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Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Bombshell! My whole trip shifted on its axis, again, in Trinidad when I got, without exaggeration, the shock of my life.

Landing at Port of Spain one morning at 7am, I had to get a taxi into town (no buses on a Sunday – tsk) and was dropped in Independence Square. As I began walking I was approached by a friendly fellow called Marcus who offered to help me find or do anything at all. I normally brush off hustlers but he was pleasant enough and asked me lots of questions as we walked to my chosen hotel. Once inside I had a nice lie down.

An hour later I was preparing to shave when I heard my name called from the corridor. I opened the door expecting to see the manager only to be confronted by the last thing I would ever have expected – my Dad, Peter, standing there just as if he’d been with me the whole time. The scene was so improbable that I thought someone had places a life-sized cardboard cut out of him in the corridor for a joke. When I finally believed my eyes I ran forward to embrace him, fully overcome with emotion. I couldn’t speak for minutes, rendered mute in total happiness.

A few years ago I played an evil trick on my sister. I was living in South Africa when her 30th birthday came around and I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years. She booked a weekend in New York and I flew back to England to meet her at the airport. It being close to Christmas I was even more sneaky – I donned a Santa Claus outfit and as she came through arrivals to greet the rest of the family I approached like a beggar and proffered my hat. She politely refused but I persisted and only on my 3rd pass did she twig who was behind the long, white beard. Then she cracked, held me and sobbed for several minutes. At the time I was bemused at this outpouring of emotion, but now I understand it completely.

So when I had recovered, I had questions:

Wasn’t he still sick? I knew he couldn’t possibly have had surgery and recovered already, we’d already calculated that to be impossible. Apparently his UK doctor had set a date for the operation and fixed him up to be much more comfortable, and now he can move about almost normally.

What initiated the return? About a week ago, from Georgetown, I’d sent him an email update and casually joked that if the whole episode had been a hoax to escape the hard bus journeys across Venezuela and Guyana, he could come back now. I also happened to mention that I was flying to Trinidad in Sunday morning. This seed of information germinated into an idea and a couple of days later he was booking flights without a word to anyone. What a guy! And as he said: “I came to keep you company – that’s my job!”

So, how the hell did he find me? He arrived last night and stayed near the airport, and this morning came to town determined to find Port-of-Spain’s cheapest hotel, for that was where he knew to find me. That wasn’t necessary however, for as soon as he arrived he was approached by a friendly fellow. “What are you looking for?” asked Marcus, for it was he. “My son,” replied Peter. “And what is his name?” “Dan” “Dan? Studied Chemical Engineering? Cricket Fan? I know where he is staying, follow me,” smiled Marcus. My Dad was flabbergasted. A hole-in-one in a city of 50,000. And that was how he came to be in my tight embrace one Sunday morning in the West Indies.

It was as though he’d never left. We went and found him a cafe latte, talked about the price of gold and when I asked him what he wanted to do he replied, “Whatever you want to do. You’re the captain”.

And so we fixed our path to Cuba and booked all our flights. Deciding what islands to include and exclude was a painful process, as was striking a balance between a good number of stops and enough time at each. The final route was largely determined by the scarcity of flights into Cuba and the LIAT airline schedule. I’d already discounted Barbados (too expensive) and I was then forced to ditch Haiti, the most interesting country en route, and Dominca – hiking paradise. Our finished itinerary was this:

Trinidad (2 nights) – Grenada (2 nights) – St. Vincent & the Grenadines (the only country of which I’d never heard prior to my research, 3 nights) – St. Lucia (2 nights) – Antigua (2 nights) – Dominican Republic (1 night) – Cuba.

Thank God the old goat was with me - the price of hotel rooms would have crippled me otherwise. Our visits coincided with the launch night of St. Vincent’s carnival and the St. Lucia Jazz festival, and we just missed Sailing Week on Antigua. As fun as island hopping was, the countries did seem to blend together in a confusion of beaches, music, forested hills, ferries and fried chicken. I achieved some of my goals but others had to be cut loose due to the tight timeframe. All in all, I’m very glad to finally be in Cubes with little left to plan or fret over. I’m just gonna relax into the arms of salsa, mojitos and 50s paraphernalia. Plus, it’s my birthday! Feliz cumpleaños a mi!

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