So, there we were. Waking up early to the sounds of our last Cuban breakfast being prepared in the kitchen and a cool breeze coming off the bay into our open windows.
I gathered my things and double-checked all my travel documents before zipping up the suitcase and taking out the camera for a few early morning shots. It was completely peaceful out there, but I should have recognized this as the calm before the storm.
Our taxi driver arrived early that morning but waited patiently for us to finish our breakfast of fruit, eggs, toast and goat cheese. I wasn’t a huge fan of the eggs, but that cheese tasted fantastic. I ate it all and so did my brother. We enjoyed our meal quietly and just reflected on the time we had spent on this otherworldly island.
And just like that, we cleaned up, paid for our meal and loaded our luggage into the nicest cab we had been in the entire trip.
Of course, this was Cuba. We weren’t going to get out of the country without a final issue to address.
The drive back to Havana was going to take about 2.5 hours so we settled in and mostly listened as the driver and my father-in-law made small talk. Eventually, he revealed the origin of his early 90s Mercedes, which was above and beyond nicer than about 98% of the rest of the cars in Cuba while still being over a quarter of a century old.
The original owner was a woman who had run a very popular national magazine on the island and was actually gifted the vehicle by Fidel Castro himself upon her retirement.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Castro himself had taken a ride in the car. Maybe sat in the passenger’s seat with a fat puro (cigar) in his mouth as he cruised along the malecón and reminisced of the time they repelled those American, capitalist forces at the Bay of Pigs.
Probably not, but it was fun to imagine.
Our driver was fantastic. He stopped every once and awhile for a break, took us to a roadside souvenir shop to pick up a few more items with our remaining CUC and got us to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
We all made it through security fine – except for my Dad who had his 2 bottles of rum confiscated (he bought 2 more inside the airport) – and had time to relax and talk about what we would do differently if we ever came back to the island.
Short answer…stay in one city and make short day trips to other places nearby or just explore the beaches the entire time and forget trying to experience the history.
Finally we boarded our plane and took off back toward home.
It was a nice, 45 minute flight and things were going well. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale and were directed toward the terminal of our connecting flight to Dallas and hopped on the tram.
On our way toward security, my brother realized he had left his luggage on the tram and would need to head back to pick it up. Not knowing if my father would have any problems with his rum (or bionic hips), I sent he and my father-in-law ahead to work their way through security again as I waited for my brother and made a quick call to my wife.
If temporarily forgetting one bag was the worst thing that was going to happen during this trip home, it was going to be a piece of cake.
Jon and I finally connected and got through security with about 30 minutes before the plane was scheduled to board. We grabbed a quick bite to eat (an outrageously expensive personal pizza) and made our way toward the gate to relax until it was time to position ourselves for boarding.
Right about the time they started calling for the first group to line up, I decided to make a quick trip to the bathroom. I felt completely fine at the time until I started to return to grab my bags and that’s when the bubbling began.
That’s right. My stomach started making some funky digestion noises and the battle was on. It felt like the beginning of a fight between two junior high kids who are just bumping chests with each other and maybe giving a slight push here and there. Only this fight seemed to be between my stomach and intestines.
I did my best to shrug it off and focused on getting on the plane all the while hoping it was just a slight reaction to the pizza.
Maybe my body was readjusting to “American” food…uhm…after only 4 days. Wishful thinking, I know.
I sat in my seat right between my Dad and my brother and looked over at Jon to see he was getting that look in his eyes and face like something wasn’t right. He hit the bathroom about 3 times before we even took off. Each time he returned, he looked more sick and miserable.
I felt bad for him.
And then, it hit me.
I headed toward the front of the plane and, as neatly as possible, destroyed that tiny restroom. The noises coming from that little closet-type space had to have sounded like I had swallowed fire crackers and they were just starting to explode on the exit. I wasn’t sure if my body was functioning properly during this time or if some inside part was, in fact, giving up on the whole, calling for independence and exiting out of the mess shoot.
I returned to my seat for a few moments and tried to snack on the crackers and sprite I had received hoping to calm things down.
It didn’t work.
I quickly made my brother move and went back to the scene of the crime (my DNA would have incriminated me quickly if something actually did happen there) determined to get whatever was inside my stomach out.
After several minutes of getting way too acquainted with the toilet and attempting to evacuate any remaining pieces of food that might be carrying any unwanted Cuban parasites, I regained my composure and made my way out and stopped to ask the flight attendant if they happened to have any medicine for stomach issues.
She said yes and then proceeded to tell me that the crew was wondering if we were contagious.
I assured her we were not and had eaten something bad.
I really was not sure what it was at the time but was leaning toward the pizza as my Dad was doing fine and my father-in-law seemed to be ok as well and they had both opted for the empanadas.
It was the LONGEST plane ride ever and I could not wait to get home and rest or be sick in the comfort of my own home.
I tried to sleep (which I am pretty much unable to do on a plane…ever) and even put on my noise canceling headphones to help me tune out the rest of the plane.
My stomach was a pain-filled, highly sensitive, raging beast and I could do nothing more than bear it the best I could.
In my head, I was cursing that little, over-priced pizza place. What “sick” cook sneezed on the food or forgot to wash their hands as they boxed up the meals? I was as angry and annoyed as I could be figuring that it had to have been the “source” until we landed and my Dad made a bee-line toward the restroom after disembarking from the plane.
Yep, he started dealing with the same belly fire and my pizza theory was torn to shreds.
Eventually, we were able to track it back to the one item we all ate that morning but was only tasted by my father-in-law (Señor Iron Stomach as we call him) and that happened to be the goat cheese.
It was a tasty and very costly lesson.
Not financially, but mostly in time as we spent the majority of our first two days back in Texas hanging out in our bathrooms, eating nothing and apparently having a tiny man inside our large intestine turn on a fire hose every few hours.
It was awful but definitely made for an interesting, albeit painful, conclusion to our trip to Cuba.