Cuba's A Crowd

Expectation; the act or state of looking forward or anticipating.

I’d imagined being greeted by a group of young, upbeat travellers excited to experience a place renowned for its anachronistic politics, its managed poverty and its thrusting, fluid hips. I’d anticipated days spent exploring uniquely decayed historical sites and nights roaming narrow laneways, dancing the samba while drinking Cuba Libra’s at the Buena Vista Social Club.

My expectations were somewhat tempered however when I met my touring companions. I was about to embark on a two week trip through Cuba, travelling all the way from Havana in the north to Baracoa in the south, with a busload of men and women almost three times my age. There was not a backpack in sight amongst the Louis Vuitton suitcases and walking canes packed neatly in the luggage compartment.

Initially I tried to be optimistic – the ‘joie de vivre’ that they obviously brought to such an excursion at their advanced years meant they would surely have some interesting tales to tell. It was likely we’d get along famously and later become pen pals, forever sharing our life’s adventures.

Optimism, as it turned out, was the last thing I needed. By day 14 what I needed was vodka – and lots of it. I’d been to hell and back and barely survived.

Reality; resemblance to what is real.

It is a most intriguing paradox – why well-travelled people who choose, through their own free will, to experience a distinctly intriguing country like Cuba are disappointed to discover that things there are indeed, different.

“Don’t you just think this coffee is awful, Angela? Honestly, it’s not at all like what we get at home, is it Angela? I’m not sure I can even drink this, can you Angela?”

Christine was carrying on again because she couldn’t get what she wanted. Unlike in Australia there was no decaf, no banana bread and certainly no pensioner discounts.

Meanwhile Rod, with his bulbous nose and sweaty palms, was busy filming a young woman’s buttocks, moaning as he slowly panned up and down her body.

“I just think, if you can get good coffee in Australia you should be able to get it here too! Don’t you think so Angela?”

“Of course”, replied Angela. “It’s not even table service. And can you believe they expect us to pay five pesos to use the bathroom!”

While Rod was bragging about being picked up by a prostitute the night before, I quickly calculated that it would cost us each approximately AU$2 a day to urinate. In a country where people could barely afford soap I couldn’t comprehend why it was such a big deal.

“I’ve actually got a video of her if you want to see it”, Rod continued.

It was time for me to take a walk. I went and stood silently outside the cafe, wondering what I’d done to deserve this kind of punishment. Then I saw Rod zooming in on my breasts.

“Don’t worry you’re a little young for me”, he yelled out, like that made it okay.

I was on my way over to confiscate his camera when I was railroaded by Christine’s piercing voice.

“Let’s go to that little farm Hoji mentioned earlier. Everyone loves lettuce! Don’t you love lettuce Angela?”

But then Bill didn’t want to walk anywhere and Sandra wanted a bottle of water but only if it was included in the cost and Angela in fact, didn’t like lettuce at all.

I rolled my eyes back so dramatically I think I got a glimpse of my brain.

It was only day three.

Manage expectations; seek to prevent disappointment by establishing in advance what can realistically be achieved or delivered by a project, undertaking, course of action, etc.

By day four, I had taken to rising at sunrise, slinking out the back of the hotel and finding breakfast at whichever street vendor was enterprising enough to be awake at such an hour. I would return just in time to load my bags onto the bus, feign a migraine or toothache, acute appendicitis if truly desperate and pretended to sleep until we reached our next destination.

By day seven, I was openly hostile – sarcastic to the point of rudeness, and savage in my disdain of everything they did and every word they spoke.

When day 14 finally arrived I was overjoyed – I could finally escape. Until I remembered I’d booked a tour in Costa Rica too...

K Lowndes

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