Early every morning and late into the evenings, I walked the streets of Old Havana, a place I know well from years of visiting Cuba.
For the past 15 years or so, I’ve stayed with one family. I’ve had the opportunity to see their children grow up. And I’ve heard about Cuba. The father, Rodolfo, who told me stories of playing chess with Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, has passed away. And the mom, Maria, has just survived a battle with breast cancer. Seeing her was a must on my recent trip, and that brought tears to my eyes.
Like most trips, the first two days you try to figure out what’s new and how it affects your travel. In Havana, the streets were empty the first night out, with not many tourists or Cubans.
I traveled to Cuba this year to cover May Day in Havana, a celebration of labor, and it was an unbelievable time. I was up at 5 a.m. May 1, as people in Havana started to assemble. On other trips, I’ve covered May Day in other, less populated parts of the island. The celebration in Havana this year was vast. Although I have no way of knowing exactly, I estimate a million people lined up — for blocks and blocks and blocks — to march on May Day and show their support, all in a carnival atmosphere.
The marchers dressed in costumes, carrying signs and pictures of Fidel and Raul Castro. From young children to old Socialists, they waited hours to march through Revolution Square, as small bands played music to create an atmosphere of party unity.
After May Day, I traveled the island to some areas I’d been before, staying with families. I discussed their views about the United States, particularly in light of President Obama’s recent overtures, as he lifted restrictions that now allow Americans to visit and send money to Cuban relatives.
In some of those conversations, Cubans — particularly younger Cubans — expressed concern about their future. They are uncertain about what life will be like if Raul Castro assumes control of the country. They fear that their nation will not see progress.