Certainly the hardship is evident. Havana looks war-torn, but here it is decay, rather than violence, that is the nemesis. Much of Havana was built with armadas of money that flowed through the city from the Americas in the 1600s and 1700s. Havana's access to transient cash continued through the 1940s and '50s, often controlled by the American Mafia. At the time, Cuba was a playground for Americans with a penchant for dancing girls and casinos. Wealthy Cubans, along with their money, began to flee Cuba in 1959, when Castro's nationalist revolution prevailed, and the exodus quickened over the next handful of years as Castro began to show his communist colors.
I try to lean out the window of the car for my first, forbidden glimpses of Havana, but I'm jabbed by the dozen wads of twenty-dollar bills that are strapped with duct tape all over my body. We are officially not here, so we can't exactly write a traveler's check or whip out a Gold Card. I look arthritic and feel like a coke dealer.
Twenty minutes later we are at the front desk of a modest deco hotel in La Habana Vieja. I pull two twenty-dollar bills from our finite cache, and hand them to the concierge. "Doesn't feel like trading with the enemy," I whisper to Jeannie, as he smiles warmly at me and hands over three skeleton keys attached to pieces of chestnut wood bearing numbers.
"No going back now," she says. "This is it."
Paul yawns big, and we can all relate to his exhaustion.
A rooster's optimistic crow quickly followed by a belligerent truck muffler rouse me at seven the next morning. I am fully clothed, spread-eagled on the center of a concave bed, my open mouth pressed flush against the pilled, off-white cotton bedspread. My feet and a thousand dollars in cash are in my still-laced Georgia boots.
Excerpted from Adventure Divas by Holly Morris Copyright © 2005 by Holly Morris. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.