The Journey Home
30 March 2020 | Edgartown, Massachussetts
March 29, 2020
One week ago today, I was in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico walking across the deck of my boat with a wine glass in my hand reflecting on the past month. The sun had set and all was quiet. Very quiet but for the wind through the rigging. It is a sound we are used to hearing, but this night it was particularly haunting.
I don’t remember when, exactly, I became affected with the Coronavirus culture that we are all experiencing. I am not ill. I do not have the Coronavirus. And yet, it has permeated my entire being. My thoughts have been consumed with little else. How bad is it? Should we stay or should we go? Can we even get a flight? Have the ferries shut down? Can we get home? How will we get food? Are our children and grandchildren okay? Have they lost their jobs? How will they eat? Maybe we should stay on our boat. But what if we get ill in Mexico? Do they have the facilities to care for a pandemic? Does anyone? We live on an island with a hospital that has only twenty-five beds. Is going home the smartest move?
We watched as people slowly disappeared. The guests, in the hotel alongside the marina, were checking out. No one was checking in. The hotel employees were standing around with nothing to do but wonder what the future held for them. The few people walking the docks were the workers, disinfecting the hand rails and trying to keep their distance. The security guard carried a thermometer, checking temperatures.
Meanwhile, there were all kinds of conflicting reports in the cruising world. Suddenly, after years of preparation, those who were about to set sail for the South Pacific were told they could no longer go, the borders were closed.
Suddenly, Mexico wasn’t distributing any Zarpas (permission forms to take a boat out of the country). Rumor had it that if you sailed up to Ensenada maybe you could get permission to leave the country. That is, if you could find a slip. The marinas were filling up fast. Information was changing hourly. Some people were flying home. Others couldn’t get a flight and drove to the border. Some decided to stay on their boats. Ride it out in Mexico.
For several days we went back and forth with my son who was in Los Angeles as to the pros and cons of staying or leaving. For the most part, he was urging us to come home but while we decided he got on the phone and called all around Puerto Vallarta trying to find us N95 masks. He found them in the Romantica Zone in a paint shop in Puerto Vallarta. I took a cab and was able to get one box for us and one box for our friends, Casey and Diane, who were making plans to fly home too. I found gloves. I couldn’t find hand sanitizer so I made my own. And we were washing our hands constantly.
We finally decided to try and get home. I wanted to go home. If this was to be a prolonged event, I wanted to be home. Besides, we were in a country where we don’t speak the language fluently. We don’t have medical coverage in Mexico. Jay was not entirely convinced going home was the right thing to do, but honored my feelings and agreed. If we could get a flight out, we would go. If, for some reason, it all fell apart, we would stay and make the best of it.
Before this all started, we had a flight booked for April 9. We cancelled that and moved it up to March 24. Three days before we were scheduled to leave, on March 21, American Airlines cancelled our flight. We rescheduled. But it wasn’t as simple as getting online or even making a phone call. For some reason, our phones would not call 800 numbers no matter what combination we tried. We had to get in touch with a person as we already had booked four flights and didn’t want to add yet another two flights on our credit cards. We were dishing out a lot of money to go nowhere.
We eventually charged our “burner” Mexican phone. We had a 100-peso card so we could get minutes on the phone. We dialed the 800 number. We got through. We rescheduled our flight. Two hours later, they canceled that flight.
After three or four cancellations, (I lost count) and two days of stress, (also known as knots in my stomach) we finally got a flight. We had seen pictures of the PV airport full to capacity with passengers from cruise ships who were told to get off the cruise ship and go to the airport and fly out. The lines were long and everyone was packed in tight. Not the six feet we were told to adhere to. Would we find those same lines when we went to the airport on Monday? We could only be as prepared as possible and then left it in God’s hands. I mean, what else could we do?
Monday morning, we left for the airport. Fully dressed (By that I mean long pants and long sleeves.), with masks, gloves, glasses, etc., and carting three suitcases, two backpacks a camera case and a purse, we were sweating up a storm. We entered the airport to find long lines but somehow, we got through without any wait. The porter that helped us saw that I had printed out our boarding passes so he took us straight up to the Priority desk. One, two, three and we were checked in. We were over the first hurdle now for a three-hour wait for our flight. Our flight was on time and only one-third full. All good there.
Our next concern was the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. We had also seen photos of long lines there. Yet, when we arrived there was only a “two-minute wait” in customs! Yes! The angels were with us.
Our connecting flight had many more people than our first flight but we had no one sitting in the aisle seat and the people across from us were in the window/middle seats too.
Three o’clock in the morning, we arrived at our hotel in Boston. (It is virtually impossible to get from PV to Martha's Vineyard in one day.) We wiped everything down and fell into our beds, sleeping until 10 am the next day. We checked out in an empty lobby but for one person behind the counter. Outside, the streets were quiet. A few joggers ran past us. From a distance, I could see some cars on the highway.
Our driver arrived at 12:30 and promptly reported he had wiped down the car. He drove us to the ferry. Those who drove on board the ferry were asked to stay in their cars. There were three other passengers besides Jay and me on deck. Jay then had the foresight to call a cab (they were no longer waiting at the ferries) who picked us up and took us home. A woman without a ride went up to our cab. “No mam. I only take one party at a time.” He called for another cab. We thanked him for keeping us separate and therefore safe. Hopefully she found her way home.
Having traveled through all those people, Jay and I decided to self-quarantine for two weeks. Our good friends, Lynda and Jimmy, have been supplying us with food and the much-needed wine. We are well, physically. We take walks. I have been baking bread and cookies and making soups.
Emotionally… well, today, it just all hit me. I think the stress of the last month and the unknown future, being separated from our family and friends… I am sure you all are feeling it too.
I just want to say for the both of us that we love each and every one of you. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Hugs from afar.
06 February 2020
Sometimes I wonder if romance is only for the young and the newly coupled. Then I spend a night with my husband at anchor in Tenacatita.
We finished barbecuing the chicken and sat down to dinner in the cockpit under solar light. We opened a bottle of wine. Voices carry far across the water so we shared a quiet conversation. Laughter from the nearby catamaran caused us to smile.
The sun had recently set. The sailors’ conch chorus (A nightly ritual here in Tenacatita.) echoed across the bay announcing the end of the day. One by one, the stars began to peak out from behind the clouds that brought rain earlier in the day. There was a sliver of moon. Thirty-two anchor lights swayed with the gentle motion of the sea. Their reflections long across the water.
Later that night, I found myself unable to sleep. It was dark. The surf was pounding against the shore. The teak wood creaked and moaned as it adjusted to the movement of the waves. Water gurgled in the sink pipes. Jay had managed to tighten the main boom but the mizzen boom was stubborn and continued to squeak as the boat rocked from side to side. Not to be left out, metal shackles bumped against the stanchions adding to the song. A soft, cool breeze drifted down through the hatch. Every once in a while, I could hear Jay’s breath as he shifted in his sleep. I found comfort in that.
In the morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and each other. The sun, drawing pinks and oranges across the horizon, was pushing away the clouds that had haunted the sky the day before. The boat continued to dance in the waves. The sounds of silence were not quiet but meditative.
The beauty of this moment in my life was not lost. In fact, I discovered romance is not dead to us who are aging. It is even better now, if only we pay attention.
03 February 2020 | Chamela Bay, Mexico
Wednesday, no Tuesday, January 28, 2020
It’s been two years since we last cruised outside Banderas Bay but I know I have fallen into the rhythm easily because I had to ask what day it is and I don’t know what time it is. Nor does it matter.
We escaped Nuevo Vallarta just in time to avoid the brewing storm although we did wake up to some rain in Ipala. It lasted about an hour or so and then we left under cloudy skies. We did get some wind so were able to sail. A whale came up beside us.
We are beginning to think Cadenza is a whale magnet. On our trip from Nuevo Vallarta to Punta de Mita, we saw twelve. Seven were traveling in a pod together. We slowed down and enjoyed the show. They would spray, one at a time, down the row of whales. Then, they would wave their fins or wag their tails as they dove under the sea.
Today we are in Bahia Chamela. I have written about this place before but for those of you who haven’t read my earlier blogs, I will share my view from the boat and on shore.
Chamela Bay is an anchorage surrounded by foothills with a mountain range behind them. Palm trees line the white sand beach. Some restaurants and a few homes dot the shore. The large bay is home to several smaller islands. The water is shallow and clear by these islands and good for snorkeling. The water temperature is perfect. Cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be comfortable.
Our first day here was one of relaxation. We put the dinghy down and while I was tidying up the lines at the stern of the boat, I managed to knock one of our solar lights into the water. We love those lights as they look like tiki torches. They also act as stern lights to keep pangas from running into our boat at night.
“Quick!” I yelled to Jay. “Jump in the dinghy and go get it!” Jay was having none of it.
“No. You jump in, go swim and get it.”
Hmm, I thought as I watched it float away with the current. “Okay.” I took off my hat and sunglasses, threw off my cover-up and jumped – none to gracefully – into the water. I swam after it and grabbed it, so proud of myself for saving it. Fortunately, it didn’t sink. Even better, it still worked once it dried out.
As I swam around the boat, I asked Jay to get my raft. It is an inexpensive, flimsy raft and we had a good laugh as I tried to get on it and stay on it. Up and over I would go. More laughter. I finally gave up and just had a good swim.
Yesterday we took in our new dinghy to shore. (Haven’t named her. Any thoughts?) We actually haven’t beached here in several years and weren’t sure where to go, exactly. Plus, I was nervous as my accident still haunts me to this day. (See “Recovery” posted 9/2/15) So, Jay asked our friends, Tony and Diane from sv/Dolce, if they would like to come along with us. We have yet to purchase wheels and we were not sure if Jay and I could handle getting her up on the beach. And Tony and Diane were here last spring and knew the best landing place.
The river entrance is in the NW corner of the bay and turned out to be just fine. We had to be conscious of the depth and the tides but all went well and we pulled up to a spit of sand. Where to tie up?
Some Mexican fisherman were nearby and getting their panga ready to go out and one of them was joking with Diane who speaks fluent Spanish. He took the painter from my hand and tied it to a rock. I added another rock on top of the line for good luck. The tide was going out so we were fairly certain we would find our dinghy still tied up when we came back.
Along the river bank was a huge bulldozer, crane and other heavy-duty equipment. Diane learned that the town is going to make a better breakwater and a Malecon/walking area along the river. Maybe add a dock. I am not always in favor of progress, but this time, yeah for progress! This is such a beautiful bay. I think the cruisers would welcome an easier landing area where we can tie up and I know the community would get much more business once they finish.
We walked into town along dirt roads passing dogs, cats, chickens and roosters along the way. The town is actually Perula (where Hurricane Patricia landed a few years back) and the town of Chamela (which we have yet to visit) lies further south, nestled in the foothills, along the bay.
We ducked into the tiendas as we passed to see what they had available. Some had fresh tomatoes. Others had eggs. A few had beer and wine. We made note of who had what so we could stop on our way back as part of our mission was to pick up some fresh vegetables, beer and wine.
Our primary mission, however, was to go to the hardware store. Who knew this small, somewhat simple town, would have a hardware store the likes of Home Depot? We discovered the hardware store the first time we were here and Jay couldn’t wait to go back. He found everything we needed; thirty feet of polypropylene line, two screw-eyes, and two carabiner hooks. The cost was sixty pesos or a little over three dollars! Hah! Mission accomplished.
“Shall we have ice cream before lunch?” Diane asked as we left the hardware store.
“Might as well.” Tony said. “After all, we would just have to walk all the way back here after lunch.”
Two doors down was a little ice cream store off someone’s home. As I stood waiting for my cookies and cream, I noticed the dining room off of the side entrance. This is how a lot of the local people live. They use part of their home as a market for this or that.
I asked Jay what kind of ice cream he had chosen. “I’m not quite sure…but it is cold and refreshing.”
We were in the center of town where there is a main square. It is almost February and they were just taking down their Christmas tree. The square is sparse with a few trees and a cement stage painted blue for community gatherings and the requisite colorful sign stating the name of the town, Punta Perula. A woman was standing in front of the sign as her husband took her picture. Young children in uniforms held hands with their mothers as they were being walked home from school. Some stopped at the ice cream store. Their eyes alight with excitement and anticipation.
The main square also is home to a mercado (This is a larger market than the tiendas.) I remembered this from last time. It had lots of fresh vegetables and also wine – at a lower cost than the tienda up the road. We finished shopping, found a tienda with Modelo Negra and headed back to the beach.
Now for the finish. Lunch with our friends; fish tacos and beer under an umbrella with my bare feet in the sand while watching the waves hit the shore. It’s the simple things that bring me joy.
P.S. Oh! And the dinghy was there, right where we put it when we left. Safe and sound.
Our 2020 cruising route: Nuevo Vallarta to Punta de Mita, 13 nm; Punta de Mita to Ipala, 45 nm; Ipala to Chamela, 50 nm; Chamela to Tenacatita 29, nm; Tenacatita to Barra de Navidad, 14 nm. Approximately 151 nm. We took ten days to come down. We will stay in Barra for about three weeks and then take two weeks to travel back up to Nuevo Vallarta where we keep our boat for the winter.
An American in Cuba - Part Two
28 December 2019 | Havana, Cuba
Terri Potts - Chattaway
I came to Cuba with little knowledge of its history or politics. I was just a baby during The Bay of Pigs. My body still retains the memory of the collective tension felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the fact that I was only four years old at the time. I lived in Miami in the seventies and attended a high school predominately populated with Cuban-American students whose parents and grandparents were survivors of the “Great Revolution.” Yet I cannot remember any formal education regarding our neighbor, Cuba. It is with this lack of knowledge I came to learn more about this country that lies just ninety nautical miles south of Florida.
I gathered information from tour books and Google resources. We visited museums while in Havana which definitely had a specific point of view. We spoke to the locals, some of whom were very candid about their lives. And I heard from Orlando, s/v Cuba Libre, (See comments on Part One.) who has a very disturbing personal account of what happened to his family and their home after the revolution.
I believe Cuba to be a very different place now that it was then. But I only saw the surface. I did not see behind the curtain that I am sure still survives to this day, albeit slightly different. What follows then is simply my impression of Cuba as I experienced it.
We arrived at Jose Marti International Airport from Mexico. Immigration and Customs went smoothly for us. We met up with Amy, Marco and Mateo only to find out their Customs experience didn’t go so well. Before leaving the states, Amy had gathered an entire suitcase of music donations as a gift to the Conservatory of Music, including two violins. For roughly an hour they were shuffled between line after line until finally they were allowed to pass with their gifts. By that time, poor Mateo had had enough. Their travel started in San Diego with an overnight flight to Ft. Lauderdale where they had a long layover before flying to Havana. Once together, we exchanged our Euros (They don’t accept American dollars.) for CUCs and hailed a local cab.
Since we were five with many pieces of luggage, we were pointed to a van. A very, very, very old van. It looked as if it had traveled many miles and carried many people. Oh, what stories it might tell if only it could talk. Two sat up front, three in the middle, and I sat in the way back in a jumper seat amongst the luggage stuffed around me. The luggage ran high around my left side and behind me. Between that and those in front of me, I had only a view out the right-side window.
As I watched the view fly by my window, I noticed a car drive up next to us. It was a 1950s Chevy. Green with black trim. It had rounded curves. It was full-bodied and sexier than the sleek cars of the present. At least, in my opinion. Inside were six people. Three in front. Three in back.
The driver looked to be in his early thirties. He had a handsome face with days-old stubble. He wore sunglass and looked like we might find him on the cover of GQ. Next to him sat a woman. She appeared to be tall with a long torso. Her hair was black and ran straight down her back. To her right sat another gentleman. My view of him and the other three was somewhat blocked but I couldn’t help wondering who they were to each other and where they were going. There seemed to be no conversation between them. All looked forward. They passed us by.
Sitting at a light, the green Chevy with rounded curves and black trim stopped next to us. The driver looked at us as curiously as I was watching them. Two groups of strangers connected by only a moment in time.
Our Airbnb was located in Habana Vieja (old town). It was a four-bedroom “house.” It really was just four bedrooms with a small entry-way. There were two bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs. All four had bathrooms. The entry-way had a small couch and one chair serving as a living room. At the back-end of the entry-way was an alcove that had a small refrigerator stocked with soda, beer, wine and water. If one looked up, you would find no roof per se, just an opening. It was a ventilation air-shaft. The floors and stairs were marble (so much marble in Havana). The stairs had an iron-rod railing and curved up to the second level. The house was very clean but at times, there was a distinct odor of recycled water. The mattresses could have been better. Amy and Marco’s mattress was extremely hard and ours literally swallowed us up, making it difficult to exit and led to an aching back.
Our Airbnb was located and run by the hotel next door. We were told that it was owned by a family not the government. It was a work in progress. As the days went by, we saw that it had much potential. All the houses on the street were narrow and tall. In fact, we were invited to have breakfast on the roof of the hotel. We walked up the marble stairs. “Seventy stairs.” Our host told us proudly as we huffed and puffed our way up.
Our hosts, Diamond and Andy and their staff, were great. Friendly and extremely helpful.
The house – like all the houses in old town – sat right up against the street. The neighborhood was full of life with men hanging out on the corner and women sitting on the curb of their house or watching from their windows up above. Every once in a while, a local vendor would pass by selling bread or fruit. You would hear them calling out. They were either pushing a cart by hand or pulling a cart via bicycle. Laundry hung from second and third-story clothes lines. An immense number of feral cats and dogs roamed the streets looking for food and a safe place to sleep. We noticed someone feeding them as they left a pail full of water and a pig’s head (Yes, a pig’s head!) under a tree.
Many of the houses were also their place of business. I am not sure how this worked. How much of what they earned went to the government. There were lots of artists. Good artists. Some trinket shops. Some had little cafes in their homes. On the corner of our street was a meat market. It was only opened certain days and when it was, people lined up for their share. They showed their booklets and the proprietor would check off the box that said how much meat they were allowed with a date and signature. A ration booklet of sorts, distributed by the government. They were allotted so much food a month. We were told it only lasted a week.
We started our first day with breakfast on the roof. The view showed a clear picture of the decay of a once thriving city. Some buildings had some cosmetic repair but most were slowly crumbling into dust. The paint had long ago faded away replaced with a black grunge. Metal fences that wrapped their porches were covered with rust. Wires dangled, precariously, from rooftops. These are the buildings that house many of the poorer Cubans. The ones who rely on their stipends to get them through the month.
Those buildings that stood repaired and in glory were government owned and run such as the Museo de la Revolucion and the Catedral de San Cristobal, a beautiful church with a Baroque façade now considered a national monument.
In the distance we could see remnants of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a sixteenth century castle/fort that once surrounded the city to protect it from pirates.
We were served fruit, eggs, ham and buns. This seemed to be a traditional breakfast. Soon, the sun was burning our skin and creating beads of sweat dripping down our skin. We carefully maneuvered down the seventy marble steps and outside onto the street. Waiting for us was our 1955 Chevy Bel Air. Oh, she was pretty. Purple with white interior. A convertible. We would have much more sun on our skin as the day passed.
Over the next week – when we weren’t working with the musicians – we toured much of Havana and a little bit outside of the city. Much of the city’s pride seems to be in celebrating their heroes; Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. There are others too.
The Museum of the Revolution painted a very specific scenario of their history, as you might expect. There was nothing of the atrocities that Orlando shared, of course. (Historical records are sometimes written by those who have a very selective memory.) But there was much about our country and the horrors the CIA bestowed on the Cuban people. Batista and the United States government/Mafia were no angels during the previous regime either. Our blended histories have a very complicated – and I dare say, ugly - story.
The Cuban people we met and interacted with were warm and friendly, and as I mentioned above, sometimes quite candid in their answers to our questions. One of our drivers explained how he studied to be a mechanical engineer. “My education was ‘free,’” he said. “But then I had to work for the government for free for two years.”
“How did you eat?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “My parents. My friends. My girlfriend. Then, when I got a job as a mechanical engineer, I was paid forty dollars a month from the government. Forty dollars!”
It was impossible for him to live on forty dollars a month. He went to his father who had an old, American car and decided to be a tour guide and taxi driver.
“See that sticker on the windshield?” He asked me. “In order to drive this car, I must first pay the government seven hundred dollars a month. Just for the right to work."
We visited all the tourist haunts; Hemingway’s house and many of the bars he frequented. We stopped at Floridita one day for Daquiris. They were really good and we happened on some great live music. Everywhere was music. So much joy in their music.
One of our excursions took us to the scenic Valle de Vinales. As we drove out of the city, there were fewer and fewer cars. Transportation was either by foot, bus, or many drove carriages with horses at the helm. Every once in a while, we would see a small community of homes or a farm. A man was plowing using two oxen. Other men were cutting the grass with machetes. Back-breaking work.
The valley, itself, was beautiful. The mogotes were like little mountains covered with lush foliage. Hidden amongst them were caves with winding paths we could walk through. One had a river running through it and we hopped on a boat for the last bit of our tour. Sort of like Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Only this was the real thing.
The red earth was rich and a perfect planting ground for tobacco and sugar cane. We visited a tobacco farm. Chickens roamed the grounds while our host taught us to role a cigar.
Another day, we visited Santa Maria, a popular beach because, after all, it is a Caribbean island.
As you can see, Cuba is a fascinating island. So much to see and to learn. I know many of us glamorize its past with the stories of Hemingway, the clubs, the cars and the riches. But one must remember who and what was behind all that. During that era many Cubans suffered from poverty and a lack of education. With the revolution, I think it was the Cuban peoples’ hope that things would get better. You can judge for yourself how that worked out.
It is at the invitation of our Cuban friends, the Arango family, that we went. And what we found is that we are all of one family, the human race. We crossed cultures and found new friends. I am so grateful for the chance to get to know and learn about our neighbors.
An American in Cuba - Part One
21 December 2019 | Havana, Cuba
Terri Potts - Chattaway
I was told it would be different and amazing. I was told it would take me back in time. I saw photographs. I heard stories. I knew what to expect. Or, so I thought. But imagining something is quite different than truly experiencing it.
It is not that I am a novice at traveling. When I was a little girl, my father took our family to live in Bangkok during the Vietnam War. We were there for nearly a year while I attended fourth grade in the Catholic school, Raum Rudi. On the way to Thailand, we spent time in both Tokyo and Hong Kong. I have visited the Czech Republic and Poland, Wales and London, Canada and the British Virgin Islands. I have lived and traveled in Mexico for the last six winters. So, yes, I've experienced culture shock, especially living in Asia which is so very different than our country. Still, Cuba is unique in its culture and politics and reminds me of a place the rest of the world left a long time ago.
What makes our Cuba experience so vastly different from any other travels? That is the question I am wrestling with. It isn't simply that it is a throwback to the culture of the 1950s. Maybe staying in an Airbnb in La Habana Vieja (old town) amongst the locals - and not in a fashionable hotel on the beach - gave us a genuine feel for the every-day Cuban and how she/he lives. Maybe it was that we were personally invited to Cuba by the Arango family and welcomed into their home adding a very personal connection to this country. Maybe I come from a certain perspective because I am older now. Or, maybe it is because I am witnessing, what I believe, our country to be on the precipice of great change. (By "great" I don't necessarily mean good.) With that in mind, it was inevitable that I would compare and contrast our countries' histories and politics. Whatever the reason - and I would venture to surmise that it is a combination of all those reasons - our visit to Cuba has been an education and a blessing.
The road to Cuba started several years back when Jay's daughter, Amy, (who is a music teacher at Canyon Crest Academy High School in San Diego) was at a club one night where she heard an Afro-Cuban jazz band, Los Hermanos Arango. She got to talking with them as they shared a common passion for music. The Brothers Arango said it had always been their dream to play with an orchestra to which Amy replied, "Oh, my dad can do that."
Over the past two years, Jay has taken eight of the Arango's original songs and written orchestral music to accompany them. "Hardest shit I've ever done in my life!" He said.
Combining jazz with orchestra is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which jazz is free-flowing and often spontaneous, whereas orchestral music is measured and certain. In addition to that, there is a language barrier. Only one of the brothers speaks English. Only Amy speaks fluent Spanish. Thus, Amy became our translator, along with a little help from Google.
The first concert was held in November of 2018 at Canyon Crest Academy with Amy's orchestra, Los Hermanos Arango and Amy conducting. Jay sat proudly in the audience. It went well.
Los Hermanos Arango is mainly a family affair. In America it is comprised of Feliciano on bass, Eugenio on percussion, Ignacio on guitar and Christina (their sister) on vocals. Julio Valdes, originally from Panama and now working as a professor at San Diego State University, steps in on keyboards as Feliciano's son, Fernando, - who usually plays keyboards - is unable to get a visa to the U.S.
In Cuba, we learned the band has a whole litany of musicians; Fernando, the keyboard player, as I mentioned above and Ignacio's daughter, Elizabeth, on vocals. I believe Christina's daughter, Yulia, sometimes sings vocals too. There was trumpet, sax and several more percussion players. In other words, it is quite bigger than the five who perform in the states.
This collaboration between Amy, Jay and Los Hermanos Arango was very special in that it not only brought two very different cultures together through music, but also two families.
Two beater cars drove up to our Airbnb in La Habana Vieja. We couldn't miss them because neither one of them had mufflers. Eugenio and his friend were in one and Francisco and Fernando were in the other. They exited the cars and gave us a warm welcome. Hugs and smiles all around. They were there to pick us up as they had invited us to their home for lunch and to talk music.
We drove through the streets of Havana to their neighborhood of Guanabacoa. Guanabacoa is known for its Afro-Cuban heritage and its Indian name means "land of many waters" although I did not see the many springs that are written about in tour books. What we did see is Colonial buildings and the every-day life of the people as they populated the streets in numbers. The muffler (or lack of) roared and Jay joked about the "caro musica" while I held on as we traversed bumps with no shocks. Buses passed, sending fumes our way. Emission regulations doesn't seem to be a priority in Cuba.
There are a surprising number of cars for a country that neither manufactures nor imports automobiles. I am not sure how it works. I know they are expensive. One of our drivers during our visit pointed out a Kia. Ninety thousand dollars he told us. An SUV could cost upwards of $150,000. Even an old 91' Russian car could cost $45,000. I asked who owned the expensive cars. "The government, musicians and entertainers." He said. He went on to explain that you could tell a government car or taxi by the blue marking on the license plate. From that point on, I noticed an abundance of blue markings.
But I digress. Back to the Arango family.
We arrived on a quiet street crowded with houses. The buildings were old, much of the paint was chipped and showing its age. But the street and yards were free of litter. The Arango family came out to greet us with more hugs and smiles. They welcomed us into their home.
Theirs was a modest house. We entered into a small living room decorated with red couches and chairs. The living room opened into a long, narrow hallway with doors leading off to the bedrooms. The doors were closed. The hallway led to a kitchen area with the bathroom at the end. The house was neat and tidy.
We exited out the back door to an enclosed cement patio with iron rod tables and chairs painted white. This would serve as our dining area. Some greenery with bright flowers draped the walls. A staircase led to a second-floor apartment where Eugenio lived with his wife. Downstairs, on the side of the house was what looked like a garage. It had yet another kitchen we were told. Two dogs sat behind the iron-rod door looking longingly at us.
Our hosts began by offering us refreshments; beer, soda, and a shot of rum, of course. The conversation was mixed between Spanish and English with Amy and Ignacio translating. Jay, Marco and I tried what little Spanish we knew. When all else failed, smiles worked wonders. The mood was festive.
The ladies served up delicious local quisine. All homemade, of course. We had pork, rice and beans, potatoes, salad, and my favorite, plantains. The wine came out at lunch, as well as the music. Mateo and I braved the dance floor and even got a few dance lessons from the girls. Much laughter was had by all.
Two days later, the beater cars arrived again. This time they were taking us to El Conservatorio Provincial de Musica GuillermoTomas. It is here we were introduced to the orchestra and Maestra Samira Fernandez. What professionals! The orchestra was top notch and comprised of musicians of all ages. And Samira! Wow! That lady knows her stuff. She had the orchestra practiced and ready to play Jay's orchestrations with Los Hermanos Arango.
And then there was Amy. How she got up there and conducted both groups, seamlessly combining the two styles - and in another language - is beyond me. In Amy's introduction she shared how honored she was to be part of this very special collaboration. Tears came to her eyes and her voice wavered - and the students clapped in response. They felt her genuine love. This was what was so special about our trip. The joining of two very different cultures through music. Like the saying goes, music truly is "the universal language."
Two days later, the beater cars showed up again. This time we were going back to the school for another rehearsal which was to be recorded. In addition, Los Hermanos Arango, Jay, Amy, and Samira were interviewed for a local television show. As we left that day, Amy handed the baton back to Samira and congratulated her and her orchestra on a job well done.
Los Hermanos Arango will continue to work with the Conservatory of Music and this project. Meanwhile, Jay and Amy are working to bring Los Hermanos Arango back to the United States for a tour through some of our colleges, to work with their orchestras.
It has been a labor of love for both Jay and Amy. For me, for all of us who were present for this experience, it was a most unexpected gift.
Note: More photos on FB.
Rhythms of the Day
01 April 2019
Photo by Casey Cartwright
Soon, Jay and I will be leaving Mexico for the season and although I am looking forward to going home, there is much here I will miss.
Sitting in the cockpit, having tea, I watch as the marina comes alive. Jay is below listening to the morning net on VHF radio. This is how we cruisers communicate. Every morning at 8:30 on channel 22A Monday - Saturday, the Cruiser's Net is broadcast. Local information is shared. Lost and found items are retrieved. Weather reports are given. Mariner's reports are given. Announcements are made of upcoming events. It is an essential part of our daily life and here in the bay it keeps us informed.
Today it is still. Clouds hover above. The water is like glass and is dark gray from the reflection of the sky. The birds' chatter is unusually subdued. Little beads of sweat break through my skin. It is not yet nine o'clock. A breath of air makes its way to our boat. It is of some comfort, but not much.
I love to watch the birds from the deck of our boat. The little birds are present in the morning. They have a sweet song and fly from mast to mast. Many hang out in the trees. Some are a bright yellow with black wings. Others are a dull white and not much larger than a hummingbird.
Yesterday, while enjoying my morning ritual of tea in the cockpit, a Mourning Dove came to visit. She sat on our awning just two feet away and sang out in that haunting tune so unique to her. I have always been struck by the cry of the Mourning Dove. It instantly takes my thoughts inward, causing me to pause and ponder the mysteries that surround me at the moment.
The workers begin to arrive. These are the ones who come from modest homes and travel long distances to work on the yachts owned by the affluent. You will see no hint of envy from them. Nor do they find cleaning boats demeaning. To the contrary, they wear their uniforms with pride and go about their day with a smile on their faces.
Our favorite worker is Bentura. "Buenos dios, Senor, Senora." He greets us. He speaks almost no English and I am sorry to say I know little Spanish. Nevertheless, the intension is understood; friendship. Eventually, Bentura will serenade us as he goes about his work. Bentura has a lovely, high tenor voice that carries across the water. He is quite good and brightens our day.
Paradise Village Marina is probably the best marina we have ever encountered, either in Mexico or the United States. It is clean and safe and offers many amenities. Because of this, many arrive and never leave. The result is a neighborhood of sorts and we have a wonderful community here. Neighbors walking by stop and say hello. Some stay for a while. Others wave and keep on going.
Mornings are also time for chores. Today is laundry day for me. Jay is dealing with some boat issues. As usual.
The mid-day sun is quite hot. The iguanas slither down from the trees to sun themselves. They need the heat. Us humans look for shade. Some find it under trees. Others in the water whether it be the pool or ocean. Some find air conditioning and others duck inside their boats. There is something to say for siestas.
Breaktime for the workers is also a time to fish. They bring out their nets, casting them into the sea, hoping to catch their dinner. This will make their wives very happy.
Lunch and siestas aside, it is time for more chores. I must confess. This is when I slip away to visit the pool. The heat wears on me, but with one dip in the cool water, I feel renewed. Jay usually joins me, but not until late afternoon.
At dusk you will find us in the cockpit again. This time with a glass of wine. The sun has gone behind the buildings and the wind has arrived. We take a deep breath, grateful for the break in the heat. The current seems to be strong today and so the boat sways back and forth against the dock. Some don't like the movement. I would ask them, "Then, why are you on a boat?"
The Pelicans and Magnificent Frigate birds perform their evening show. It is their supper time and we watch as the Pelicans dive down to catch a fish. The Frigate birds soar above, looking for prey they can steal. Yesterday, I saw a Frigate bird steal a big fish from another frigate bird only to drop it. A Pelican swooped in and won the prize. Later, the Pelicans will nest high in the trees of the mangroves. At times we have seen hundreds roosting there. I do not know where the Frigate birds sleep.
Night falls as the moon rises over the mountains. It is nearly full. The sky is crystal clear. We watch as the cruisers, all showered and dressed, begin their walk to dinner. There are many nice restaurants within walking distance.
One of our favorites is Chao where we eat brick-oven pizza and beet salad under the stars. If we are lucky, our favorite duo - playing violin and accordion - will be there. Another favorite is Barcelona Tapas. It is perched high on a hill overlooking the city and bay. It is a perfect venue for watching the sunset. But the best is after the sun goes down and the lights come on all across the horizon. Beautiful. Great food and excellent service too.
Jay and I are staying in tonight. We have invited Casey and will barbeque. A few glasses of wine, a good meal, some friendly conversation and it will be time to say goodnight.
These are our rhythms of the day here in Mexico. So much to be missed.