When I Travel Again
I look forward to the day when I travel again. I am not sure when it will be or what it will look like. But, I do know that I am ready to travel again.
In May 2016, my sister, Christine, and I spent ten days in Cuba. We traveled with a person-to-person exchange group sponsored by Bucknell University. It was an eye-opening experience which was made more meaningful with my ability to speak Spanish.
The Cuban people were warm, inviting, and very curious about the United States. Fortunately, President Obama had opened up a window for cultural exchange opportunities. Since then, the window has closed, leaving the Cuban people back in the shadows. I hope that our new administration will throw open the sash and allow visitors to see what a beautiful nation full of kind, generous people Cuba is.
Below is a portion of a three-part series that I wrote when I came back from Cuba in the spring of 2016. This travelogue will have to fill my current travel void as I wait for the time when I travel again.
(Travels with Kim: Whispers from Cuba Part II Games, Cigars, and Dance June 16,2016)
I didn’t notice the farmer’s actual tobacco field with the wide-leafed plants. I only saw the big wooden tobacco barn with a thatched roof when we drove up in the bus after a long drive into the interior of Cuba. There wasn’t any harvesting equipment in the area. But, a wide gravel driveway for multiple buses next to the farmer’s home caught my attention.
This was more than just an ordinary farm. Our tour guide, Antoinette, had mentioned at breakfast that we needed to get to the farm early because the site gets very crowded. We were the first bus there.
In the open barn, we met the ruggedly handsome Señor Benito. His chiseled features and broad shoulders commanded our attention as he demonstrated the art of cigar rolling. He was no doubt an expert. His massive hands sprinkled the interior chopped tobacco leaves onto a larger leaf. Then he deftly swaddled the contents in the smooth outer leaf on a board on his lap. I couldn’t wait to purchase some of his cigars. I promised friends and family that I would return home with some. I took my Cuban pesos out of the small purse around my neck and held them tightly in my hand.
After his wife served a complimentary cup of espresso in the modest Benito home, another woman brought out handfuls of fresh cigars. I surged ahead and handed over my appropriate currency. Six anonymous cigars were wrapped in a covering that looked like a dried banana leaf. I sniffed my precious purchase. Ah! Fresh tobacco! Although my sister insisted there was a hint of manure mixed in, I defended their aroma. They were whispering to me.
Finally I could not contain my enthusiasm anymore. I wanted to have my picture taken with Señor Benito. His weathered face and rugged cowboy hat attracted me. His dented machete, stuffed in the back of his waistband in a worn leather sheath, added to his mystique.
We stood outside of his house in the warm sun.
May I have my picture taken with you Señor Benito? I asked in my best Spanish. He smiled widely and agreed. I thought that this was going to be a special moment for both him and me.
Handing off my camera to another member in our group, I attempted put my arm around the farmer’s torso, but my thin arm landed halfway around his muscular back and came to rest on his machete.
Oh Señor Benito, I whispered. You are so muscular, I announced in Spanish with a hearty laugh. The lines around his dark eyes deepened and his eyes danced as he looked down at me.
Oh Señor Benito you could be an American movie star, I foolishly continued in Spanish. Caught up in the moment I was releasing my inner thoughts, my whispers, in my outer voice.
I felt his warm breath on my cheek as he exhaled in laughter.
Usted es loca!
I owned the moment and agreed.
I don’t know what possessed me to get so familiar and cheeky with this total Cuban stranger that morning. But after all, I did have coffee in his home, bought his cigars, and that made us friends. I thought that a picture would be special for both of us. I even offered to send him one.
Well, on another day of the tour, at a small souvenir stand, I saw a picture of my new friend Señor Benito on a postcard! He was seated in his barn rolling a cigar just as I saw him do! If that was not amazing enough, when I returned home to the States, his image smiled at me once again. This time he was in a major tour company’s brochure, in the same hat!!
It seems that I was with the Cuban Marlboro Man and didn’t even know it. I wonder how many other tourists have taken a picture with him and retold the story of this unique Cuban farmer?
Oh well, he was nice. And handsome. And it was special for me.
I hope to have an equally interesting time when I travel again. My sister Christine is ready. It will be sooner rather than later.