They crossed each other on the sea that separates us, the Cuban boat people and the Adonia on its inaugural sail from PortMiami to Havana. Ships passing in the night without lasting significance, except the Cubans made the treacherous voyage in a rickety homemade vessel. They were fleeing their homeland, risking their lives. The Americans were in party mode: Ahoy, La Habana, here we come!
Fathom’s new cultural cruising line left the Miami skyline behind to salsa music, passengers already sunning poolside, others pining to smoke a Cuban stogie, a dance teacher preparing his “cultural immersion” lesson of salsa and Colombian cumbia so Americans could better interact with Cubans.
As the cruisers made the overnight trip to Havana — among them 16 Cuban-born Americans nostalgic for a peek at the lost homeland — Cuban migrants headed the other way, hoping to touch U.S. soil. Their American Dream can now, theoretically, include a cruise back home.
The Adonia sailed into Havana to views of El Morro, once one of Cuba’s most feared prisons and the site of summary executions by Fidel Castro’s newly installed government — executions without fair trial led by none other than Che Guevara, now iconic T-shirt symbol. The bullet holes on the rock walls remain. The Fathom itinerary says that passengers in this “people-to-people” voyage get history lessons on board. Hopefully, the geographically challenged cumbia lesson wasn’t a prelude to cluelessness, and the history course doesn’t end at pirates of the Caribbean and the sinking of the Maine.
The seven men and two women fleeing all that history Americans yearn to experience reached Key Largo’s shore at the break of dawn Tuesday, disembarking at Travel Town Trailer, an RV park, according to the Keynoter. They left behind in the mangroves an improvised vessel made with collected wood, tin and sails made from bed sheets. And a statistic, too: 60 Cubans have arrived by boat since Thursday in five perilous trips across the Florida Straits.
Passengers on Adonia’s sold-out sail disembarked in a new air-conditioned terminal named Sierra Maestra after the mountain range in eastern Cuba from where the bearded Castro brothers waged their guerrilla warfare.
According to reports, it took a mere 15 minutes to clear customs and immigration despite the small herd of media and close to 700 American tourists.
In Havana, a large crowd greeted passengers, waving flags and high-fiving. Most didn’t see, however, what happened to a Cuban who showed too much enthusiasm for them.
He wore a huge American flag draped around his shoulders and was being interviewed by a TV reporter when an older man questioned his allegiance to the Revolution. A pro-government mob took their cue and went to work yelling, “Viva la Revolución! Remember Bay of Pigs!” In less than 15 minutes, the Cuban police had hauled Daniel Llorente Miranda to jail. The 52-year-old waved goodbye from the back seat of the police car, clutching the flag to his heart.
Any meaningful change is elusive, but travel is running full throttle.
Carnival’s Adonia makes history and the Cuban boat people are well on their way to breaking last year’s record.