"Over here," says Catherine, who has arranged for a rattling blue '58 Chevy to take us to our hotel. "We'll have to avoid certain streets because of the flooding," she says. The storm that grounded us in Cancún hit Havana with a vengeance. We drive down the Avenida de Rancho Boyeros, alive this warm blustery night with shadowy American autos from the forties and fifties, and with East German motorcycles, but mostly with bicycles. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its chief economic sponsor in 1989, gas became a rare commodity. With that, Castro led the Cuban people in a reverse technological revolution by importing 200,000 bicycles from China: thus, the "bicycle revolution."
"When the Special Period disappears we mustn't abandon this wonderful custom," Castro told his people, using the spin-doctored term for the post-Soviet era. The evaporation of the Soviets' annual six billion dollars of support and the continuing U.S. economic embargo has created a vicious economic double whammy for the people of Cuba.
There are few streetlights this late at night in Havana and vehicles appear as silhouettes, dodging into and out of recognition. We pass by the Plaza de la Revolución and a five-story metal image of Che Guevara -- beret tipped, chin jutted -- is ablaze on the side of the Ministry of the Interior building.
"Because of the energy crisis," Catherine says, nodding toward the monument, "it's only lit up on Saturday nights."
I look at Che, the Jack Kerouac of Marxists. "It's really important that we get the real story, not the party line," I say to Catherine, anticipating the interviews in the days to come and revealing my strange mix of compassion and wariness about Cuba.
For most of my life, Cuba has been an enigmatic pinko blip on my radar, and Fidel an aging revolutionary stuck in a fatigued fashion rut. But stories of a country with a spirit far from the dour lockstep reality one might expect from a communist outpost were seeping out, and captured my attention. The economic embargo had become a de facto information embargo and it seemed time to explore what lay behind one of the last tinfoil curtains. Witnessing revolution in action (and Cuba's -- in theory, anyway -- is still going on) spoke to the Adventure Divas ethos. A major goal of Castro's socialist revolution was to liberate the poor and uneducated from the dire conditions created by U.S.-backed dictator. And to liberate the poor and uneducated is to transform women's lives. "Cuba's perfect. It's political and sexy -- good for TV, right? And it's only ninety miles away, so flights will be cheap," I had said, lobbying Jeannie some months ago. "Yeah, ninety miles of political minefields," Jeannie had responded, correctly anticipating our battles to come.
The stakes had been raised, and a sense of urgency created, when we decided to make the pilot without the support of a broadcaster -- all of whom had warned us away from Cuba. Now we have no choice but to get the story right, and my comments to Catherine reflect my slightly paranoid determination to do so.
"You know," Catherine responds calmly, gently setting me straight, the light of Che now just a dull flicker behind us, "some Americans think that if you come to Cuba and Cubans complain, that is the real story, and if Cubans don't complain, then that's the party line. Neither is fair. Life in Cuba is a very complex reality with hardship and with a lot of really beautiful, inspiring aspects as well."