I recognize this place – it’s where we arrived three months ago. I ate at the same little plaza and watched the young muchachos riding their toy cars. Yes, I’ve closed the loop, gone full circle and circumnavigated the Caribbean Sea. I can’t believe it all went so smoothly and the best thing is that, for the first time ever after a full-sized trip, I have a job, flat and relationship waiting for me at home! All I have to do is remember how to prepare a meal, and I can assure you I won’t be cooking rice or fried chicken for a long time. Cuba was great – my favourite country of the trip. Of course we partook of all the essential experiences: old American cars; crumbling colonial architecture; mojitos; salsa & son with the locals. The biggest surprise was some incredible cavern diving which was certainly on a par with the cenotes of the Yucatan. There’s nothing like floating through a 50m deep canyon, illuminated only by a narrow shaft of sunlight shooting through the tiny entrance hole above. Nothing compares. My highlight of Cuba though was the lack of advertising – there is almost none whatsoever. The view in every direction remained free of the modern blight of billboards and hoardings, blocked only by the occasional mural praising Che or Fidel. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this. Ugly, manipulative messages have somehow been taken for granted by today's world as necessary. How ridiculous. I could rant for pages on this topic but suffice it to say that it was refreshing to enjoy Cuba, within and without the cities, free from giant, leering faces and their insincere hyperbole.
We were joined in our last week by Mucki, a good friend of mine from Austria. Mucki was one of the founding fathers of the non-warmduscher movement that formed in Nicaragua in 2001 (see history) and although I’ve seen him many times since then we’ve haven’t travelled together until now. I was looking forward to examining his nWD credentials after the passage of 12 years. Of course I had the advantage over him having been on the road for nearly 3 months, whereas he was technically only on holiday, but time had clearly softened the man. I remember him dragging us all around Granada searching for the cheapest bottle of rum in the city, even I was getting exasperated, and yet now he insisted on spending several times the minimum for a taste of Havana Club Añejo Reserva. Don’t get me wrong, Mucki isn’t a complete, full-blown, all-singing all-dancing warmduscher just yet, but he’s clearly feeling the inevitable pull of comfort and the ridiculousness of resisting it for no valid reason. A little older, a little more financially stable – it’s easy to let standards slip, to think “Dammit, why shouldn’t I have an entrée? I can afford it.” Therein lies the slippery slope. Before you know it you’re sitting in a bar on Gringo Alley buying $3 mojitos instead of sitting on the pavement outside with a $3 bottle of rum. These last 13 weeks of semi-warmduscher behavior have taken their toll on me: I have found it harder and harder to argue against the fancy restaurant or the taxi, my once-staunch resistance fading into a brief exhalation of resignation, content to blame the other party for leading me astray. At times I would think back to my trip through Africa, to spending hours asking the prices of every hotel and pension in town just to save a measly $1. Would I still do that, I wonder, if I could afford not to? Unburdened by warmduschers I would have no excuse. I want to remain true to my roots but I’m only getting older. There’s no disgrace in that, is there? I’ll just have to wait and see if I can still walk the talk. My Dad left a couple of days before me, back to the UK for his operation. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He snuck out before breakfast on the morning of his flight, explaining through Rosa, the landlady, that “He no light <sic> say goodbye”. Instead he sent me a short email: “I thought an unexpected departure was appropriate for the unexpected arrival,” he wrote, “Thanks for a great trip. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.” Me neither Dad. Me neither.