukewarm sugary soda, it was him taking care of me, that was what mattered. To this day, it remains the best meal I've ever eaten.

As we finished our food and drinks the driver called out to those of us still lingering around outside the bus. We all hurried back on and found our seats. I don't know what the driver had eaten at that road-stop but his mood was just as good as mine as we drove off. He cranked the reggaeton music as loud as it would go and got on the loud-speaker. Juan interpreted for me but even without knowing Spanish I understood the gist of what he was saying...

'Hey sleepyheads, why aren't you drinking? Why aren't you dancing? We're on the road to Havana...let's have fun!!!'

I decided that bus-driver was right. I pushed my worries down as far as they could go, hugged Juan close and told him that I loved him. Sure everything in the world has to end at some point...but not on that bus and not on that night.


  1. Hi there,

    I have read your blog all at once. You have a nice sense of humor, besides you know how grab the attention of your readers. I have already bookmarked your side.
    I am Cuban, I do not live in Cuba anymore. In the past I have been busy with a blog about the same topic, but just from the Cuban point of view. The Blog does not exist anymore. Now I blog about "serious stuff", but my visits are not nearly as visited as it was.
    Reading your blog made me think to recover the old road and start to blog again about this topic.
    Again, about your story I have to say, you put so much feeling into the history and describe so well your love for that lucky pool boy that sometimes I felt envious of him.
    I wish you both the best of luck and happiness. And that your love last forever. No every one is that lucky

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment. I would love to read a blog from the Cuban perspective about moving abroad and know for a fact many other people would love to read it too. I hope you do some more blogging like that...and PLEASE send me the link when you do!

  2. I would like to contact you. Where can I do that? Do you have any e-mail? Thanks, Alan