Tag: travel

The Cuba Files: Fact, Fiction, and Politics

December 27th, Baggage Claim of the Havana Airport, Cuba:

Ric and I wait for my bag at an unlabeled carousel. It’s been at least thirty minutes since the plane landed, and announcements over the tinny speakers have been unhelpful at best. It’s not until I notice the Spirit-yellow “transfer” slip sandwiched between a bag and the carousel’s metal slat that we know we’re waiting in the right place. About ten minutes later, after the baggage handlers have presumably had 1-2 smoke breaks while completing the ~100 yard transfer from plane to baggage claim, my backpack finally arrives. Between the standard Spirit Airlines delay of 20m and this wait, it’s now over an hour after we are scheduled to land in Havana.

And yet, as soon as we walk out of the baggage claim area and into the swarm of friends and family, he is still waiting: José Ramón, the host of our AirBnb, he with whom I spoke relatively broken Spanish over the reservation’s built-in chat window, standing alongside his wife and with a sign reading “CHRISTIAN KEIL.” I’m very surprised that he showed up at all. We never confirmed that he would be there, nor a price for a trip; in the moment, we considered it a grand gesture of Cuban culture and hospitality that the host of our $37/night AirBnb would include transportation (and waiting for an hour to pick up us) gratis. Our host drove us in his late-50s Ford to the property in Havana’s northwest “Vedado” region, and our trip was off to an incredibly smooth start.

Two days later, we came back from a day of exploring Havana to a note from José Ramón: we should call him to confirm our check-out procedures, oh, and if we could leave the $25 for the cab ride from the airport, that would be perfect. That is Cuba, as I saw it. José Ramón was, overall, an incredibly gracious host. And the country was, overall, relatively tourist-friendly. But the whole country is just so wildly impoverished that there really isn’t another story to tell.

Compassion, and Sleeping in Cacti

As a consultant, I travel. Sometimes to eventful places – Austin, San Francisco, Boston – sometimes not. When work found me on a plane to St Louis in October of last year, I thought it would be more of the latter. And I was wrong. When race riots broke out in Ferguson (less than a five minute drive from my hotel), it became eventful, to say the least: every night, I’d see reports of continued rioting, non-stop looting, another person injured or killed, all because of the actions of one police officer in a town already brimming with racial tension.

The tensions in Ferguson have since calmed, but the underlying conflict is still very much alive, as seen by subsequent events in New York City and elsewhere. While still traveling to St. Louis, I was hit with a very well-timed Life Story from a Total Stranger, and it put my hardship (read: manually re-routing my morning commute, having to ignore Siri for once) in context, and after further reflection, might help us have compassion for those in times of hardship – racially-motivated or otherwise. This story is from Abdi, my Uber driver who was once a soldier in the Somalian Civil War.