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Spandex Trek

So you have read the articles of first year spring breakers heading to Cuba. Sure, they got published before this one. See first years are still in the habit of meeting deadlines and besides, I have an excellent excuse for my tardiness in getting this article to print. You see, I am a lazy bastard.

OK, so despite being now four weeks since Spring Break, I want you all to know out there, that this band of Cuba Trekkers were the original. We were the true-blue, the pioneers, the real deal. All others just followed in our steps. So let me introduce our intrepid team: Sonia Alcantarilla, Federico Kogan, Stephanie Lee, Hildegunn Naas, Marcelo Gigliani Uriarte, Beatriz Reyero Del Rio, Anthony Morgan, Khuram Maqsood, Dirk Schraven, Joao Berger, Bryan King, Silvia Oteri, Nithya Jayaraman, Manuel Barbieux, and yours truly-an international collection of the finest of the January Cohort and one
September, Class of 2001.

Where to begin, where to begin? How about explaining the title of this article. Cubans like Spandex. I mean, they really like Spandex! And it is not any ordinary Spandex. We are talking bicycle shorts in neon pink, fluorescent green, yellow, and orange in thick stripes against black. You know the kind of things bodybuilders often wear on the cover of Flex or Muscle & Fitness , or so I am told by those sad buggers who actually have bought Flex (only $2.99 this month) and Muscle & Fitness (Special offer on Weider protein bars on page 37). Only in Cuba, it is large women who wear these shorts everywhere. In fact, at night, Cuban women walking along the road serve as a damn cheap and efficient replacement for street lighting. Which is just as well, as some of our drivers who shall remain unidentified (Joao and Marcelo-oops-this keyboard has a mind of its own) are nutcase drivers and needed all the visibility they could get given their preference for speeding along roads replete with cows, chickens, oxen, pedestrians, cyclists, and trucks driving on the wrong side of the road. Although it should not pass without mention that one Tony Morgan found his “Che” while plowing through a veritable army of large mean crabs that decided to migrate inland from the sea to lay eggs one dusky evening. It was truly amazing-there were thousands of crabs-big buggers too-crossing the road. It was just like they show on those nature programs or in National Geographic. (See how eclectic I can be in my magazine tastes.)
In fact, it was a vacation mission for our intrepid band of travelers to discover their “Che.” But it is far too personal a matter to discuss here. I can report, however, that there was some serious discovery of “Che” at our dinners. Yes, Cuba has history and history, and beautiful landscapes, and great seas and beaches, and history, and amazing architecture and propaganda (I meant history), but it will be the dinners which are etched most indelibly in my mind. Locations included one of the world’s top seven bars-El Floridita in Havana, a famous Hemingway hangout, an authentic private home, and some other notable establishments, but as much as the location varied, the revelry remained constant. Wine and Mojitos flowed, lobster was eaten, and HBS students got up on the tables and chairs and danced and sang to some great Cuban music. “El ComandanTE!” Khuram unwittingly entertained us all with his fantastic impersonation of Steve Martin’s Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, as he contentedly beat his silverware against the table in questionable rhythm to many of the Cuban tunes. Even the inseparable Sylvia and Bea ran amok on occasion! Joao could be heard to yell out at the Brits, “Beef!” for no apparent reason, although it seemed his cries were more frequent on those days when we had had too much sun. Nithya was happy teaching our former Welsh international rugby player, Tony, lyrics to dirty rugby songs, which added a few additional shades of red to his already sunburned face! Stephanie Lee was an appreciative participant too.

Fede, our unofficial El Comandante, was highly entertaining. Particularly amusing were his moments of organizational lapses. I shall not embarrass the poor boy with specifics but let us say these moments were coined “Fede Moments,” the more memorable of which became etched in our psyches as “FM Classics,” and is not to be confused with Mozart playing radio stations. Sonia and Marcelo were the brains behind the whole week and did a great job in keeping fifteen absent minded, independent, and domineering characters in line and organized. Manuel is remembered for the greatest comeback in history. When called “El Chino,” he informed his tormentors that he was in fact Belgian, and at their disbelief, he added that he was “from the oriental part of Brussels.” This left them suitably satisfied. We celebrated Manuel’s birthday in traditional style in Havana at the aforementioned El Floridita, home of the Dacquiri.
Hildegunn impressed us all with the fluency in her seventy-third language and was cool as a cucumber in moments when yours truly was getting more than a little flustered as we entered our fourth hour of traveling in the wrong direction, in what was supposed to be a one and a half hour trip.

Bryan’s most memorable moment occurred even before the trip began back in Toronto. All I shall say is “My name is Bryan, hear me roar!” Dirk shamed me with his appetite for culture, while I sought any place where I could take off my shirt and work on my tan. What’s up with that Cuban Policeman telling me to put back on my shirt? I wasn’t even in a church!

All in all we took in Trinidad, a great genuine Cuban city, Cienfuegos and its Plaza dedicated to Che Guevara, The Bay of Pigs, Havana, and Varadero, which is a little on the touristy side for us. It was a great trip, and the memories will surely last much longer than my tan!

April 17, 2001
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