On Sunday morning I woke early. Open windows in our room facing north, morning light filled in on the square framed by a quiet ocean rolling soft waves on its walls behind the boulevard, the weather had mellowed under cooler air, a cold front had settled over Havana.

Yanier was scheduled to meet us at 9, he was going to bring us back to Juan Carlos’ studio, followed by a tour of Organoponico Plaza. I enjoyed a simple, early breakfast in the hotel lobby while Simbo slept in. Similar firm pineapple, sliced ham and scrambled eggs were served with thin coffee in an immaculate cafeteria setting on the first floor.

As we walked away from the hotel, up the road past the University, I started to realize that Cuban people represent something I don’t remember seeing in the United States, they express caution in their movements and their eyes. Not in a threatened way, it’s more subtle than that. Military, armed men and women have a continuous position on the landscape. I didn’t see any signs of clash, fighting, intoxication, or unrest. The vibe was simply guarded.

Havana artist Juan Carlos

I was taken by the efficiency I saw in every server that we encountered in Cuba. At a coffee shop, when we were waiting to meet Juan Carlos, CL asked for milk to add to the sublime Cuban coffee they served us, our waitress just said matter of factly “no, we can’t get milk”. She smiled a little, her hair was perfect, her shirt and apron were both clean and pressed, a hint of lipstick and just enough mascara on her eyelashes to tell that she’d made the effort. There was only one other table occupied in her second floor hideaway, artwork filled it’s walls. She was in Havana, working on a Sunday and she was proud. No milk, no big deal. Well, at least she wasn’t going to make it a thing with us.

The Organoponico was closed on Sunday. One man worked as neighborhood dogs patrolled its rows, raised beds featured chards and kale, lettuce and carrots, boc choy and spinach. I looked through the fence of the 5 acre garden in search of herbs, a row of chives was all I could see from the sidewalk looking in.

The largest Organoponico was about 2 blocks from Revolution square where buildings nearby celebrated Fidel Castro and Cha Revira. Military patrols were numerous, aside from a few perfectly maintained old Chevys very few people and a yellow taxi in the parking lot. No one strolled the park-like setting.

My take away, I felt more like an intruder than I’ve ever felt in my life. Observing life on an island that only I was free to leave was unsettling. Fishing in water that only our group could explore seems unfair as I look back. The Cuban people can’t even get in a boat. We only saw 3 boats, vintage shrimpers that looked more worn out than the taxis in old Havana.