Hey! Today we will board the Chinese Bus to the Bay of Goddamn Pigs, because no one ever wants to go swimming again. Ever. ‘Sea nettles’ are really sea lice, the larval stage of some fucking jellyfish. Really. They bob along the surface of the water like invertebrates and sting like motherfuckers. In our group, this menace manifested in a garland of raised red welts from chin to mid torso, however the folks who floated on the bosom of the Caribbean had to contend with a flare of private welts. This is grim. Michael Ruhlman and Nancy Ashkin have particularly grievous cases.
So, Bay of Pigs it is. Stopping at the Bay of Pigs is a chance to place an overlay of reality on the anxieties I had when I was ten, eleven, and twelve. This ill-fated invasion and the construction of the Berlin Wall, followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis and doomsday the following year, was the hottest the Cold War would get.
The landing site for the CIA-backed band of 1,500 Cuban exiles is Playa Giron. The paramilitary brigade chose this beach because it is one of maybe only two on the Caribbean side with a straight shot at Havana. Much of the Caribbean shore in Cuba is just mile after mile of limestone bluffs. In the Museo Giron we watch an astonishing ten-minute b/w propaganda film about the invasion. It is a remarkable piece of film. Images of dead children and women and the haggard, desperate faces on the captured invaders will stick with me. Nowhere is the US mentioned: the invaders are called Yankee imperialists. A hundred yards away is the Soviet-era Playa Giron Resort. We stroll on the beach in a cove protected by a disintegrating, still formidable, concrete barrier that stretches across to prevent any further incursions by Yankee imperialists.
Earlier on the bus ride heading toward Playa Giron, Orelvis draws our attention to men with rakes spreading something over the right lane of the road for many yards, a long carpet of gold. This is rice drying.
Further up the Bay of Pigs, in the town of Playa Larga, we stop at Casa ZunZun, where the Zunzuncito Whisperer lives, a guy who charms bee hummingbirds outta the trees. The Zunzuncito is the smallest bird in the world, two and a half inches from head to tail. True dis. Playa Larga is also the home to Café Don Alexis. It’s a very plain aquamarine space, part prep room, part kitchen, part dining area, every inch inscribed with ‘Kilroy-style’ graffiti. The thatched roof does not meet the walls, allowing a fan-augmented breeze through. Everything is ultra fresh. The fish we’ll eat came swimming up to the table. The man preparing it has to handle two small cats leaning down the wall above him from opening under the roof. Every once and a while, he tosses them a chunk of flesh. Alexis himself is merry and enthusiastic about feeding this drop-in multitude. He presents each dish with the single word – “More!” There are many head-scratching mysteries in Cuba and here it’s the sink housing perhaps a half dozen large turtles. The rather pertinent question ‘Why?’ was never asked. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Don Alexis has cooked us a feast, our best meal. From here, it’s a straight shot to Hotel Telegrafo.
We will enter Havana from the east, so Tim detours us to La Cabana, the ‘cañonazo’ fort, before we tunnel under the harbor to the city. The most complete rum-and-cigar store is there. A looming, life-size statue of a man who rolled cigars at a little table at one side until he died scares the bejesus out of me. We’ve not been there five minutes when a busload of hideous people led by a screechy, vaping guide-ess fills the fucking place with pink flesh and covetousness. Time to hit the highway. Everyone of our group who needs to has bought their booty of sin. Our rooms in Hotel Telegrafo are ready and I am ready to shower. Before I step in, I mutter a prayer for water pressure.
Our celebratory and bittersweet final meal takes place at San Cristobal, one of Havana’s best and most memorable paladars. We’re seated at a long table in a narrow two or three story covered courtyard. A thunderstorm breaks over our heads with a crash. There is enough of a roof overhead to keep the usual elements at bay, but this rain comes down with such force that a light and misty veil of precip descends upon us and we are glad.
Will Smith does not show up.
They offer us a postprandial shot of rum and a cigar, which they won’t light for us, because we’d be f-o-r-e-v-e-r and they have a business to run.