The backstory on this adventure began a long time ago in a dorm room at Timothy Dwight college on the Yale University campus when I met a thin, dark haired, handsome and energetic young Deadhead named Christopher Lansing Simonds. I was a visitor sleeping on the couch in the living room of a “T.D.” dorm that Chris shared with my high school pal Rick McNerney and 2 other guys. It didn’t take long for Chris (his friends call him “Simbo”) and I to establish a kinship.
As years passed we’ve stayed in touch. Our common bonds have included location (we’re both from Darien, Connecticut), a woman (Simbo’s first wife, Christina) who introduced me to my wife Jessica (the mother of my 3 daughters), and fishing. Simbo and I have fished together for the better part of 4 decades.
In October of 2021, just as the covid pandemic seemed to be subsiding, Chris called and invited me to join him on a fly fishing adventure to Cuba. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to say yes. Jessica was thrilled, I could hardly sleep for a month and by December the emails started to flow coming from Chris Littauer of WorldCast Anglers out of Victor, Idaho. The messages detailed what we could expect in the way of services, timing, covid controls and of course the variety of species we’d be fishing for.
By January 20th when flight #799 from Fort Lauderdale to Havana was boarding Chris and I had successfully navigated the JetBlue ticket line and all that goes into buying visas. We flew to a fogged in Havana, circled the island 3 times and returned to Fort Lauderdale for refueling.
At noon on that Friday, after finally landing in Havana’s airport, warm salty Caribbean air hit our faces and adventure was on. We found an orderly line at customs. My experience was hassle free, after a brief interaction with an officer behind the glass she asked me to step back to a red line towards the middle of the room and talk with her supervisor. A few anxious minutes later, watching her walk from one kiosk to another with my passport in her hand, she approached me and asked what my visit to Cuba entailed? I told her I was interested in learning about the environmental practices that Cuba’s employed to maintain its pristine coastal conditions. She looked at me sternly and said “You’re here to fish, correct?” I nodded “Yes, that too.” She handed me my passport and said “You may proceed.”
At baggage claim Chris introduced the WorldCast crew and several of the anglers that would be sharing 9 days with us. A short wait for bags and rod cases followed, luggage rolled out along with hundreds of light blue plastic wrapped packages that our fellow travelers were returning home to Cuba with. Havana has a third world airport with a respectable sense of order and cleanliness. Plastic wrap seems to be an effective way to dissuade potential thievery, and pack as much into the allowable size as possible. On collection, my Simms duffle was intact, later I found a customs inspection slip inside..
Once outside of the airport the WorldCast Angler crew began to move as a squad, 10 men with a common purpose. We found a big yellow taxi and loaded the van. It turned out the driver wasn’t familiar with our hotel and he took us the long way driving though areas that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Havana’s streets move casually. American cars and trucks from the 1950’s travel on lightly populated roadways. Providing distinct contrast, contemporary vehicles mostly utility trucks mix in, they’re clearly funded by the Cuban government. Neighborhood homes are clean and organized but crumbling. Colors once vibrant and tropical now faded, rubbed out by hot tropical sun and high winds. Every dent in the 75 year old armada was repaired and corrected without the aid of modern technology, the acne of time is apparent on almost every trunk and hood.
Authenticity of service extended by necessity isn’t celebrated in Cuba, it’s a way of life. Most vehicles stop randomly dropping off and picking up waiting crowds, unmarked taxis moving the masses in what appeared to me as organized chaos.
Hotel Victoria occupies a corner two blocks up the hill from Havana’s long, winding waterfront boulevard. We arrived mid day and settled in quickly. At the check in desk I learned that American credit cards were not a payment option but since I’d booked the room through American channels in advance my deposit was applied to the bill, in full. Our shared room on the 4 th floor was simple, 2 beds wrapped in crisp pale yellow sheets, simple foam pillows, no blankets. As we entered the room and placed our bags and rod cases on the tile floor, Simbo was quick to open the windows and let Havana’s Caribbean breeze in, nothing more was necessary. There was a lengthy security password for internet service, after a few tries a complimentary 10 hour connection was made. A small tv on the wall was never turned on, we started to disconnect from our daily routines as Americans just enough to let go and join the pace of Cuban life.