When I woke up the next day, I did not want to move. I never want to move when I have an excursion the next morning. I got up though, barely. I called to wake Carla up and then laid there in silence before getting up to shower. Today we were going on this Santeria Airbnb experience before Carla left Havana to go on a solo adventure. I didn’t want her to go because I was not getting any responses from the group still but I wasn’t going to keep her from her fun. I had her for the time that mattered to me and I had my book and nice balcony to fall back on.
Cuba was never short of a cool breeze or wind storm. I’d be fine. I hoped.
We met at Hotel Melia, she was running behind but I took the time to take pictures of my two carebears that I take on trips for giggles- Cupcake & Benjamin. When she did pop up, we caught a taxi but when we arrived we had no idea of where the meeting place was. When I turned my head I recognized two people, from stalking the experience page, coming down the street- Ruby and Nicholas, BFFS from Atlanta. They were on their last day in Cuba and super cool. It was nice to not be the only ones lost and confused. However, it turned out that we were standing right in front of the cafe and didn’t even realize it.
Adriana seemed to burst out of the cafe full of energy down the stair with a warm smile and welcomed us into Mamaine Cafe.
Shortly after entering the Cafe, we were taken upstairs to sit in a group in the tiniest space and was told Adriana’s background, the history of the experience and the history of Santeria in Cuba. We stayed until everyone was done eating and we moved to the taxis and rode to Adriana’s hometown called Guanabacoa, a small town near the ocean.
When we got there we went to visit the museum of Santeria where we learned about the religion’s Loas and Orishas, the process to practice Santeria, and the process that it takes to become a “Babalawo.”After leaving the museum, Carla and I were both interested in practicing or at least learning more about it. The religion no longer felt scary but interesting and desirable. Further proving the point that Americans have a way of demonizing things they don’t understand.
We walked through the town, taking pictures, learning about each place we passed until we arrived at Damien’s. I was nervous to experience the religion so up close and personal but Damien’s friendly calm demeanor put me at ease a bit. Of course, Adriana was there to help us not be nervous. We each took turns being cleansed by Damien and then we went out back to eat.
Adriana and Damien’s family prepared a nice spread for us of Cuban dishes. We talked and laughed then Adriana brought out her first surprise. VODKA! 40 % proof Santeria Vodka, not sold in stores but used in Santeria rituals. To cut the alcohol, Damien cracked open a coconut and poured it’s milk into our bowls that were full of vodka but I don’t think.. no, I know I did not receive enough coconut milk to do the trick and it burned. The burn bounced from my throat, chest and stomach like it was a ricocheting bullet for 10 minutes.
Our second surprise was from Damien, it was a beaded white necklace, that he wrapped around our necks for good luck and protection.
The third surprise was a babalaow sculpture, cleansing chalk and ceremony cigar so that we could practice what we learned at home.
When we left we rode again with Ruby and Nicholas back to the cafe where we grabbed some lunch / dinner and talked about the experience and her trip. I checked my phone for a message from the group about the meetup and didn’t see one so I headed with Carla to find a bank while battling harsh winds. My wig was threatening to fly away and my skirt kept flying up. At some point while walking, I pulled down my biker shorts and doubled down on my wig and let my skirt do what it wanted. Thanking God I decided to wear shorts underneath.
When we realized that we didn’t run into the bank the waiter told us about, we pulled off to the side where I got out my map and soon remembered that there was a bank in the hotel so we made plans to walk along the Malecon and enjoy the water view.
We stood on the edge of the road trying to figure out how to cross the street but every time we would attempt to step out into the road, cars would zoom into view. we got near the Malecon, we had no way so we caught a Coco taxi back.
Honestly, after Carla decided to leave after some back and forth, I had no intention of leaving my bed or book. No matter what texts came through. I ended up falling asleep on the book and woke up to a couple texts. One from the group talking about the dinner I wasn’t going to and then another from Carla. She ended up not leaving after all and was on the hunt for this Wi-Fi park.
Now I did not want to meet up with her at night at all after walking home the other night but- the internet.
I grabbed my map and looked down at her directions and set on down the street. Not even five steps into this adventure and I was paranoid. It was pitch black. People popped up and disappeared. It seemed like Cuban cats didn’t like me and there was a guy on a bike that reappeared at every corner.
For some reason, no matter where I am, I always jump to imagining my death. I was so lost. The map I soon found out was condensed and there were 10 streets not listed in the small walk I imagined. I wanted to ask every man I came across for directions but I didn’t want anyone to know I was lost. I wanted to turn around a million times but I walked too far to give up sonI ignored the stares of men watching me stop and shine a light over my map and focused on the street rock numbers changing.
Yes, that’s right, not street signs but low to the ground street rocks.
I could have sworn she said the walk was 10 minutes away but I had been walking for at least 15-20 minutes. When I finally got to a park, it was a black mass of land with benches and I knew her ass was not sitting in the dark. I text her and found out I had another 5 blocks to walk then finally when I was almost about to lie down and die I was stumbled upon light and a crowd of people. I knew I had made it to the right place when I stumbled upon a crowd of people with their phones out.
Carla and I sat in the park for over an hour, scratching off Wi-Fi cards and cussing when the internet wouldn’t connect, people watching, realizing how people in Cuba would come to the park to be on wifi but more importantly to spend time with each other.
I tried to unsuccessfully download an episode of my favorite web series, Sexless but failed many times and gave up. Once we realized the internet wasn’t working out for either of us, we walked back to our side of town which seemed like a shorter walk than the odyssey I went on to get there. Maybe the company made it shorter. Carla stopped and got a pizza and I waited with her until we parted ways again on Calle 5 to our respective places.