Howard Besser's Cuba trip diary

March 2001

3/1 LA to Nassau Bahamas -- Sat in 1st class with 4 members from hip-hop group Jay-Z. One of them was in my window seat and wanted me to sit in his assigned aisle seat. I said I'd be happy to trade for one of their other band members' window seats, but they didn't want that. So my seat-mate (Shawn Carter, the group leader) starts hassling me, asking me what in my childhood gave me a phobia about setting away from the window. When I said that I wanted to just be able to sleep against the window, he said that this was a party flight and that the band would be mixing it up the whole way to Miami. But the band members slept almost the entire way to Miami!

3/1 Bahamas -- I knew very little about this area before this trip, and first started reading on the way here. Several points stood out. A minor point: the government here insists that this is not part of the Caribbean (it faces the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream). I was very impressed about this history of the Bahamas as a pirate haven. The British encouraged piracy here to counter other national interests in the area (primarily the Spanish), so it was almost officially a pirate-dominated set of islands. And this theme continued through history: this was the central point for rum-running to the US during prohibition, and a major focal point for smuggling South American drugs to the US in the 1970s and 1980s (and according to Lonely Planet, today 50% of the cocaine entering the US passes through here). Lonely Planet also discussed that male islanders tend to have their regular families (with their wife) and "outside children" with other women. I was skeptical until, in the course of a long discussion with me sitting next to him in the front, my taxi driver (Robert) nonchalantly mentioned his "outside children". The guidebook also mentioned the language people used, but it still surprised me -- use of both British words and American slang (of the kind that most Brits wouldn't understand). I stayed at the awful-named "British Colonial" Hilton. They have cable TV that includes channels from both Canada and France, as well as Los Angeles station KTLA.

3/2 Nassau -- Walked around the downtown area, near my hotel. Lots of sales stalls in and around the "Straw Market" that made the place look like places I've seen in Asia, Peru, and Mexico. Most were selling combinations of the same T-shirts and trinkets. Huge cruise ships arrived, some of them taller than the highest downtown building. Went to the Pirate Museum and store. They clearly spent a lot of money on the installations that have you walk through simulated parts of pirate ships and past lots of dioramas. Found out lots of interesting things about pirates from the museum as well as the guidebook. For more than a century the British actually encouraged the development of a pirate colony to counter-balance the Spanish influence in that part of the world. Lots of positive things about the pirates: most became pirates to leave their intolerable positions as sailors on oppressive merchant vessels; pirates were incredibly democratic, dividing their loot equally (with a small extra portion for the captain), and voting on all kinds of issues (including replacement of the captain). There were women pirates. And one of the short set of rules displayed on one of the pirate ships stated that male pirates who took advantage of women against their will would be killed.

3/2 Habana -- The Air Cubana flight was one of the strangest flights I've been on. Plane was a YAK-42, probably Russian-made, shaped like a DC-10 made for midgets, with very little leg-room and a tiny entry door (everyone had to crouch to enter the plane). On take-off, the plane shook and smoke rushed by, racing along the top of the cabin, while overhead storage bins popped open. I quickly realized that the smoke was cool air (like dry ice smoke). Then on landing, the overhead compartments again flew open, and as soon as we slowed down (but were still on an active runway taxi-ing to the gate) half the people got out of their seats and began getting their overhead luggage (and the flight attendants said nothing). In the baggage-claim area I was approached by a Customs official who told me that Ana Elena was waiting for me outside (VIP treatment). On the way into town passed interesting places like the Place de Revolucion (interestingly adjacent to both the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Interior), the former Hilton (now Habana Libra) where Fidel set up government when he reached town, the University. Checked into the hotel, then went to Vedado for dinner at Amistad, passing sites like the Riviera Hotel (Meyer Lansky's place, modeled on Las Vegas). Interesting cultural center, restaurant, bar, and saw a wedding with lots of dancing, as well as the outside bar area where most couples were necking at dark unbrella-type tables. Restaurant had a tour-group arrive (many Americans), and the food was far too heavy on the meat. In the foyer on the way back I ended up translating for a German woman (my Spanish was much better than hers).

3/3 (Sabado) Habana -- Spent most of this Saturday walking around Old Habana. Just leaving the hotel and entering Cathedral Square, I started feeling that even if the US blockade of Cuba ended, they should still keep US tourists from traveling here; it's so swamped with tourists already that I can't imagine hordes of Americans on top of how many are already here. A Cuban guy named Alexander glommed onto me early on in the day and hung out with me almost the entire day, even though we had severe communications problems (and not just from his poor english and my poor spanish). He thought that the US was great and Cuba was horrible, and I tried to insist that his view of the US was more rosy than reality. But we ended up kind of bonding after a cop pulled him aside and started interrogating him while we were sitting on a curb in Cathedral Square. It looked like the cop was going to arrest him (took his ID and radioed into the station) when I took out my camera and intimidated the cop. I also insisted to the cop that he was my friend. After another 5 minutes, the cop let him go, and we both had more respect for each other. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him give money to a crippled lady as we walked through a marketplace. And when I bought him a coke, he made us go to several different places until one of them sold us a coke at Cuban (rather than foreigner) rates. He took me to a take-out place for pizza & ice cream; I declined the pizza but had ice cream (paid for with a US quarter and receiving 2 pesos in change). When I got back to my hotel, on my bed were towels that had been shaped into 2 kissing swans, that almost formed the shape of a heart, with a flower placed in the center. And the device that makes sure my air conditioner is off when I leave the room had been jury-rigged with a card that said "to our distinguished guest". Hooked up with Steve Chapman, Maggie Hale, and Wendy Gogol. Took a taxi to dinner at a private-house restaurant in a residential area about 5 miles away. Turned out to be closed, so the taxi driver took us back in a couple of miles to a place he recommended. Nice dinner, though (as seems often the case) they were out of about 1/3 of the menu items. Had a great time chatting with them. Took a cab back to the hotel and went to one of their rooms to hang out and listen to the great live music coming out of a small home packed with people next door. Watched late-night TV, and turned out to be Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob in english with subtitles. A vast improvement over the other things I've seen on Cuban TV (mostly speeches by political officials, talking head educational programs, etc.). The most interesting thing I had seen before was a cheap hokey production in a Xena-type setting, actors dressed as a kind of cross between Mayan ceremonial outfits and those worn in a cheap production of ancient Egyptian officials trying to stop Moses from leaving. (The best part of this production was the men in ancient skirts with tons of make-up on.) Production included rescue of people being burned in some kind of public ceremony. Get 2 Cuban TV channels, VH-1, CNN, and ESPN. At least once every half hour CNN advertises an herbal breast enlargement "remedy"!!

3/4 (Domingo) Habana -- Got up and was late for a supposed 9 AM tour of Old Habana by Ana Elena (that of course didn't start until around 10 AM). Got lots of interesting history of different parts of Old Habana. Walked around lots of buildings in various stages of restoration. Saw the Conservation Center complex (a former Nun's Cloister). Also heard lots of interesting tid-bits, like that telephone service has always been flat-rate, but that starting next month they would be phasing in metered local calls! Went with a larger group (including Steve Dalton) to Hotel Ambos Mundos (Hemingway's hotel) rooftop bar (where band was playing Cuban music for tourists -- like from Buena Vista Social Club). Then went to an expensive Italian restaurant where a band serenaded us with Italian and American music. Came back to my room to find towels sculpted this time into 2 hearts, again with a flower between them.

3/5 (Lunes) Habana -- I have to get up ungodly early because someone is supposed to come at 8:15 to walk our group over to the National Archives and I have absolutely no idea where it is (other than it's over a mile away). I'm the only American waiting in the lobby, and I watch several Cubans come up and deal with the desk clerks. For about 10 minutes I watch and periodically make eye contact with 2 cute young Cuban women bumbling around with the desk clerks. Finally I approach them and it turns out that they're from the National Archive and looking for our group. They had no list of names and the hotel had no list of our group, so I ended up having to remember all the Americans' room numbers and call them (but they had all already left on their own). So the 2 women (Dariana And Oxanna, both microbiologists in the Archives' Conservation Department) walked me over to the Archives. They spoke less english than I did spanish, so we had fun trying to communicate. (It got slightly better when we realized that one of them spoke french about as well as I spoke spanish.) We got to the Archive after things were supposed to start at 9:00, and of course things didn't start until almost 11:00. It was a typical 3rd world comedy: it took about 5 minutes to process each pre-registered person (including scrawling 3 copies of each registration form by hand); the lecture hall was too bright to see the screen, so a poor worker spent a full 90 minutes on a tall ladder trying to hook together blankets and hang them to cover the window; after about 90 minutes they finally found a computer and data projector, but could never get the Powerpoint software to have a decently viewable set of font and background colors. When we finally started, they had consecutive translations, and with my lack of sleep I got very drowsy. I began to think about giving s similar set of workshops in Brasil, and started to write postcards, including one to my Brazilian friend Lygia. In one of these cosmic things, at the break I was approached by a Brazilian woman (Arianna) sending me greetings from her employee Lygia, and wanting to pump me for information about how to digitize her map collection.

When everything was over (2 hours late) I walked a Dutch librarian (from St. Maartens in the Antilles) back to her hotel, passing through very poor but lively residential areas just a handful of blocks from the tourist areas. She had had to fly 2 stops (including through Panama City) to get to Habana, and had arrived at the Plaza Hotel the previous night only to find that her room had been given to someone else, so they shuttled her off to another hotel and told her that they would definitely have a room for her today. Of course they were sold out again and tried to repeat the whole process, but of course she adamantly objected and asked to see the tour service person who had booked her stay. We waited about an hour and the woman explained that she (like all our other attendees) had booked a package deal with vouchers, and apparently we were bumped by people paying "real money"! She again ended up in a hotel far away -- about a half-hour cab ride, and at dinner I insisted to group leader Steve Dalton that he express her problem to our hosts. After leaving her I walked back to my hotel, passing by Granma (the boat Fidel and Che used to come back to Cuba to start the revolution), the Museum of the Revolution, and a bunch of wall murals. I also passed lots of shops in the bustling downtown area (Centro?), and every store had all their goods behind the counter (probably to prevent shoplifting) -- looking very much like eastern european shops before the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

3/6 (Martes) Habana -- Visited the Museum of the Revolution, and had a huge number of observations, only a few of which I'll mention here. Short modern history: turn of century began neo-colonial period under US influence (a mix of dominated democracy and dictatorship), followed by a similar timeframe to Spain (Machado as dictator until toppled by weak democracy in 1933 -- similar to Primo de Rivera in Spain), then a weak democracy under influence of General Batista who finally took over directly in a 1952 coup. Communist party became very active during the first dictatorship (1920s). Castro and friends were agitators during the 2nd weak democracy, but their agitation looked a whole lot more like my anarchist friends -- constant challenges to authority but nothing resembling an organized revolution. But soon after Batista seized direct power, Castro began organizing a military-type action and in 1953 tried to attack a military garrison. They failed, got caught, were tortured and tried but were freed in a general amnesty in 1955 when most of them fled to Mexico and began organizing a military rebellion. Eighteen months later they returned and began a real guerilla war. Quite a bit (but not enough) on Camilo Cienfuegos, who seems totally overshadowed by Ché, maybe because he died in an airplane accident shortly after the election, or maybe because "he was the opposite of Ché -- he loved fun and jokes". The post-revolution sections were less interesting. Lots of stuff on the public benefits instituted by the revolution (housing, schools, etc.), as well as on the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). It seems like every downturn or protest is blamed on US agents. The well-documented US Action (the Bay of Pigs invasion) is given a whole room, and a camera crew was filming in that room.

Back at the Archivos, the Director got mad that people were coming into the event late, and mandated that people should arrive by 8:55 at the latest (for the 9:00 start time), and that the doors would be locked between sessions. She also mandated that all the Americans come for the entire 2-hour evening reception (probably a reaction to an emerging trip to the baseball game). Then about a dozen of us walked across downtown and had a tour of the Institute of History and Culture, essentially an archive that concentrates more on history of labor agitation and the Cuban revolution. They have a great Conservation Lab, but have serious problems with electronic materials. They don't even have players for their various video formats, and have no plans at all for digital longevity (apparently the study of this was cut from their budget). But they have great climate control for their fragile items, and part of the building is a former bank vault (great idea -- turning banks into archives!).

Evening reception at the Archives for foreign guests and Archives staff. For 2++ hours we were entertained by various types of music -- a super-skinny Madonna-type lounge singer in 5+ inch platform shoes, a 70++ woman singer/performer who used to perform at the Tropicana hotel, and a live Cuban band (all apparently very famous here). The older woman ended her portion leading us in a kind of Cuban folk line-dance, and the band ended their set with a tune from Buena Vista Social Club (which is not well known in Cuba because of political reasons). Then went out with a group of 3 Cubans (including Dariana, her brother, and a guy from the Casas des las Americas), 2 Brazilians (including Lygia's boss Adriana), a Columbian librarian, and Peter Yanne and Owen. We ate, drank, and listened to a live Cuban band (Raîces Cubanas) until well after midnight. Our talking ranged between spanish, french, english, and portuguese. By the time I got back after 6++ hours of revelry, I was quite intoxicated (strong fruit drinks at the reception, piña colada and mojitos at the restaurant) and totally sore (mainly hips) from the dancing.

3/7 (Miercoles) Habana -- Visited José Marti National Library and had a long meeting with Eliades Acosta, the Director. Unlike when I met him in Berkeley, this time he was in a totally jovial mood. Really charming and a good provocative discussion about all kinds of things. He's on a major literacy campaign. They went from 2 computers a few years ago to 80+ now, and all library staff have Internet access and email. They're an official depository library and get multiple copies of every Cuban publication (putting one copy in the library of the province where it was published). But they have problems paying for books that come from other countries. Minerva Club has been formed as a subscription reading service (book club) designed to raise money to be used to buy foreign books. Took a tour of the library and saw very very old typed cards in the card catalog. An impressive children's library and very impressive new center for the blind (run by a blind librarian) that opened just 2 days before. Big beautiful library building, but surprisingly empty of users. He told us that today is a very slow day and that they normally serve 350 people a day (and on Saturdays there's such a long line of children waiting outside that they're redesigning the external area for better waiting). He seemed pretty charmed by me, and made some comment about how I should be the US president.

The plaza outside the library is Revolucion Square. The Ministry of the Interior faces the square with a huge image of Ché, and right next door is the Ministry of Telecommunications. . Afterwards I went to La Rampa and walked around to the Habana Libre hotel (when Fidel marched into Habana during the Revolution, he set up his headquarters in this newly-constructed Hilton Hotel). In the park nearby I was approached by a Cuban and talked with him for about 10 minutes. He really wanted an english/spanish dictionary, and I suggested that he go to the Library up the street, but he said that that wasn't a realistic solution.

In the evening, went to the fort across the river next to El Morro area with Dariana, Oxanna, Brazilians Ariana and Norma, and Houston people Peter and Owen. Dariana, Ariana, and I managed to avoid the $5 entry fee (thanks to Dariana). We (along with hundreds of others) watched the ceremony of lighting and firing a cannon into the river. The ceremony memorializes the time when the cannons were fired at 9 PM to announce the impending closing of the city gates for the night. This was apparently something that started under British influence, and the guards who do this are dressed in British redcoats. Afterwards we all went to a Paladar near La Rampa, and Dariana (who seems great at this kind of thing) complained about the prices and negotiated us a lower price. Another late drunken night with the Cuban microbiologists and the Brazilian archivist/librarians, but no dancing this time.

3/8 (Jueves) Habana -- Gave my long talk on Metadata and digital asset management. Lots of response. Just before lunch we had a ceremony for International Women's Day that involved a speech linking the struggle of women to the revolutionary struggle. All the men stood on one side of the lobby (and were given a set of flowers) and all the women stood on the other side. At the end of the ceremony, the men were supposed to walk across and give their flowers to women. (Not at all an equalization of gender roles, with the men choosing which women to give the flowers to!!!) Spent afternoon on bus tour, mainly of western Habana. Visited the rum factory and tasted and bought various types of rum. Visited a statue of Lennon (not Lenin!), and I asked whether our next stop was going to be a statue of Groucho Marx! Spent a long time talking with Joanne Salas who was my seat-mate for the bus tour. She was born in NYC of Cuban parents, and they all returned to Cuba immediately after the Revolution. Her father, already a famous photographer (Madison Square Gardens) became the chief photographer for the Revolution. It's his photographs of Fidel and Ché that adorn postcards, books, coins, postcards, etc. I had only seen his name on the backs of postcards, (everything else seemed uncredited) so, given my interests in copyright, I peppered her with questions on artistic credit of various types. She answered very matter-of-factly that her father and his estate get no payment for all the distribution of the photos (in Cuba, or even in the US where her brother has sued a publisher who published a book of the father's photos without any payment). Her father, apparently, didn't care about payment from the Cuban government for use of his photos, but wanted attribution credit. But it's very apparent that he gets no credit; I even saw a book made up exclusively of photos of Cuban leaders by her father and Alexander Korda, and there's no mention anywhere in the book of who took the photographs! Saw a little of a "beisball" game on TV. These were supposedly the championship games, and the stadium was empty (maybe because it's all broadcast on TV?). A couple of people in our group had gone to the game the night before, and after buying cheap tickets were given the best seats in the house (maybe to make the stadium look fuller? And apparently, in place of the 7th inning stretch they have the 6th inning coffee break, where someone brings coffee out onto the field for the umpire.

In the evening, wandered around with Franziska, Wendy, Steve, and Maggie, trying to decide where to eat. In the chance kind of thing that's starting to look common here, we were approached by a young man who asked us if we'd come with him to a Paladar to eat. It turned out to be a really happening place, and Franziska's brother Chris was already eating there with his young woman friend, her mother, another of her young friends, and his Swiss friend David.

3/9 (Viernes) Habana -- My last day in Cuba and I still have things to see, photos to take, items to buy. I'm out of film and wander all around the Centro area but can't find any. Also look for Chicoticos (a garlic snack that looks like cheese-puffs), but the grocery that had scores of bags a couple of days before is now out of them. Running out of food items is very common here in both restaurants and groceries. I'm still looking for this book on Cuban poster art, and the fifth recommended bookstore doesn't have it. I return to Old Habana and find some film, then rush to the conference where I'm supposed to be on a panel. When the conference is over there's a cute ending/graduation ceremony where we the faculty give out individual certificates to each attendee and have them come to the front to receive it. Then we all retire downstairs to watch a spectacle that they've put on for us -- a fully-costumed dance, music, and spoken word event that tells a traditional African saga. Then wander back through Old Havana with Wendy and Maggie. We pass a couple of outlandishly dressed young Cuban women (sexually alluring outfits) and they ask us what we're doing. When we tell them we're librarians here for an event at the National Archives, they start talking about how wild librarians must be, as they've heard so much music and wild sounds coming from the Archive this week. After a while I go off on my own and finally find the poster art book, but now I'm out of money and need to borrow some for the 3rd time this week.

I wait for others so I can borrow money, then run to the cigar factory, but it's closing and they tell me that I can only buy expensive $150+ boxes, but they aren't going to re-open the cash register for anything cheaper (and I'm leaving early the next morning).  In frustration, I stand across the street from the cigar factory contemplating what I should do, and in the next few minutes I'm approached by several people who want to sell me cigars.  I ignore them all until one of them comes back and tells me that he works in the cigar factory but wants to see me cigars.  I laugh and call his bluff, and he has one of the factory guards come over and tell me that this guy does indeed work there.  So I agree to buy them from him, and the next half hour turns into a kind of spy caper.  As he and his 7 year old son lead me down the street, I ask "how much" and he refuses to talk about it until I actually see the cigars.  We go down one street then another, and end up doing a full circle (probably to make sure we're not being followed.  At several points along the way he stops to talk to someone he knows, and I get the sense that they're probably all in on it.  He finally takes me to a café where he meets a friend and they ask me what type of cigars I want.  I tell them "Cohiba" and they both disappear, leaving me alone with the kid.  I buy the kid a drink, and we wait and wait.  Finally the guys come back with a box of cigars. I inspect and it looks good, so I ask him how much.  He replies $80, and I tell him that I don't have that much; how about half a box for $40.  He thinks I'm trying to bargin him down (probably due to my poor spanish).  I continually insist that I've only got $40, and I'd like to buy $40 of cigars, even if that ends up being half a box, a smaller box, or a different type of cigar.  He continues to make lower offers on this box, even after I show him that I've got just over $40 in my pocket.  Finally, he says that he'll sell me the whole box for $40 if I pay for the kid's drink, and I reply that I already paid for it.  I insist one last time that I would be happy to pay him the $40 for half those cigars, but he tells me to take the whole box.  Then we leave the café and purposely go in opposite directions.

In the evening I go out with the Cuban Darianna and her brother and the Brazilians Ariana and Norma. We go to a club on the Malacon called MiConuco which I expect to be fancy and expensive, but it's a simple outdoor set of tables and dance floor and cheap by our standards. And of course Darianna jumps in quickly to try to negotiate an even better price for us! Surprisingly, a little later we're joined by a large group of Mexicans from the conference and even later by a couple of Argentinians. We hang out there for about 4 hours, and Ariana and I are the only ones not completely fluent in spanish (but her spanish is pretty good). Darianna and her brother, as well as a few of the Mexicans are absolutely amazing dancers, with incredible steps and moves. I'm totally intimidated but they make me dance. A little later it morphs into a kind of latin line-dancing, then into a group dance with about 20 of us in a circle, which we continue for a couple of hours. Interesting latin music, and the entire evening they only play one tune that I know (La Bamba, and of course I'm drafted into the center of the circle for that). When I take a late-night car back to my hotel, the driver tells me that he had to pay $1 to the guy who signaled me to get into his car. When I tell him that I think that's a rip-off for doing nothing, he tells me that everyone just needs to make a living somehow, and that is this guy's gig. I get back to my hotel after midnight, just in time to say goodbye to Wendy, Steve, and Maggie whose travel agency ride to the airport had apparently come by an hour earlier than announced, and they missed it. I end up getting only about an hour of sleep before having to get up to leave early in the morning.

3/10 (Sabado) Habana to Nassau -- Our group is supposed to be picked up by a tourbus to take us to the airport at 7:30 AM, but it being Havana of course we are still waiting an hour later. Many other buses come by and pick up other people to take them to the airport but we must wait for our own bus that finally comes at around 9 AM (90 minutes later). And the bus won't come to the hotel so our group of 8 needs to walk a handful of blocks on cobblestoned streets to get to the bus. We're so late at the airport that we're sure we'll miss our flight, but luckily Franziska is really pushy and gives a small gift to an airport monitor who puts us to the front of the longest of the 3 lines we need to stand in. We end up leaving on time and getting to Nassau on time.

General Cuba Observations -- One of the most striking things was how much music is so integrated into everyday life there.  Everywhere I went I saw live bands playing -- in cafes and restaurants, in living rooms of homes, and on the street.  Another striking element was the racial diversity with no apparent associated class distinctions or discrimination.  As in other Latin countries, very few things happen on time, which many westerners just can't get used to. Most people are very poor. The price differential where westerners pay 20 times what locals pay seems to work pretty well as an equalizer (and much better than Eastern European countries in the 1970s and 1980s), but it creates a great reliance on dollars (which pretty much become the country's currency). Surprisingly, there seems to be little resentment towards tourists (and in fact people seem to think that tourists are great). There are shortages everywhere (probably due to the embargo), but people are incredibly inventive about making due with what they have (like all the 1940s and 1950s US model cars that they keep running with spare parts they rig up themselves).  Apparently basic goods are rationed (I was told that one family got 3 pounds of rice per week), and that cooking oil is difficult to obtain at all. Officials seem to have rosier views of everyday life than most of the people I come into contact with. Marginal people are hassled by cops, much like in the US (but according to those I talked to, Cuban cops seldom beat or choke people). Someone said that the cops never originate from the neighborhood that's their beat (and many in Habana are from the provinces), making them less sympathetic to the neighborhood they patrol, also like in lots of American cities.  And the police presence is very large (at least everywhere I went). Cubans are lively and surprisingly energetic and optimistic, considering their economic situation. So many of them have this incredibly rosy view that, because their situation is so bad and the Americans they see or hear about are so wealthy, it must be fantastic to live in the US! There is a lot of catering to tourists and to Capital, but far far less than in other tourist destinations I've been to. There are pictures of Ché everywhere, but almost no pictures of Fidel (who apparently doesn't want to be deified until he's dead). There are references all over to José Martî, but far less than Ché (and you don't see images of Martî in peoples' offices or homes). And occasionally one sees images of Camilo Cienfuegos. On the streets one sees quite a few older western men hanging out with very young Cuban women, and doing a lot more than the dancing that our group was doing.  And in so many sidestreets I saw kids playing baseball with a stick for a bat.

3/10 Nassau -- Only have time for a short walk because I need to get some sleep. I walk by the Historical Library & Museum (in an octagonal building that was a former jail), but it's "closed indefinitely due to new electrical wiring". I walk up to Queen's Staircase, a huge area carved deeply into the hill with a waterfall in the cut out gorge. Then up a huge hill to the highest place on the island -- Fort Fincastle, built in 1793 in the shape of a paddle-wheeled steamer. A beautiful panoramic view of the entire island.

3/11 Nassau to Miami -- I expected trouble going through US Customs in Nassau.  The customs agent saw that I had written Cuba on the declaration form under "other countries visited," and asked me whether I was there legally.  When I said "yes", he just waved me on.  I said, "Don't you want to see my permit?" and he replied, "ok, I guess so."  And that was it (except for the agricultural agent who asked whether or not I had any fruit.  Surprisingly, some other people from our trip had their baggage inspected, but mine never was.