Cuba diaries: Last day

30th of January 2014

Woke up at 8, only 3 hours of sleep, went walking around with Sam to Vedado to give my final goodbye to Che and Camilo in plaza de la revolución. Then walked through the malecon towards Centro Habana. I love Cuba. Back in the hostel, I called Reinier who said he will come soon, took a shower, chitchatted with Juan the good-hearted dueño de la casa. Reinier came, it’s amazing how you can make a good friend in a place so far in a matter of few days. Human connections are weird.

I said goodbye to everyone, even Ipek who was mad at me for the past few days. I didn’t feel much, just a feeling of emptiness, no sadness (the first time I felt sad is now writing these words in the airport waiting for my flight). I went down with Rey, hugged him goodbye promising that we will meet again. One of few promises that I have no doubt I will keep.

Now am sitting at the airport, the feeling of emptiness is replaced with deep sadness and mixed thoughts. Thoughts that I really want to keep this “me” when I go back, this “me” though flourishes from being a foreigner, a stranger, it loves this challenge and lives for it. It is ironic that in my search for a home, I realized – some 30 years into my life – that my home, my comfort zone, is in being homeless.

I love Cuba. I love how it pushes your limit with its eccentricities, with its lack of logic, how it questions the rules of the world and does its thing in the way it likes regardless of what everyone thinks. Cuba is young, rebellious and beautiful in and out, and it is the least rigid land one can imagine, don’t let 60 years of apparent political stagnation fool you, the soul of salsa and rumba has no place for stagnation, a stagnant society would never be able to dance, laugh, do sports, arts, medicine and business in the way Cubans do.

A stagnant society is one where people lol on Facebook instead of laughing out Loud on the streets, and retweet about football instead of lively debating it in the middle of a Havana park. A stagnant society and system is one whose members waste the best years of their life chasing an elusive retirement house, be it in heaven .. or south of Spain.

Cuba though is young, rebellious and full of life.

to be continued

Cienfuegos 2 – Amet’s city

26th of January 2014
Cienfuegos, Cuba

I made it back to Cienfuegos again. I felt I needed to see the family from the Casa and my good friend Amet one last time before I leave. On the bus, it was unbelievable when I received a message from Amet asking where I was and if I will come to Cienfuegos again. He didn’t have a clue where I was but he sensed I might be somewhere around, he said.

I arrived in the early afternoon and headed directly from the bus station to the “Rastafari” gallery and over there I met Carlos who greeted me warmly introducing me as “our Sudanese friend”, we went looking for Amet at his home and on the malecon. Meanwhile he told me again about his project and how they finally secured a projector and it is now only about getting it from Norway to Cuba, he also told me how slow it was in the gallery, haven’t been able to sell anything all week. They depend totally on foreigners buying art and souvenirs to keep their gallery running. Carlos is one of those charismatic leaders types of figures, he has big dreams, very focused on his mission. He told me he stopped approaching tourists because they all assume he is just a “jinitero” and he doesn’t have energy nor does he feel the need to prove anything to anyone.

We finally found Amet, and we sat together on the malecon talking about all sort of stuff but mainly about women, his woman and mine and many more that passed by. I found out that on that other night in Trinidad, he wanted to spend the night at our Casa but the landlord refused. “He assumed I am just another black Cuban chasing tourists”. Amet offered me to spend the night at his place and I gladly accepted.

I – then – went to say goodbye to Yanetsy & WillianYanitsy and Willian, the owners of the Casa where I stayed the first time I came to Cienfuegos. When Willian saw me on the street, he came running after me from the other side and hugged me murmuring my name that is still proving difficult for him to pronounce. He went in and told Yanetsy that he has a surprise for her. She asked me whether I got her greetings for my birthday – which I didn’t – but she showed on her phone that she sent it and she didn’t forget about me. It feels like family with Yanetsy and Willian, and I am glad I came back to say goodbye to them. We spent a good hour or so and then I said goodbye promising I will come back again one day.

I went back to meet Amet at the malecon, he then took me to his place apologizing in advance about how messy his room was, which I said is expected from an artist. His room was cosy and beautiful in the same way all Cuba is, rough on the edges, messy but charming in its own special way. He has his graffiti wall where he scribbled everything from poems to Bob Marley lyrics to random names and phone numbers, then there is a PC with its internals out (like my old computer in Egypt), a big unassuming bed, a rusty fan and a clothes hanger. We talked all night about everything from the girl he loves, the girls I loved, Sudan, Cuba, arts, gods, religion, ambitions …

Amet has a true pure artist soul. Artists in poor countries like Sudan or Cuba are just a pure act of cruelty from the gods. He has a very open philosophy and look on life, he told me about how racist and judging Cuban girls are, even black girls, and how that the first time he was told he is beautiful, was by a French girl. “Only then did I discover my beauty”, he said.

Amet and me have many characteristics in common, a contradictory personality in many ways, on one side, extremely open, on the other side very shy. And both sides manifest themselves in extreme ways that people can easily miss the other side. “It is my constant battle to combat my shyness” says Amet, but anyone who sees him on the dance floor can easily miss this shyness, the same way that someone who sees me poking random strangers into random conversations in Cuba, can’t imagine me sitting in front of a computer coding for 9 hours without socializing with anyone. We have multiple faces like most people, but I could recognize his multiple faces because they were familiar to me. We are both tormented in different ways and for no apparent reasons, but as our common good friend Betty once said “it is better to be tormented than superficial”.

He told me the story of his muslim name and how his Christian mom chose it because he was born on the same day as prophet Mohamed. She considered it an omen. He then went away for some time and came back with a delicious dinner for me which I was very thankful for. When I asked why he is not eating, he went back and came with a plate for himself, half-way through finishing my plate, I noticed he wasn’t eating. He told me he doesn’t eat much, he also doesn’t eat meat as an effect of Rastafari religion, he is not a Rasta, but “takes from each religion and culture what makes sense for him”. Cubans have an impressive liberal view on religion, I will go specifically to Cuba one more time to explore it more.

We talked about his pakistani friends, and how he feels they look down at his culture and country, something I confirmed when I met them the next morning, opening up to me as a fellow muslim, they were full of contempt for this culture that doesn’t know about the afterlife. I always find that attitude very arrogant and border-line ignorant, I consider it similar to the western subtle arrogance  when looking to other cultures, maybe that’s why they will clash and fight until the last person standing. They are just too similar. Although in the case of the Pakistanis looking down at Cubans and their way of life, it felt even more ignorant and superficial than normal, because this Cuban culture has more tolerance, beauty and equality than any muslim society and that’s the core of Islam or any other religion.

Amet told me about his opportunity to go to Czech republic and how it could open new doors to him but he doesn’t want to stay there and can’t leave his mom, sister and friends behind… And I chose not to tell him that this is exactly what I said 6 years ago when I first came to Europe.

Havana one more time

23rd to 29th of January

I woke up very early in the morning, after the long birthday night, to say goodbye to Katrin then snoozed till mid-day. I woke up to the sound of my Swedish friends, Lisa and Erik, who came back to our Havana hostel after few weeks traveling around Cuba. They were even warmer than the first time I met them. I went out to museo de la revolución with James who was spending his final few hours in the island. After an hour or so of exploring the blunt annoying propaganda – even for a sympathizer like me – James had to leave and we said goodbye, exchanged numbers so that we meet when we return “home”.

Havana was completely different the second time around, and I must say, that a big part of that was thanks to Reynier and his friends. The first time I came here, I was a tourist no matter how hard I tried not to be one, and now am hanging out with these cool young students going to the most local and genuine spots of the city. It was a completely different experience and I fell in love with Havana the second time around.

That night, we went to a club called el Turf, it plays music that I would normally hate, but even electro music has a different flavor in Cuba. The biggest surprise was that I – again – bumped into the German girls for the third time in a third city in a totally different part of the island. It was so surreal and genuinely one of the happiest moments of the trip. A coincidence better than a thousand appointments as we say. This time, we tried to make an appointment to meet the next day and of course it didn’t work out. I wondered if they are as beautiful and spontaneous when they cross the Atlantic to the other side, or it’s just that Cuba brings out the warmth in everybody’s heart.

That night was the last night for my Swedish friends, and they – especially Lisa – were the stars of the show. She danced non-stop all night like if it was her last night alive. And Erik got so emotional on the way out from the club hugging everyone, and screaming how much he loves Cuba! Who can blame him.

The following day, I woke up early to have breakfast and say goodbye to the Swedish couple. They were both genuinely sad. We went for their final walk around the malecon then exchanged a sad goodbye all of us. I then met Rey and his friend Davide, a very cool sensitive artist soul, we went to few galleries in the city center. Art life seems booming and soulful in Havana, I guess not all kinds of oppression kill art.

Afterwards, we met Timo, a Russian-Canadian friend of Rey, who also fell in love with the island and decided to stay there. We went to AHS, an art center in Havana, then went to a party at the institute of design. Cubans’ relationship with dancing is not a exaggerated stereotype, it’s the truth. Period. Dancing is just a natural part of Cuban mind and soul, it is an extension to breathing and walking, they don’t think about it and don’t have any preconceptions or prejudices around it. They genuinely look at you like a freak if you claim you can not dance. Even me, the Cuban magic broke my shell at certain times.

The following day was a day to relax and recover. I spent it at the casa, talking with Ipek, our lovely Turkish carer and big beautiful sister. Rey and myself call her mom, she’s not as grounded as a mom but definitely as kind. We talked all day about everything, and I decided that I will head back to Cienfuegos to say good bye to Amet and the beautiful people of his city.

Going back to Havana after the night in Cienfuegos, it was the usual routine, hanging at the casa and going out with Rey and his friends. We were joined by two British guys from the hostel and Susanna, the polish student, partying, chitchatting and having fun all night.

On my final day, I went out with Samuel, an Austrian guy who joined our amazing casa the day before, we went walking around Habana vieja, and then met Liss, a girl I got to know through Couchsurfing, she was a worthy end to the trip, Liss is a black Cuban female mathematician PhD holder, one of the smartest people I’ve met anywhere. We sat on the malecon discussing everything about Cuba and Cubans, she gave us an amazing realistic perspective on Cuban life with its good and bad. Cuba wouldn’t have been the same without Liss, Amet and Rey to show and tell me what it is really about.

Then I met Rey as usual. We went to a club called Interactive, the one where the electricity was cut off on my birthday. I met David, an austrian friend of Rey, and his girlfriend Marilene, a Cuban beauty. We were out until 5 in the morning in a night where I discovered for the first time in a lifetime that a Sudanese passport can actually be useful.

The Cuban Police

I hate police. It probably comes from my childhood years in countries like Sudan and  Egypt where policemen act like gods, bad grumpy arrogant gods, I don’t know, I don’t care and I don’t need to explain, I just hate police. I heard a lot about Cuban police stopping Cubans who hang out with foreigners, normally stopping black Cubans since they assume any black person to be Cuban. I was walking with Rey – who could easily be my cousin from his look – and some other people from the casa, it doesn’t matter who they are, they were just white westerners. We passed by two policemen,  as arrogant and obnoxious as any police officers in Sudan or Egypt or any dictatorship for that matter. They – ironically – stopped me rather than Rey. When they realized that I am not Cuban and I showed them the copy of my Sudanese passport, they let me go and turned their attention to Rey. Took him to a side, and called their unit to investigate his details to see if he has any records. I tried to intervene but the other guys told me to stop so that I do not hurt Rey. It brought a lot of memories back. Eventually, after 15 minutes or so, they gave him back his ID. He tried to talk to them, telling them that what they were doing is bad, not showing respect to Cubans, but the more obnoxious of the two policemen told him to shut up and go away.

At that point, my third world instincts came back, I went to the policeman, the worse of the two, and showed him my passport copy again. I told him (my Spanish gets much better under pressure or with rum), I told him that I am Mozafar from Sudan, and I am coming from the Communist party of Sudan to attend a conference in Havana (!), and that tomorrow I will be meeting Mr. Diego Lopez (a name I heard from Jorge, the Spanish guy in Matanzas) and I will be telling him what they did, that the Cuban police is racist and I will tell him where exactly all of this happened and I will make sure to come back and identify him even if it’s the last thing I do in Cuba. The mood shifted all of a sudden, the other police officer, the less bad of the two, came and started apologizing to us saying that they were just doing their job, making sure that we don’t fall victim to a jinitero. All of that while I am holding my ground, insisting I am coming back with Mr. Lopez, then the other guy joined “hermano, we’re just doing our job” and am shouting at him not to call me hermano, brother, “I am no brother to a racist police man”. Then Rey pulled me from the confrontation, telling me in English that they are just idiots and we taught them a lesson. I pulled out, cursing in Spanish, English and Arabic. The policemen just looking stunned at us as we walked away.

I didn’t want to go out by then, but Rey calmed me down (I wouldn’t listen to the others) and told me that if we don’t go out then they win. After few minutes, I realized what just happened and I smiled to myself, these little tricks from haggling to bullshitting a policeman, these are invaluable life skills that no book can teach. I was proud of myself that years in the “clean world” didn’t brush away these survival skills. I was proud of myself and – for the first time ever – of my Sudanese passport, in the right context, it could actually serve some purpose.

I also realized why I love Cuba, it is not ideal, it’s a third world country at the end of the day, despite the fun, the dancing and laughter, there is the politics, corruption, poverty and policemen. It has its bullshit, but it was bullshit that I knew how to deal with.

The following day, my last day in Cuba, I knew exactly what gift I am going to give to Rey. Before leaving to the airport, I gave him my Sudanese passport copy, I told him, next time you get stopped, claim you are Sudanese. He laughed, hugged me and promised to do it. And guess what? He did indeed.

My birthday

22nd of January, 2014
Havana, Cuba

Heading from Viñales back to Havana, our group grew to seven people, from Taiwan, Iceland, Britain, Sweden and of course Sudan. We stopped at las Terrazas for few hours, a beautiful peaceful place, too boring for my taste. In Havana, I went back to the casa where I started my trip, it felt like rejoining a family and I was happy to see them all and they were happy to see me. I came back with 4 other travelers and we were lucky that there was exactly 5 beds left. Meeting Ipek again was a beautiful unexpected surprise, I was sure that she would have left Havana by now. Nice surprise and good warm feeling. In the hostel, we had another delighting addition to the group, a 22 years old polish girl doing an anthropology research in Cuba about old cars.

We arrived late in the afternoon, relaxed for a little bit then we all went out to meet Reynier, the good Cuban friend I bumped into in Playa Larga. We met in Habana Vieja in a place known among tourists called Chanchullero. Although Rey was with his his friends, and they were obviously up for something more fun and less expensive, he insisted on being with us. He remembered that today was my birthday as I told him when we met before that one of the reasons to come to Cuba is that I wanted to spend my 30th birthday somewhere far and special.

He insisted that I should have a proper celebration cuban-style. His friends wanted to leave Chanchullero as soon as possible, as it was an extremely expensive tourist trap as far as they are concerned, they would normally pay 10 cuban pesos for a cocktail when this place charges 75  (75 is about 2 British pounds).

Anyhow, we headed from one place to another insisting on having a good night somewhere that is both nice and not a ripoff, we went around, and after 3 failed attempts, we ended up in a cool club that is normally open until 7 in the morning. Once we got in, the electricity was cut from the whole neighborhood!

Testimony to Cuban spirit, Rey and his friends, just formed a group and started dancing and singing under their lighters’ fading light. Then we recovered our friend James – who we lost somewhere along the way in one of the other clubs – and the Icelandic girl Katrin started playing on a piano in the dark. Beautiful. On that beautiful background of classical music on one side and Cuban rhythms on the other side, I was chatting with Susanna – the polish student – about all kinds of matters from the silliest to the deepest and most philosophical.

And I realized then that I was spending my birthday in the most special of ways, with people I love – although I didn’t know any of them two weeks ago, in a dark Havana club, electricity cut as if it is a Khartoum summer night, with Reynier who looks like a brother of mine, his beautiful friends, icelandic background music, beautiful company spreading the world from Taiwan to Cuba. As far as I am concerned, this is Home.

Santa Clara to Viñales

18th to 21st of January
Santa Clara and Viñales

We arrived to Santa Clara after a long uncomfortable trip. I barely Praying to a worthy godslept all night. I had two reasons for visiting Santa Clara: first, visiting my good friend Elvis’ family and second, to visit Che Guevara’s mausoleum. Once we arrived, we went around Santa Clara, headed to Che’s monument, it was as majestic as I hoped it would be, not ruined by any political propaganda, it was brief and to the point like his life, brief enough to tell a good story before it gets ruined by earthly distractions.  I went around the museum and the room where Che’s and his comrades rest, then stood by his statue with Enzo. I caught myself praying to his soul at that moment.

Later in the day, Elvis’ energetic mother Estrella came on her motorcycle to our hostel. We went with her to Elvis’ brother’s family. Estrella and' familyA lovely lively loud Cuban family, we shared some coffee and talks about Cuba, Elvis and of course the mandatory how they should find us a beautiful Cuban mulata to marry. We then went to her house that she was renewing, we stood there talking for almost an hour on the steps of her doors. She reminded me of our moms back home, all the inherit loveliness, kindness and a bit of sad eyes as well. I hugged her eventually and said good bye, promising to be back one day. It is hard not to keep my word with such a lovely family and lady.

At night, we went around trying to find out about Santa Clara’s night life. We went to the main club in the city but turned out to be the gay night. The place has the worst mojito in all of Cuba. Then we wandered around from one club to the next until we finally gave up and called it a night.

We headed to the bus station early in the morning, I was not sure where I will head from there. Enzo needed to go back to Havana because he was flying back in two days while I was still hesitating between going to the touristy paradise that is Varadero or heading back to Havana. Walking around the station, we met a girl that we saw the night before outside the gay club, an Icelandic girl who was heading west as well towards Viñales, I decided to join her to the other west side of the island. We found a taxi to Havana, who was going to take one girl from a casa in the city, she turned out to be a Taiwanese girl living in Panama, and she also wanted to go to Viñales. We took the cab together to Havana, I said good bye to my now very close friend Enzo.

We arrived to Viñales. The taxista hated me for haggling the price knowing that he would have made at least double that amount if I wasn’t there. We headed to a casa that I got its address from a random traveler on the way. The casa owner was a very nice lady, and she had one room left that happened to have three beds. Travelers’ luck.

Next day, we headed to Cayo Jotiya, a beach about an hour and half away from the city (do I need to mention how beautiful it was?!). I continued my swimming lessons and got more confident by then. We met a nice Swedish couple (Emma and Johan), back in the city, we also met James, a very cool English guy who has been traveling for the past 8 months or so. Walking around, I bumped into the German girls from Baracoa again, they were as lively and happy as they were on the other side of the island, we had a quick chat and said goodbye. Then my casa mates and I went for a usual night out with the dinner, music, forced dancing and all.. then met the Swedish guy and James and we all went back to our casa playing dominoes to the early morning.

The following day, we went to the valley on horses, an enjoyable touristy experience. This was supposed to be our last day in Viñales but we failed to find a good lift towards Havana, so we arranged for one – with a stop in Las Terrazas – and decided to stay one more night over there. At night, we had a lobster then met James and the Swedish couple and went hunting for music. Since it was my birthday the following day, I got treated to a cool pre-celebration and was treated to all I can handle of drinks and cigars. I ended up vomiting on the street and being up all night, I blamed the lobster, but maybe it was a sign, a friendly reminder that I was no longer in my twenties.

The Far East – Santiago and Baracoa

12 to 17th of January
Santiago and Baracoa

The last night in Trinidad went on until very early in the morning. At some point during the night, I agreed with Enzo that we will go together to Santiago. I was home at 5 in the morning and had to wake up by 6:30 to catch the bus, I woke up, said goodbye to Betti and ran to the bus station. I barely made it on time and had to argue with the driver who insisted that I lost my place on the bus as I was late. I finally made it into the bus, somehow, but was put on the last seat, not reclining, near the heat of the engine for a trip that lasts 12 hours.

Arriving exhausted to Santiago, I was trying to find my bag while Enzo got outside the station to have a cigarette. When I got out, I found him surrounded by at least 20 jiniteros trying to drag him to their casas, it was an unbelievable spectacle, I just grabbed him from his hand and went away from the crowd as far as we could, eventually took a taxi to an address of a casa I got on the way, we agreed terms with the casa lady then just threw ourselves in our beds and slept.

The following day, we went around walking in Santiago. The city has a striking resemblance, soul-wise, to Cairo. The noise, the crowd, the heat, the jiniteros, everything… It was an extremely hot day, sudan-standards hot (or maybe I softened up). We walked around the center and we booked a ticket for the following day to Baracoa, one of the furthest points east in Cuba.

We headed to Baracoa, more than 6 hours on a road that turns into an amazing scary maze spiralling around a mountain at some point. We arrived to Baracoa, and we got greeted by a lady from a casa near the bus station. The casa lady from Santiago arranged for her to meet us. She took us to René and Marilyn’s casa, a couple in their seventies that own a small casa called La Rusa, they were as welcoming as any casa in Cuba, we talked a little bit and Mr. René told us that, when we have time, then he’d like to show us his “museum”.

Baracoa is very small and cute, barely three places to go to so you end up bumping into the same people over and over again. One of these places is el Ranchón, a club on top of a hill that is the main attraction of the small town. For every ugly middle aged westerner, there were at least 5 prostitutes. It was disturbing but also didn’t make much economical sense! We spent the night dancing there, approached by women all the time ready to leave the island and go with you to anywhere in the world, anywhere is better, they claim, even that weird country I come from that none of them heard about before.

Next day, we went to Playa Maguana, a beautiful beach as all the beaches of Cuba, we spent the whole day there. It was almost as if it was our own private beach. Not many tourists and few locals trying to sell you stuff. Baracoa is far and isolated, people are happy to sell you anything in exchange to clothes or shoes or whatever items they can’t get hold of in this part of Cuba. We spent a quiet day on the beach then went back and had dinner at the casa (one of the best meals we had over there), then went to the same places as the day before, casa de la trova and el ranchón. Over there, I met this girl I saw you on the beach in the morning, a dazzling Ethio-German beauty and her German blanquita friend, a small ball of fire full of life, laughter and energy. We talked a little bit until they were snatched by the Cuban muchachos showing off their salsa skills. One of the few times I deeply hated those hot Cubanos.

The next day, we headed to Rio de Miel, the honey river, one of the attractions of Baracoa, it was a rainy and windy day and after visiting the caves, we were stuck on one side of the river for a while until we decided to cross the wobbly crossing regardless, we made it to the other side although it felt like a 50-50 chance at some point. We walked by the beach back to the city with a cool salesman, who chatted us about Baracoa, Cuba, his wife and mistresses until we split at some point. It is interesting how you get to know all these secrets from a random passing stranger in Cuba, more than you would know in a lifetime about a close friend in Europe.

Best Pizza in the World

We spent the day hanging around, eating these amazing Cuban pizzas for 5 pesos. Enzo insisted that they were better than Italian pizzas, he must be the least fussy Italian on earth when it comes to food.

We finally got to sit down with Mr. René and he showed us his museum. The gentleman is the adopted son of a lady called La Rusa, the Russian, she was one of the richest people in Baracoa and owned a big hotel – that still exists – in the town, she got involved and supported the Cuban revolution at its very early beginnings, and when Castro and his comrades finally won, they had their first meetings in her hotel. René had albums with her photos with Fidel, Raul, Che and all of the barbudos. He still had her dresses, drawings, letters, all kind of possessions that belonged to her. We spent, at least two hours, mesmerized in front of the charismatic Mr. René, listening to every word he had to tell us about his mother, about the revolution, Baracoa and his life and his mom’s life… Again, one of these random coincidences that turn a superb trip into an amazing unforgettable experience.

At night, we followed the same routine from the previous days, la trova then el ranchón. By now, we knew everyone in the small town, we bumped into people we found in Santiago, Trinidad and we bumped into the Ethio-German and la blanquita who were still being wowed by the salsa skills of the bloody Cubans. I was as well.

We went to el ranchón for a final goodbye. Enzo – the soft hearted Italian – must have fallen in love a hundred times that night. I hate to admit it but my cynical heart definitely envied him a little. I love my Italian brother.

The following day, we headed back to Santiago, rested for few hours then took the night bus to Santa Clara, Che’s sacred sanctuary.


9th, 10th and 11th of January

Trinidad is beautiful. We – Betti and me – spent our first day there at playa Oncón, we cycled to the beach through a beautiful road and had a stop at La Boca then spent the rest of the day on the beach. I never learned to swim and never particularly loved the sea, but I started loving it in Holland (!) where one of my favorite pastimes was to spend hours alone at the beach in Den Haag’s windy winters. It was very calming for me and I loved the idea that there is something different on the other side. This day, for the first time, in my life, I managed to float. It was one of the most beautiful feelings I have experienced and I spent the whole day perfecting my new skill.

At night, we walked around the center of the city, we stopped by a guy who sells cocktails. We will become regular customers of him in the next few nights and will end up exchanging shirts at the heat of a bizarre moment. Walking around, we met an Italian guy called Enzo, we saw him in the bus station the day before in Cienfuegos and we were going to share a taxi together but he went on a different one eventually.

Betti and I wanted to go to a cascade the next day, a trip organized by our casa guy – a business man with such ruthless capitalistic capabilities for a socialist country. We decided to – again – try and target tourists to share a taxi with. We found our victims, they were two german tourists – Matias and Jenny – who just met a couple of minutes before we saw them. We pitched the idea and they agreed. We agreed to meet the next day at 10 am. Joking with Betti, I told her that – at least – we can expect the germans to be on time tomorrow, blunt stereotyping I know. They showed up right on time the next day.

The trip was good, a beautiful place away from everything. We had amazing food, talked with the casa owner and hosts, and the german friends turned out to be amazing company. We met at night again and went to a night club called la cueva, the cave, it’s literally a night club set inside a cave, although very touristy, it is one of the coolest places I have seen in Cuba or outside.

Having breakfast the next day, the casa owner called me to check the news. The war in South Sudan was all over the news, and since there is only one news channel the whole country listens to then every Cuban knew about it. Whenever I mention I am Sudanese, their followup will be “la guerra”, the war!

This day, we went to the beach again with the german friends, and I managed to swim for the first time. “Swimming” is being able to move few meters, Betti, Jenny and Mattias were very excited and encouraged and shouted in support the whole time. It was an amazing feeling to actually feel myself moving in the water for the first time.

At night, we all met again and went together to a nice music venue in the town center, we met Enzo the italian guy, and all of us were having a great time as if we knew each other for years, not just a couple of days. The surprise was that turning around, I just found Amet – the artist from Cienfuegos – in front of me. He came hitch hiking to Trinidad to attend the 500 years celebrations of the city and to see me and Betty one more time. It was surreal to meet him. I was genuinely happy. We hugged and formed a group, dancing, drinking, taking photos and having a great time.

To top it all, the band started playing Silvio Rodriguez’s Ojalá. When I heard it, I ran to the front and started singing/mumbling the lyrics. Amet was suprised his Sudanese brother knows this song and was more surprised about how emotional it made me. I was introduced to this singer years ago by a very good Chilean friend in Holland. Hearing it, I remembered him and the all-in-all beautiful, definitely eventful, past few years. Hearing Ojalá (which is a word meaning I hope, influenced from arabic o’Allah) felt like hearing the accompanying song to a movie’s finale, exactly the type of movies I will make one day.

It was almost 4 in the morning by then, we all went out of the bar as it was closing and listened to Bob Marley on Betti’s phone. He was singing “Good friends we have, good friends we lost, along the way” …