Five Days On A Forbidden Island

A humanitarian group from Vero Beach discovers the harsh life in Castro's Cuba.
Communism has not destroyed the Cubans’ flamboyant love of color and artistic eccentricity. This photo shows a garden entrance to one of the homes in Jaimanitas, an artists’ colony in Havana.

Cuba means color! This thought strikes me as I wait to have my passport stamped in front of the brilliantly colored panels flanking the immigration officer at Jose Marti International Airport. I should have known this before I left Vero Beach, when I received a packet from my tour leader, Cuban-American Tony Ransola, containing two lilac tags for my luggage and an itinerary on lilac paper stating I was to travel on the lilac bus. All told, there are 157 people in our tour group, most of whom had heard about the trip like me, through attendance at the annual Key West Literary Seminar. To accommodate all of us, there are also buses colored blue, green, orange, rose and yellow.

After the 45-minute chartered flight from Miami, we emerge onto the bustling sidewalk in front of the airport and are greeted by a young man in a white linen suit and bright blue shirt. “I’m Tony,” he says, shaking hands, “and your lilac bus is just up there on the left.” There are 30 persons per bus, plus an English-speaking guide. The lilac bus guide is a charming 31-year-old named Mario Gonzalez.

Read the entire article in the Summer 2006 issue