Cuban Harlistas 2014 Rally & Family Tales

We left off last time with me anxiously awaiting the arrival of a container ship from Panama carrying 13 motorcycles bound for our Harlistas Cubanos 2014 event in Varadero from February 6-10. The ship was late leaving Panama on Jan. 23 and the first ETA we were given was for January 31st. As that date approached, it was then adjusted to Feb. 3. But the stars and the moon and all the spirits were with us this time. The ship arrived in the Havana port at 21:00 on Feb. 3rd, they began unloading it at 23:00 and by 16:00 on Feb. 4th all the bikes were sitting in the parking lot of the Panama biker group’s hotel with everything lined up for their temporary license plates & registration with the motor vehicles office just down the street the next morning. Record time, according to the port officials. So we didn’t have to resort to my worst case scenario of me having to stay back and continue to get the paperwork completed while Abel, the main organizer of the international encounter, went to Varadero without me on the back of his bike once again (last year’s riding to the gathering on the back of the Blue Streak was disappointingly out for me due to a back injury). This year´s encounter included participants from Cuba, Panama, Norway, Germany, Holland, Denmark, and Canada. The number of foreign bikes registered for the encounter almost matched the number of bikes from Cuba, a first.

The Panama group is the first we’ve hosted on their own bikes from South America. They told us that there was a lot of talk in their part of the world that if you sent your bike to Cuba you’d never see it again. Which made us laugh, because of course it’s not true. They’re certain their numbers will grow significantly for next year now that the temporary importation/re-exportation process has been thoroughly proven. Actually, we’re not quite yet out of the woods, and that’s the funny part. After the event was over, on Feb. 10 everyone drove to the port and packed up all the bikes in the shipping container once again, and we even optimistically hoped that we could move forward their original shipping return date from Feb. 28 to Feb. 14. Mid-week we spent a frantic morning on the phone because there was a question about the Dangerous Goods Certificate, which was originally issued in Panama, but a copy of which hadn’t been received here. After much calling back & forth, the go-ahead was given from Panama and payment of the certificate on the other end was guaranteed. The container was going to be loaded on the ship. Pshew, wipe your brow and take a breath. But in the end it turns out that the container wasn’t loaded after all because the customs agency on this end hadn’t delivered the Declaration of Merchandise to the container port in time, so everything’s now in place to depart as originally planned the end of the month. I’ll take that.

Yesterday the organizer of the Panama group called us to check on the status of the paperwork and return shipment of the bikes and Abel reassured him that everything was set for departure sometime at the end of February/beginning of March. Tranquilo, no hay problema ninguno. He’s on top of this. After he got off the phone I got a mischievous gleam in my eye and I told him he should have told the organizer, “Yeah, right. And you REALLY thought it was going to be that easy? Of COURSE the importation part’s a breeze, but you SERIOUSLY thought we were going to just send all those modern bikes back to Panama just like that?!?!?!?”. Abel cracked up and started expanding on that idea, saying he should tell him that “Your bikes have already been distributed all around Cuba. That 2014 Harley Fat Boy that was making so much noise all the time? That’s already rolling the streets of Santiago de Cuba!!!”. Hahahahahahahahahaha It would be great to catch his reaction to THAT on a hidden camera. Which got us thinking that hidden camera pranks might be another great thing to do over the next year with some of our motorcycle friends here in Cuba. You’ll have to stay tuned for that and see what happens.

My parents who haven’t lived together in more than 20 years (but neither of whom has remarried) arrived in Havana last night after missing their Sunday flight through Toronto due to yet more snow in eastern Canada. The new route took them through Montreal and Toronto with an overnight before arriving in Havana. They’d shared a hotel room the night before. So 1.5 hours after touching down in Havana they were finally through immigration, luggage claim and customs. Hello, hello, kiss, kiss. And then they’re both at it. Dad complaining about Mom not being able to be left alone or she’d get lost. Mom complaining that Dad’s deaf and Dad saying, “What?” with a snicker. Probably pretending to be deaf so she’d stop rambling. Mom trying to scam $300 out of Dad. He says she already spent it all. Them bickering about the hefty $10 tip she gave to the guy inside the airport for getting Dad a wheelchair so he didn’t have to walk anymore, bringing her a pop and assisting with her luggage. Dad saying she’s upsetting the economic balance. Mom telling him to blow it out his ear. With 3 flights in 2 long days, Dad’s knees/feet were a bit swollen but hopefully in a couple of days he’ll be back to normal. He’s off to the city tagging along with Abel who’s running errands this afternoon, a wonderful climate adjustment and change in scenery. Mom’s staying with my brother’s family basking in being Grammy. And not sleeping in the same room with Dad.

We’ve made a couple of videos this season too. Getting with the social media scene. The first one we produced is of our bicycle tours of Cuba, and most recently one of the Harlistas Cubanos 2014 event which should be finished tomorrow. Once we have the finished product, getting the videos uploaded is a monumental task from Cuba since our dial-up internet connection won’t support a 100 MB upload. So our heartfelt thanks to the clients who so graciously provide the assist in forwarding those DVD’s back to our PEI office. It takes a lot longer, and is a lot more circuitous, but eventually it gets done. It was recently announced that they’re going to make internet connections available via cell phones here. But I’ve heard through the grapevine that the rates are apparently going to be in the $0.05/KB range when the service is finally activated. Ouch! Something like the unattainable car prices here. Somebody also told me there was talk about giving existing internet users triple the time for the same monthly fee. For me, that’d be welcome compensation because on windy (like today) or rainy days my connection runs between slow and stopped most of the time. But I imagine this is just wishful thinking as I dutifully paid my extra hours last month. To connect from my home office, I pay for 80 hours/month which is the maximum package you can buy and even though I have credit in my account, when the monthly allotment runs out I have to make a personal trip to the local telephone office to request the extra time. Stop work, go to office, wait in line, sign letter, go back home. Call office to make sure account is reactivated asap. For those of you who live in the wifi/hyperconnected world, welcome to 1990. There’s been no official notification of free extra hours even though I regularly let them know that my home phone line and internet connection truly suck. They know that though, I suspect.

Signing off and getting back to work. I wonder how long it’s going to take to upload this post.

Dad’s Cuban Walking Adventures

“Not all those who wander are lost”. J.R.R. Tolkien. My father takes that to a whole new level. My earliest recollection of him getting lost was while I was still a preschooler. He was walking in the back woods on my grandfather’s 100-acre woodlot in Prince Edward Island all day long. My mother was so worried that she called the police to start a search for him when he hadn’t returned by nightfall. Eventually he found his way out of the woods, by following a railroad if memory serves me right.

My father had a heart attack about a decade ago and took the recommendations to change his diet and exercise habits very seriously. Rain or snow, he faithfully took brisk morning walks every day, most days for 90 minutes or more. Going on vacation to visit my and my brother’s family in Cuba did not alter his walking routine in the least.

For almost the first half of our marriage my husband and I lived in the house he built above his great uncle’s home in Barrio Obrero, San Miguel del Padron, which is anything but a tourist municipality. In fact some sections of San Miguel are downright rough. Our home was only a few kilometers to Old Havana though, and very close to the train tracks. One of Dad’s first narrow escapes was when he was walking back to our place from Old Havana one day. He doesn’t speak Spanish, doesn’t use a cell phone, carry a map (or even our street address) or a watch. All he would have been able to tell someone was “Barrio Obrero”, and for him that must have been enough. He figured he’d follow the train tracks back home and he’d be able to find our place, no problem. Maybe it escaped his logic that the trains actually run frequently in Cuba because he was about halfway across a rather long rail bridge when he realized there was a train coming straight for him and there was nowhere else to go but backwards. His walk turned very quickly into an unexpected run, while the conductor of the train was having a great laugh watching him scramble. Sunburned and quite tired, he eventually wandered back home from what would be the first of his walking scrapes in Cuba.

The next time he got lost was on his international departure day. We should have known better than to let him out of the house to walk on such an important day, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. We dropped him off in the city in the morning and let him walk back home. Thinking he was taking a shortcut, he took the ¨anillo del puerto¨ (ring around the port), the road that goes all around the Havana Bay . But instead of taking what would have been the closest route (first exit) to Via Blanca he walked all the way to Regla and came out at the traffic lights at Via Blanca, at least a couple of kilometers from our place. And instead of turning right (at this point  a compass might have come in really handy) and heading back to our place by way of Via Blanca (the main road), he kept going straight and unwittingly ended up exploring most of Guanabacoa as well. By this point my husband and stepson had each taken off in their respective cars to begin searching for him. Right in the nick of time, without even 10 minutes to spare, he wandered up our street to be whisked off to the airport to fly back home. Pshew! Nothing like living on the edge.

About 6 years ago we built a new home and moved out of the city to a fairly rural area. Our house is on a hill adjacent to a military zone with 2 large radar towers. You can see them for miles around. A few years back Dad left the house just after 4 a.m. I know this because I´d left my cell phone on the counter for him to check the time when he left, and the last time was still displayed when I woke up several hours later. Two hours would usually be the max that he´d walk in the morning, so my husband and I were just a little worried that he hadn´t returned yet.  So we gave it about another ½ hour and then decided we’d better start checking around the village of Guanabo and went as far as the fishing port with no sign of him anywhere. We were really concerned but didn’t want to alert the authorities yet. He had left the house with no personal identification whatsoever, not such a big deal in Charlottetown PEI, but a big no-no in Cuba. We drove home again and asked the neighbors if they’d seen him, but no such luck. So we left again to try looking in another direction but shortly thereafter the neighbors called us to advise that he’d finally shown up. Once again, he thought he’d take one of his famous shortcuts to get back home. It was still dark out though, so his orientation was all off. He ended up walking through field after field and came out quite a distance south of our place in Campo Florido. All the neighbors had a good laugh at that episode and have never let him forget it.

Dad’s had a rough year health-wise but with a recent pacemaker operation is feeling more energetic than ever. He arrived in Cuba earlier this month and almost immediately began to take brief therapeutic morning walks. On his first day, my husband reminded him to take i.d. and I told him not to be climbing any hills. After only about 10 or 15 minutes my husband was having a cow and took off to look for him in his car. He found him at the bottom of the very steep hill by our place and drove him back home. After that he gradually increased his morning walking time and the other day he had breakfast at 08:30, but by 10:30 had not yet returned. I was starting to get worried as I walked to the back patio to speak to my husband, and on the way back there I heart a train whistle blow, something I’ve never heard in all the years I’ve been living in Mirador de Marbella. The first thing that crossed my mind was “Crap, Dad’s on the train tracks again”. About 10 minutes passed and my husband called out for me, saying that the police had arrived and were parked out front with several other officials. My heart immediately sunk, thinking there’d been an accident. I ran as fast as I could only to see my father being assisted out of the back seat of the police car.

He says he reached the top of the hill and decided to return home but was a little disoriented on how to get to our street coming from the other direction. He knew that we lived close to the radar towers so when he was close to them and could see the water to the north, he saw a horse & cart pull into a dirt road behind the radar towers and he followed it, thinking there’d be another road from there that would take him north to our street. Little did he know that he’d unwittingly wandered in the back way to the military zone. Apparently the gate was down because personnel were constantly going in and out that morning. As he got deeper into the military zone the officials were saying “Alto” (Halt), but of course he didn’t understand and he continued on his merry way until he was escorted off the property by the local police and immigration officials who had been contacted by the military to remove him. He’s darned lucky he doesn’t look dangerous or things could have gone in a whole different direction. Because my Dad traveled here on his U.S. passport, we had to accompany him down to the police station and we were there for several hours while they assembled their interrogation team of military, police, immigration and counter-intelligence to investigate what happened and find out more about his background. I really don’t think they considered him a threat at any time; in fact they were most accommodating and did their best to make him comfortable while they completed routine procedures. Sometime after 2 p.m. we were all released and allowed to return home. As I was opening the gate I turned around and noticed for the first time what he was wearing. You see, my Dad is so modest that he only brought 2 t-shirts, 1 shirt, 2 pairs of pants and 2 pairs of shorts for a 7-week stay in Cuba. And thankfully at least a week’s supply of boxers. But I had been complaining the night before to my brother that I was doing laundry more frequently than usual. He hauled out an old Obama shirt that he’d grown out of and gave it to my father for a spare. Wouldn’t you know that was the shirt he was wearing when he got caught in the Cuban military zone?! Of all the days NOT to wear his Canada shirt.

La Bandida

My brother Danny and his lovely Cuban wife Mirley have been blessed with three healthy daughters, two of which are in school already. They have been dividing their time between Cuba and Canada since they were born and the first two are fully bilingual. Their baby sister Amanda is almost 2 ½ yrs old now and has been slow to talk, but I’m told that she’s now starting to spout quite a few words, although she was reluctant to speak in English (unlike her older sisters) for awhile. My sister in law left the girls with my brother recently since she had to travel outside of Canada on a personal matter, and of course the family was all too willing to help out with childcare while she was gone. My sister Kelley was telling me that she invited the older sisters to her house for a sleepover. I asked her if the youngest sister, Amanda, was too scared to stay overnight, or was she just too young. I haven’t seen her since March and the last time I saw her in person she was still pretty quiet, a bit of a Mama’s girl. Much to my surprise Kelley said she’s turned into a hellion since then. She said she’s wild, you can’t reign in her energy. Her sisters call her “La Bandida” (the bandit). So she got to stay home with Grammie and Dad. I’m really looking forward to seeing my nieces this fall and am really grateful that our families have been able to seamlessly blend work, study, and life between Cuba and Canada. It’s a tremendous experience for these girls to be able to fully experience two cultures, two languages, two school systems, and two completely different sets of friends as they play, learn and grow up.