Arriving Within the Capital
The late night time flight from Cancun to Havana was aboard an Aero Mexico Dutch-built Fokker-100 passenger jet that most certainly had been in service for the reason that late 1980’s. It was roomy and quiet plus it had a function new to this air traveler. About 45 minutes into the 1 hour flight, a bi-lingual announcement ready the passengers for method after which one thing was stated about “fumigation” that I did not catch. I requested a fellow passenger what that meant and earlier than he might reply, I noticed different passengers try to cowl their noses and mouths with their shirt collars, scarves and palms as a heavy chemical mist sprayed down on us from the overhead compartments. It appears the Cuban authorities has insisted that any cargo coming from Mexico needs to be sprayed with disinfectant earlier than being allowed to land. Apparently, the passengers are thought-about cargo as properly.
None of us knew what to anticipate when our group of 24 Individuals arrived bug-eyed and germ-free at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport round 11pm native time. The 20 minute bus journey to the lodge did not reveal a lot in the best way of sights or surroundings; town was dimly lit with solely a scattering of purposeful sodium streetlights. What may very well be clearly seen by means of the bus home windows nonetheless have been the billboards and murals – all brightly painted slogans proclaiming the blessings of Unity, Celebration, Socialism and Revolution. Was it by design that even within the late hours, when all was darkish and boarded, that the message of “La Revolucion” might nonetheless be seen so clearly on the shadowy streets?
The lodge the place we stayed was billed as four-star and the outside and foyer did appear clear and trendy however the journey as much as the room revealed worn and stained carpets, patched, unpainted partitions and the unmistakable odor of mould. Constant water stress within the constructing was hit-or-miss and the mattress was onerous as a picnic desk however apart from that, the lodging have been comfy. After an 18 hour journey day, I spent my first night time in Havana in peaceable slumber.
The following morning, searching from the 3rdfloor window, I used to be startled to see how near near-ruin Previous Havana appeared. In each path I noticed buildings blackened by a long time of mould, in varied states of decay or near-collapse and but nonetheless inhabited. Laundry was hanging to dry on makeshift clotheslines from balconies of buildings that may in any other case look like deserted or condemned. It took me a minute to grasp what I used to be seeing: this was a nation’s capital through which no non-governmental metropolis construction pre-dating 1959 had been repaired, washed and even marginally maintained for half a century. I spotted I used to be a great distance from Starbucks. This was Cuba. The real third world, last-vestige-of-the-cold-war Communist dictatorship I discovered about in class, which was ruled – till not too long ago – by that the majority well-known (and longest tenured) bearded revolutionary Marxist on this planet, previous Fidel himself. I suspected as I stared out on the spectacular but dilapidated structure, that in my marvel and pleasure within the weeks previous this journey, I’ll have over-romanticized this journey. And never figuring out precisely what I used to be stepping into right here gave my abdomen an unwelcome churn. As I appeared all the way down to the slim side-street the place a morning line of buyers was forming in entrance of a small, dingy market, I puzzled if I might be again on the airport the subsequent day, hauling my privileged gringo ass again to California, sorry that I had traveled all the best way all the way down to this miserable place. However fortuitously, this bleak first impression would transform solely misplaced apprehension on my half and would quickly dissolve. I might shortly discover a consolation zone in these overseas environment and instead of my misgivings, there would kind as an alternative a stunning perspective and an indelible impression of a rustic and a folks.
I used to be getting into Cuba as a member of the USA/Cuba Senior Softball group comprised of 13 “Senior” gamers starting from the youngest (58 years of age) to the oldest (76). We have been scheduled to play a collection of four video games towards senior Cuban counterparts. On the time of our go to, there was not a Senior Softball League in Cuba so we did not know precisely who or what number of completely different groups we might play or beneath what enjoying circumstances. We’d simply discover out after we bought there. The tour was organized as a sort of goodwill, hands-across-the-gulf journey fashioned by the late Bob Weinstein, then President of USA-Cuba, LLC and founding father of USA – Cuba Sports activities Experiences. Bob had introduced different U.S. softball groups to Cuba earlier than his premature loss of life final yr at age 66, however this was the primary “senior” group to kind solely for the aim of touring to Cuba to play softball. We weren’t an All-Star group by any means, however merely a set of softball hobbyists with the time, inclination and funds to make the journey. One or two practices have been held by the group earlier than we left, however we understood that we comprised extra of an ambassadorial junket than a aggressive softball group. Our group managed to pack an additional 250 lbs of garments, medicines and private objects that we deliberate to distribute whereas we have been there making this journey a mix hurricane aid/sports activities journey.
For our first recreation, we disembarked from our bus on the “Sports activities Follow Area” subsequent to Juan Ealo Stadium in outer Havana and walked throughout a vacant lot to the softball discipline. Most exercise on the park got here to a halt and the locals stared on the Individuals as we quietly crossed the 2 hundred yards to the Guests dugout carrying our USA-Cuba hats and jerseys and carrying our tools luggage. The Cuban group was warming up after we arrived and was wanting over at us warily. We put large keen smiles on our faces and shortly launched ourselves, posed for photos collectively and expressed our gratitude and pleasure to be part of this occasion. After they noticed that we have been extra intent on friendship and camaraderie than fierce competitors, the collective nervousness and restraint we detected modified shortly to friendliness and enthusiasm. A ceremony of kinds was held earlier than the primary recreation and a Cuban Softball Federation official spoke describing this event as an essential step within the persevering with goodwill between sporting nations. We got Cuban Olympic pins in trade for the commemorative pins we gave to them. We felt a real fellowship between us and the Cubans and we might inform by the grins and expressions we noticed on their faces that they felt it too.
We discovered that the Cuban squad we might be enjoying had been rapidly assembled since senior softball was nonetheless extraordinary in Cuba. In reality, the concept of a league comprised of gamers far previous their prime was…properly, overseas to them. From their look, they appeared like a rag-tag group of aged Cuban gentleman, some carrying uniforms they will need to have stored for the reason that ’60’s & ’70’s, judging by their light, worn circumstances. Not all of them had baseball gloves or bats, so we shared with them what we had and made these exchanges of kit between innings.
When the Cubans took the sphere, any notions that they may very well be taken frivolously as rivals shortly vanished. They executed on the sphere in crisp, basic vogue, making few errors defensively and clearly taking delight of their efficiency. An errant throw or a missed cutoff would draw the ire of fellow gamers. We later discovered that many of the group members performed organized baseball in Cuba sooner or later of their youth and some of them even made it to the Cuban Nationwide Crew. Baseball is the nationwide sport in Cuba, far out-ranking soccer in participation and curiosity. The Recreation itself is a favourite topic for spirited debate in metropolis parks and the baseball season is adopted with nationalistic fervor, so this dedication to the game was mirrored within the Cubans’ play. We had 4 video games scheduled however solely performed three as a result of Hurricane Paloma crossed the middle of the island throughout our go to bringing rain and winds to Cuba’s western finish, inflicting one among our contests to be canceled. We have been bested in all three video games, however the scores have been respectable by slow-pitch requirements and appeared unimportant, given the unprecedented circumstances. After the final recreation, our organizers organized for a number of instances of beer to be delivered to our dugout – an act that is strictly forbidden beneath regular circumstances however on this event, the ordinance was apparently waived – and all of us lingered and laughed, popped a number of chilly ones, posed for extra photos and exchanged uniform shirts, sweatbands, gloves, hats and different memorabilia. Two of the gamers I met had introduced packages from worldwide competitions that they had performed in after they have been younger. It was all they needed to share with us and it was very touching to be given one thing that was so clearly very expensive to them. I requested the Cuban gamers to autograph the within covers of these packages they usually have been all very comfortable to oblige. On this superb ambiance of fraternity and respect, one had the sense of what ‘regular’ relations between American and Cuban residents could be, if the political chasm between us have been to by some means disappear.
Following our collection on the sphere, the Cuban Softball Federation met with officers from the U.S. Senior Softball Affiliation who had joined us on the journey and collectively they mentioned the probabilities of forming a Senior League in Cuba. We have been comfortable to assume our journey and expertise may very well be the springboard wanted within the formation of a league for these great Cuban gamers. Because it seems, the Cuban Federation later introduced the primary Annual US-Cuban Senior Softball Basic shall be performed in Havana the subsequent yr, that includes the 4 new Cuban Senior Softball groups which have been fashioned. So it seems that the League-Of-Their-Personal thought has develop into a actuality for some senior Cubanos as they take the sphere once more to play softball, or they are saying in Cuba, “Las Grandes Pelotas.”