In 1998, after two years in Cuba, my money ran out. All I had left on the day of my departure was 20 dollars, half of which I spent on the cab to the airport. As I was checking in, I realized to my horror that I had made a huge mistake: My flight to Hamburg wasn’t scheduled until three days later. What was I supposed to do? It was evening, there were no buses running and a cab back into town would have used up all my money. The casa particular (private accommodation) where I had been staying was owned by a certain Orphelia, and Orphelia said: No problem, you can stay here for free, eat here for free and drink the beer in the fridge. I was so grateful to her, I felt I needed a drink, and headed to Café Monserrate, my local hangout, where I ran into José. José had spent the last two years pestering me with requests, and today was no different. I explained my situation; he said he’d never done this before, but he’d buy me a rum, then go get me a nice sandwich for what it costs Cubans, and pay for it, too.
My next stop was one of the big hotels because I badly needed to get on the Internet. It cost ten dollars an hour and five dollars for half an hour, so I asked what it would cost to go online for just five minutes (all I needed to do was send a message for help, seeing as I was broke). The receptionist told me not to panic and gave me 15 minutes for free! My next surprise was Tatjana, my Cuban friend. I let her know what had happened and just half an hour later, she arrived at the hotel and returned the 50 dollars I had given her as a good-bye gift (50 dollars is what you earn in three months on the island). With my belief in humanity restored, we promptly set about spending every last bit of that money together.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.