My Cuban Police Escorted Solo Excursion

I’d like to start with a few disclaimers: Firstly, I take back everything I said in my last blog.  Secondly, I doubt that any kids read my blog, but parents, if you usually read this to your kids as a bedtime story (as I’m sure you do), maybe go with Goodnight Moon tonight instead?

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The more I see of Havana the more I want to see of Havana. At least that’s how I felt before I left the ship last week. Now I think I’ve seen too much. Some things you can not unsee. I suppose when you like to expose yourself to new and interesting destinations, it makes sense that sooner or later one of those destinations (or its inhabitants) is going to expose themselves to you. That’s what happened to me on my recent visit to Cementerio de Colón, or ‘Colon Cemetery’ in English.  That, however, is not the organ I now associate it with.

Every time I tell people my story, their response is not “Oh that’s terrible, I’m so sorry” but “Why would you go to a cemetery?” And then they ask me if I like scary movies and practicing witchcraft. Jerks! I think cemeteries are fascinating. You can learn so much about people from how they choose to honour their dead. Some of my favourites include the one in Cozumel Mexico, I think it’s called Mansion De Paz? When I was last there, some mausoleums were so ornate they had palm trees growing out of them, while other graves were more humble but brightly painted. Visiting it was like visiting the children’s party of cemeteries.  

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Another favourite was the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, Puerto Rico where ornate life-size (or larger) statues adorned graves and had, for the most part, survived Hurricane Maria, despite the fact that the area just to the east of it, La Perla had been almost completely devastated by it. 

Puerto Rican cemetery after Maria

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When I found out that there was a miniature city (140 acres) of crypts, vaults, gravestones, memorials and about 500 mausoleums, some dating back to the 1800s, not too far from the old town of Havana, I knew I wanted to go.  I had a few hours off last week but I subjected myself to crew mess food (instead of guest buffet food which we can only have later on) to leave the ship early. I hoped to do one of two things: Either I would catch the hop-on-hop-off bus to the cemetery (it made more sense than taking a taxi by myself), or I would walk to the capital building “El Capitolio”. (I’ve heard that you can do a tour of it if you get there before 1:00pm). When I got off the ship and the hop-on-hop-off bus was waiting right there, and the cemetery was on the route map, I took that as a sign on how to spend my day.

rode the bus past all the tourist hotspots I’ve been to before and then on beyond the old town. When we got to the cemetery, I was the only person that got off at that stop. This is what I saw when I stepped off the bus: 

Colon Cemetery - Havana, Cuba

And that’s just the entrance!

Very ornate memorials and mausoleums line the main road that leads from the gate to the chapel in the centre. Some of them seem old and classical in their design, others modern. Among them, I saw a dome-shaped one and a pyramid. Ornate life-size statues of angels decorate some family crypts: 

Cementario de Colón

Cementario de Colón

Ornate Tombstone - Cementario de Colón

Cementario de Colón

Cementario de Colón

Some were personal: 

Cementario de Colón

Others less so:

Cementario de Colón

Some of them where immaculately maintained and landscaped:

Cementario de Colón

Others lie neglected, derelict and decaying, like much of the old town of Havana. 

Havana Cuba - Cementario de Colón

As I wandered down one of the side roads, I saw a man repeatedly kissing one grave, I continued on my way. From a distance, I saw him standing in the road staring at it for quite some time before moving away. I felt so sad for him. Other than him, there were some other tourists milling around, quite a few groundsmen working on various graves and locals passing through the cemetery.

I turned the corner to double back to the chapel and the main road to take a closer look at the really ornate memorials and mausoleums. As I was walking I felt the gaze of a man on the other side of the street. I turned to look. He was looking at me. At first, I assumed he was a worker but I realised very quickly that he was not working, he was playing …with himself. 

Yup, there in the middle of an otherwise beautiful Tuesday afternoon in what was otherwise the most impressive cemetery I had ever seen, was some sicko with his penis on display. Well, that’s one way to honour the dead!

I know what you’re thinking, finally an opportunity to use my phrase: 
“Por favor, no me molesta!” 
But no, nothing came out of my mouth. 

It is a known fact that unexpected public penis sightings are more than twice as scary as any other kind, so I panicked a little. A million thoughts ran through my head. My first thought was: “Maybe it’s not a penis? Maybe if I look away and take a deep breath maybe I will realise that it is something else altogether ...and, that it makes perfect sense for someone to play with that something else in the general region of their penis in a cemetery on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in Havana?” My next thought was: “Maybe if it is a penis maybe he’s not looking at me? Maybe he thought he was alone and he had an urge, and now that he realises I’m here he’ll be embarrassed and pretend he wasn’t doing anything gross? And maybe he’ll put it away and maybe it’ll be like I just caught him picking his nose?” (The word “maybe” seems to run through my head a lot in uncomfortable situations.) The thoughts continued: “Maybe when he realises that I saw him doing what he was doing, he will die from embarrassment and then his friends can come over, pull up his pants, and roll him into the nearest open grave? At least if you’re going to die this is a convenient place to do it.” I then reached my conclusion: “Maybe if I just ignore his penis it will go away?” Also: “I should have gone to El Capitolio!”

I glanced back. It was a penis. It was still out. He definitely was not urinating through it. 

“Now what? Do I give him a disgusted look? Do I take a picture? Or will either of those things just encourage him? This is not the kind of behaviour I want to encourage!”. 

When you see a probably crazy person with an erect penis and you’re a female relatively alone in a 140-acre cemetery, it’s probably in your best interests to seek the attention of other hopefully sane people. So I picked up the pace a little and walked in the direction of the chapel. Inside there was a family and a priest grieving in more conventional ways. I didn’t want to disturb them. I was disturbed enough for everybody.

Havana, Cuba

Outside I found a man in uniform and I asked him if he was security. I told him that a man had “exposed himself to me”. I think it was something I learnt from my mother, but I’ve always made use of more formal English when addressing authority figures. I realised very quickly that he didn’t speak much English and my attempt at showing respect was very counterproductive. I rephrased my statement: “There is a man with his winky out on that street.” He responded in Spanish something to the effect that there was more to see in the other direction. I didn’t want to see anything else. I had already seen too much!

I then said “una minuto, por favour”, which is completely incorrect but still comprehensible, and I got out the digital miracle of google translate. If you are travelling (especially on your own) in a place where they don’t speak your language you should always make sure you download the offline version of their language for situations where you may be flashed by local “pervertidos” and other emergencies. 

I remembered as I hit the “translate” button that I already knew that the Spanish word for “penis” is “pene”. I was eating the pasta of the same name once when some silly Latin punk asked me if I liked pene. Conversations like those make me feel a little gluten intolerant.

The security guard’s response to the translated version of my typed message was very different from when I tried to explain in English. In fact, his reaction was probably greater than mine was to the actual event! He walked me to the security office where they spoke even less English than he did and I got to google translate explain again. We went off with more security to the location of the sighting. Obviously, the man was gone. 

About a minute later the police arrived. They asked me if I would please go with them around the cemetery to see if I could spot the guy. I looked away so quickly I didn’t really get a good look at his face or his clothing.  I knew I couldn’t speculate on who it might have been if I wasn’t absolutely sure because that guy was going to be in a lot of trouble. I had heard before, that beef is so scarce in Cuba that it is reserved only for tourists and if you are caught selling it on the black market to locals you can go to jail for five years. If that’s how much trouble you can get into for selling beef, what about displaying sausage?

I climbed into their little old retro car with no air-conditioning for the second part of my excursion and took a tour of the cemetery with the police. It was so big that it was nice to see it sitting down.  There was so much that I wouldn’t have gotten to on foot.

There were also some things I didn’t really notice the first time, like this:

Cementario de Colón

And this:

Cementario de Colón

And this:

Cementario de Colón

Actually, I’m starting to see a theme.

We didn’t find the man. 

By the time we were done, I needed to head back to work. There were a lot of pictures I’m sorry I didn’t get to take (and some I’m okay with). There were a number of mausoleums I would like to have had a much closer look at (and other things I’m glad I only saw from a distance). I later found out that one of the memorials is actually the entrance to an underground ossuary (a room in which they keep the bones of dead people). According to Wikipedia, this cemetery holds more than a million interments, and space is in such demand that after three years remains are removed from their graves and put in storage. (Maybe that’s why some people prefer to keep their bones out in the open?)

I really want to go back, but only if I can find someone to accompany me …ideally someone with a penis of their own …that they do not display publicly. An implied penis is good enough, no visual evidence is required. 

Considering how scared people seem to be of the police, I was really impressed by how kind they were. I asked one of them if anything like this had ever happened before. He said “No” which is Spanish for “No”. I guess I’m just lucky like that. And to think I’ve never won a raffle in my life! 
All of this happened less than 24 hours after posting my last blog where I called Havana a “sexual harassment dream vacation destination”. Yeah, this is not what I meant. 

At the end of the day, all nations have some jerks and crazy people - usually, they are in government - but, I still love Havana and I’m not about to let one dick spoil that! 

Havana, Cuba

In other news

In COMPLETELY unrelated news, I recently went to Little Havana in Miami, an area where a lot of Cubans settled after fleeing their country. (I wanted to see Little Havana and actual Havana in the space of two days so I did.) I spent a fair amount of time contemplating the pros and cons of immigration and posing with …these guys:

Apart from their giant- …roosters, they also have an old art deco theatre, a Cuban ice-cream shop, a park where people play dominos, some street art and lots of restaurants serving Cuban and other Latin food.  

29 cruises down, 23 more to go
Number of different terms used for the male sex organ in this post: 7 
(I think I might attract a different kind of traffic this time)

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  1. BWAHAHA! Funny story! Thanks for sharing.
    Do you know if there's anywhere you can book a tour? And are Americans allowed to go there? (There seems to be a lot of rules about what we can't do.)

    1. To be honest, after six months of visiting the place once a week I'm still not sure what Americans are allowed to do. I still can't get my head around it. I did read the list of restricted entities, with whom are not allowed to do business and I'm sure I would remember if the cemetery was on it.
      As for tours, I would try air bnb. They usually have locals offering foreigners a variety of tours and I'm sure there's a market for trips to this place.

  2. So funny story. I loved the fact you were excited to visit the cemeteries lol

    1. Thanks so much for reading. I feel like there should be more travel humour out there.


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