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RUNNER-UP TRAVEL STORY 2011 - Captive in Cuba - by Jackie Dupuis

Captive in Cuba 

by Jacqueline Dupuis

I smiled at the security guard who sat outside the door of the villa I had rented in Havana, Cuba.  Normally I would try to take a few minutes to wish him a good evening, but I was already late to meet some friends. My guard, I had discovered, although quite large, friendly and efficient, had managed to lose all of his front teeth which impeded his speech. This along with my novice Spanish had brought our communication to a series of smiles and nods.

As I hurried towards the gate, he stood up from the small plastic chair he sat on every evening and pointed back towards the house, and said something ending with the two words “en casa” which I knew meant “in house”.

The rest of his words a mystery, I reached for the gate, “I’m going to meet my friends for dominoes, I’ll be okay,” I said, assuming he was concerned for my safety as a female traveller wandering in Havana at night. 

He stepped between me and the gate, pushing it shut and said, “appagars, ventil  lady en casa,” and he pointed back towards the front door of the villa. It still made no sense to me. He repeated himself one more time, hoping that I would finally understand him. I didn’t. Not quite sure what I had done, but not wanting to risk upsetting him further, I retreated back inside.

As I took stock of my situation from inside the house, I watched the security guard standing outside staring back through the glass door at me.  Maybe he would wander away?

The owner of the villa was out for the evening, so asking for assistance was not an option. Time was passing and I knew my friends would be wondering what had happened to me. I sent out a SOS text message: house security won’t let me leave, please come ASAP.  

Time passed and no rescue party had arrived for me. I decided that if I could go find my friends, I could return to the casa and have them help me solve this problem.  I would need to get to the street. As I walked out of my captor’s view towards the bathroom in the rear of my villa, I devised an escape plan.  

I dropped my purse out the window and lowered myself into the alley below.  As I tried to climb through the hedge, lining  the property, I realized exactly how dense it was. I was covered in twigs, leaves, and dirt, but I was too far to go back. I continued pushing my way through the shrub wall. Luckily for me the sidewalk was empty as I emerged on the other side.  I snuck to the street and peered around the corner feeling much like a spy from a mystery novel. I saw my gate open! The guard knew I was out and was coming for me.  Panic struck as I tried to determine which way I should run.  

I heard a familiar voice from the driveway. My rescue party had finally arrived.  As I appeared from around the corner, the guard looked at me with a startled expression, obviously impressed at my stealthy escape.  

“Thank goodness you are here,” I said to my friends. “I can’t understand what I’ve done wrong. I had to climb through the shrubs to come find you to help me!” I realized that I looked crazy covered in bits of shrub and dirt standing in the street.   

“Ahhh, mijita,” my friend said laughing as he pulled a twig, resembling a set of deer antlers, from my hair, “You are not under arrest. He only wanted you to turn off the fan in the house to save electricity. Maybe tonight, instead of dominoes, we will work on your Spanish”.

Bio: Jacqueline is currently a travel consultant for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada.  Born and raised in Ontario’s farm land she enjoys spending her free time in her home town of Oro Station and in her second home in Alturas de la Lisa Cuba, as well as exploring new destinations as often as she can. 

Jacqueline's Tips for Havana, Cuba:

From the age of its buildings, its political history, to the never ending stream of classic cars, and smiling faces, Havana is a unique Caribbean experience. Old Havana has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and hours could be spent exploring the streets and old buildings being restored. Havana’s charm comes from its history but also from its people.  The Cuban people genuine and friendly always have a smile and a few moments to talk about where you are from and what life is where you are from.  While Havana is not known for its beaches, Playa Santa Maria in the east, as well as small pocket beaches to the west of the city are beautiful  and offer the option of having a beach day without having to commit yourself to a resort stay.José Martí Airport (HAV) is located 15 km outside the city center and is serviced by most international airlines.  A variety of hotels, modern to boutique are available as well as local houses (Casa Particular) that rent rooms, apartments or villas to travellers.  I would suggest trying a local house to discover the real flavor of the island.  This gives the visitor an option of interacting with a Cuban family and learning more about life in Cuba.  Restaurants, government run and private paladars (private restaurants) are available offering a variety of menus from international to traditional Cuban cuisine.  Private car hires and tourist taxis are available to move you through the city.  Buses do run frequently but are often standing room only and do not keep to a time schedule.

Jacqueline's local recommendation was for Margaret Brady, a tour guide in Puerto Rico.

Photo of impenetrable hedge provided by artist Vivian Reiss: