Finally, though, we reached our destination, an old building with a kinda sorta cafe. We were introduced to a fellow with a hipster hat and beard and led down a few steps to a little room filled with fantastical paintings in a primitive style, loud colors, outlined, unrealistic figures. The fellow with the hipster hat turned to close the door. And that's when I saw Ili's concern.
"Sorry guys, but we gotta go."
The Cubans weren't confused, really, but surprised. The big guy with the hipster hat said in a condescending way, "There's nothing to worry about. We're not going to rob you. That doesn't happen in Cuba."
I didn't have time to say anything, though, as I kept up with Ili's back.
On the street, the guides wanted money. It was a request, really, a plea. But that is nothing new. People don't engage tourists just to practice their English. They are not looking for a good time. They take you somewhere, show you something hoping you will buy some food from a friend, some art from a colleague. Of course.
I'd been to places that weren't as friendly as Cuba. I'd been to places much more dangerous.
Ili hadn't. I hadn't been thinking. I was to blame. I was only thinking about the pictures I would take, the stories I could gather. Ili's experience was something else entirely.
"I've been in Cuba forty minutes and you are taking me to some. . . ."
There are photos of grumpy Ili back on the Malecon. But the sea, the fresh air. . . we walked on toward our original destination. We were headed to Havana Viejo.