After my (in)direct flight from Tampa to Havana, the clock started ticking. I only had a week before I had to return. My wife was waiting for me and my grandfather at the airport. I was extremely happy to see her since she and my two kids had gone three weeks earlier. Everything in the airport went smoothly. I hadn't exceeded the pounds permitted in my baggage, so there were no charges. But since my last time in Cuba, I noticed that the airport had been redone quite nicely. When I got to my mother-in-law's house in Regla, my kids spotted me and wouldn't let go! I'm glad they hadn't forgotten me especially since every time I tried to talk to them over the phone while we were apart they seemed much more interested in getting back to whatever they were doing and didn't have much to say! They were having to much fun.
From that point on, things were rushed. My grandfather came along for two reasons. He's 90 years old and in pretty damn good shape. His brother is 96 years old and isn't so he wanted to get to see him since he had the opportunity. The other reason is that his grandmother had built a chapel back in the 1880's in Pinar del Rio and he wanted to go there while he is still able. He hasn't been to the chapel in over 60 years and nothing was going to stop him from going there now. He had contacted the priest prior to the trip so he knew my grandfather was coming. Oh yeah, the priest turned out to be a relative. Now I'm not religious at all, not even a bit (I'm pretty sure the term is atheist). I understand that religion is important to some people so for my grandfather, going to the chapel was fantastic.
The plan was originally to leave the first morning, Sunday, and drive straight to San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Rio and go to the chapel. But the priest wanted us to give him two days to clear the path to the chapel first, which was overgrown with marabu. So instead we went to Las Terrazas, where the late musician Polo Montanez lived. We stayed the night there and headed off to Vinales the next morning. We stayed the night there and caught some of the baseball game between the U.S. team and Cuba. Basically my kids wanted to be in the pool in both places and we didn't get to see much, but what we did see was beautiful.
The third morning we finally headed to San Juan y Martinez. We met the preist there at the church in that city. He's the person who had the keys to the chapel and had the path cleaned up to make the trip possible. The scratches on his arms from the marabu showed us that plenty of work had been done. We followed him to a house where we waited for him to get a truck and a chorus to sing during a mass he was to give for my grandfather. We hopped in the truck and made our way 12 kilometers up a hill that would have been impossible to scale with a regular car. And when we got to the top, my grandfather was finally able to see the chapel that he hasn't visited in over 60 years. As he said, "mission accomplished"!
The preist gave a mass and the chorus sang. After that, he asked my grandfather to say a few words which was pretty difficult since he was pretty chocked up and emotional. Like I said before, I'm not at all religious, but it was truly a beautiful moment seeing the happiness of my grandfather. There is a plaque on the wall dedicated to his grandmother who died in 1925 when he was only three years old. Things got cut a bit short because a storm was coming and we had to make it back down the hill and the chorus had their instruments with them and wouldn't want them to get destroyed in the rain.
We made it back to the church in San Juan y Martinez, dropped the preist off, got some gas, and then we were off to la Ciudad Pinar del Rio. We ate lunch at the top of the tallest building in the city. (Our taxi driver most certainly made his commission for bringing us there which was fine by us since that was his only chance during the trip to bring us to a place that didn't bring us a menu with prices!) Then we were off to La Habana.