Day 19 - Thursday, December 16, 1999

Out for a stroll yesterday along the Autopista Sur I thought it would be nice to drive all the way down to the easternmost part of the Península de Hicacos, as a kind of goodbye to this island that I have come to like very much. So that's what I do this morning.

Goodbye...It's a quarter past ten and I am standing on the dirty beach on the east end of the peninsula, looking out over the brown-green colored ocean. The water has washed ashore a truck tire. The sky is cloudy and a stiff wind is blowing from the southeast; the air feels humid and saltish. A pelican flies by at less than two meters from me. Because of its relaxed wing-beat in the head wind I feel like I am watching a slow-motion movie...what a fascinating sight!

All things must come to an end. The three nice girls that get in right after I cross the drawbridge will be my last passengers in Cuba, since I am on my way to Juan Gómez airport now. Actually, they want to go to Matanzas but decide to take their chances of getting a ride at the entrance to the airport. We talk about Cuba, the people, the country and why I am travelling on my own (how did you guess?).

I am on the road that leads to the airport. An overhead sign reads Feliz viaje - Vuelva pronto. I return my car to the rental agency. The car is OK, but I do have to point out that the drop-off charges (US$54) are really included in the sum that I paid for this trip.

My flight back home is scheduled at six o'clock in the afternoon, giving me ample time to pick up a copy of Versos Sencillos and a bottle of Havana Club Añero 7. Countdown is progressing and as I wait for things to come I see the departure time change from 18:00 to 19:20 to 18:45. At 17:27 the Martinair Boeing 767 is docked at the gate. It's a funny sight to see the passengers who have just arrived pass through the departure lounge; the only thing that separates them from us is a glass wall. At 18:45 sharp we leave for Montego Bay, Jamaica.

'Great to be back home, man!' The unmistakable accent of one of the Jamaicans that get off the plane in Montego Bay makes me and a couple of other passengers smile. A smile that is soon to disappear when we take off again, this time for the eight-and-a-half-hour flight to Amsterdam. One of the three or four-year-old children of a Dutch family starts screaming for sheer weariness and that triggers the other two kids to do the same. The respective parents, who are sitting with their feet high up against a partition in the middle of the airplane, try to calm the children down in a way that does not convince me. Two Dutch guys in front of me think putting your feet up high where everyone can see them is a good idea that is worthy of imitation. And why, why do people first try to squeeze tons of baggage in the overhead compartments when they board the plane and then spend the rest of the flight opening the compartment and going through their stuff over and over again?

A Cuban woman sits to my right, one row behind me. I notice it's the first time she flies in an airplane. This of course is no surprise, but it's funny to see her trying to order a cup of coffee with one of the stewardesses. She is not aware of the air travel routine that dictates that you first get something to eat and then have a choice of coffee or tea. Even funnier is when right after she has finished her meal, she picks up her tray and takes it herself to the trolley that the crew use to collect waste.