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Journey in an unknown culture.

CUBA | Sunday, 30 January 2011 | Views [574]


Staring at my watch that now felt sucked to my wrist from the heat, I realised I’d been sitting on the coach for just over an hour. The sweat on my back from the sticky sun combined with the fabric of the seats that had pleased the bottoms of tourists for a number of years was causing an irritable rash between my shoulders blades. My right arm, now lazily flopped to my side, ached from using a rolled up 1988 edition magazine as a homemade fan. Despite the looks and frustrated mumbles from the 8 or so passengers, who were positioned tactically around the bus, I began fiddling with the air conditioning system above my head in an attempt to steal so much as a breeze of cold air on my eyelids, as they began to close sleepily. Nothing.

Looking out the window, as a distraction from my discomfort, we stumbled into a suburban village.  I felt a twang of heart ache as a local man, aged by the sun, with his shirt unbuttoned, torn beige chinos rolled up to his knees to reveal his skeletal legs, was whistling happily through a toothless grin as he rummaged, almost fox-like, through a bin that stood regimented on the side of the road. Looking up only when the wall of the coach blocked the glow of the sun on his task, leaving only a rectangle of light across his eyes like a mask, he waved ecstatically at us. A new feeling of warmth washed over me and, like old friends who hadn’t talked in a while, I found myself waving back only for him to smile to himself and return to his errand.

As we chugged away, coughing black smoke into the air behind us, my eyes were determined to watch the nameless man right up until we turned the corner, when he was blocked out by the white washed buildings with wooden balconies and colourful clothes that danced rhythmically on the washing lines. Where the smell of cheap nightclub drink deals and last night’s 2am takeaway order once stung my nostrils, the sweet aroma of roasted bananas and rum that had been left to warm in the sun now fill their place. Locals on the pavement moved magically to native tunes, and as the women sashayed through the palm trees their husbands sat back happily sucking on their cigars, their eyes hidden through the clouds of smoke.

As my I-pod shuffled songs, a sudden blast of Queen woke me from my daze. I switched it off  instantly before looking once again through the glass that separated me from this other world. Driving Miss Daisy cars past us at polite speeds and their drivers, complete with open shirts and cut off shorts, smiled pleasantly as I reached for my camera. Capturing the hot Cuban sun reflecting off the shine of the rusting black bonnet caused me to shield my eyes, only to open them once we’d come to a stop, and there, just metres in front of me lay the crispest, clearest, greenest sea I ever would see. 

Tags: coach, cuba, heat, sand, the sea, travelling

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