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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 2: Morning in Nassau, Evening in Matanzas

After yesterday's stormy weather, today dawned bright and clear. Sunlight streamed in through the window of our two-star hotel, but Bill and I managed to sleep late, anyway. After showering, dressing and packing, I went out and took a walk to the beach I had visited, yesterday, stopping and taking pictures with my good camera instead of my cell phone.

Bill and I made it to the airport with time to spare and spent our time dining at a traditional Bahamian restaurant called Dunkin Donuts while we waited. The plane was scheduled to take off at 2:30, but the airline folks determined that everyone who was supposed to be on the plane had arrived, so they boarded us early and we took off into sunny skies.

The views were incredible, with the sea just as blue as advertised in all of the travel brochures and the sand sparkling white. As we flew west, I watched as the ocean floor dropped off steeply and the water took on the dark color that I usually associate with the sea. When the flight crew started serving snacks, Cuban rum was on offer too and many of us enjoyed our first authentic Cuba Libre courtesy of Cubana Air. Our arrival was uneventful and the good folks at Havanatur took good care of us to make sure that we knew where we were headed.

After exchanging our US dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs), we negotiated for a taxi to take us the 60 or so miles from José Martí airport. As the driver, Charlie, took us out to the taxi, Bill and I were surprised to see that the taxi was, in fact, a full-sized tour bus. Bill, Charlie and I got aboard and the three of us headed off across the Cuban countryside. As we chatted in Spanish (¡Muchas grácias, Sra. Giles, por enseñándome el Español en el collégio!) Charlie, who used to be a Cuban Air Force MIG pilot but has been driving tour busses for 45 years, pointed out many of the sights. We passed banana, mango and sugarcane plantations. We saw milk cows, horses and goats tethered by the roadside. We passed oil wells and gas flares as we drove along the coast, with large surf breaking impressively on the rocks.

Upon arrival at the Hotel, we had a very slow and unremarkable dinner, then headed out to the central square in Matanzas, where we joined a group of radio broadcasters who had gathered in Matanzas for their national convention. The evening's program featured several really impressive examples of local Matanzas talent, including a father-and-daughters violin ensemble, a local chorus that was among the best choral groups I've ever heard, a wondefully athletic dance troupe where the women picked the men up as easily as the men spun the women around.

After the gala program at the city center, we were taken to a 19th Century colonial home that now serves as one of the museums in Matanzas, where the Ministry of Culture threw a party for us, featuring the music of a local Rhumba band, more rum, and a rather pleasant buffet. We arrived back at the hotel a little after midnight and, with morning fast approaching, called it a night.

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