Streaking across the American eastern seaboard from Toronto to Havana in the night sky. The tail of the Florida keys disappears into the Caribbean and we are over the sea, nothing below until the first lights of Cuba off on the distance. As we near the islands the lights stretch east to west across our path. Listening to Neil Young “Searching for a Heart of Gold” on my iPod. The lights of Havana are not the same as the lights of a North American city. Streetlights are fewer and dimmer and most of the lights have a deep orange glow. I can’t make out any neon, happily nothing that looks like a shopping mall. And the lights that I think must be residential are few and far between.
Immigration is thankfully quick, my bags are off right away and I am in a taxi heading for the Hotel Nacional in no time. The drive is very dark with the winding roads poorly lit, if at all. Our headlights illuminate groups of young people hanging around at intersections, sometimes groups with bicycles. I am struck by the darkness and people’s seeming ease with it – strolling across the street in front of our car barely visible except for a flash of white socks, the reflective strip of a running shoe or the sparkle of a Saturday night outfit. The reception at the Nacional is civil at best, with little english spoken and that so fast it’s hard to discern. My top floor room has a view of the Malecon, lined with people sitting on the cement sea wall with their backs to the sea. A shout goes up each time a salty spray shoots up from the seaward side, soaking the row of loungers. The sidewalk is full of strollers and buskers, even at midnight and salsa music floats up from the bar in the courtyard below. I open the window all the way to let in the warm, humid air and the music and the noises from the Malecon. I fall asleep to the cocktail of sounds distinctly Cuban.