Columbus and Me

Luis Miguel de Bahia

HAVANA TIMES — If I, instead of Columbus, had been to first European to step onto Cuban soil, I would have said the same thing: “This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.”

And it’s true that I haven’t seen the beauty of the Cuban landscapes anywhere else.

But when the discoverer of the West Indies knelt in the sand and looked up, there weren’t the P11 buses.

The other day one pulled up packed with people in the horrendous heat, yet while traveling along the coast in it, I recalled those early words that were first used to describe my land.

Still, for a moment the tedium seized me and I wanted to get out of the “camel” (our articulated buses) and leave behind the smallness of the island, this “key to the New World.”

Trying to escape, I moved my head as close to the window as I could to, and then it happened: The beauty and the sea air transcended that 18-wheeled monster. I felt like I was Columbus.

“Maybe one can’t have everything, like a sunrise and beaches that pay honor to the creation while accompanied by large buildings,” they say.

But that urban beauty, like that tropical beauty witnessed by Columbus, can only be admired through the eyes of someone outside of it, someone who can appreciate the city noises, the P11, the silhouettes of Havana’s buildings or the agitated streets of the Old World.

Having skyscrapers is costly, and I don’t know how much one has to sacrifice for them. Let’s hope not the sunsets in exchange for air conditioning on the public buses.

But nor could I abandon the acropolis of Havana for a rural life; I think watching everyone’s urban comings and goings is something magic.

One has to work for a little more comfort without losing sight of the middle ground. Not everything can be reduced to the stock market or sitting on the shore of a beach. Both are healthy if kept in balance.


3 thoughts on “Columbus and Me

  • I came across this, posted on a well-known Canadian travel website,, that claims to be the world’s largest, posted by a Romanian visitor to San Francisco. The writer’s English is a little rough and I’ve corrected a couple of grammatical errors but left the rest as is. Anyone who has visited any American city, including ” the most beautiful”, will recognize the scene.

    “Market Street ends suddenly at the SF port area. Unfortunately, the street is populated with a lot (I have counted maybe 20-30) homeless people who were begging for the dollar. I don’t have a problem with them in general only I have never seen so many wherever I’ve been – London, Paris, Barcelona even Cairo. The problem was that they were smelling awfully and looked like scarecrows. Plus, there was a urine smell all over the place.”

    I can add to the Romanian’s comment, I have personally only encountered a couple of people begging in Havana. They didn’t appear to be homeless. Something’s right in Cuba, it seems, that the world’s “richest country” isn’t capable of, where riches are concentrated in the hands of the few, for those who can casually spend $200 for an evening out, for example.

  • To put things in perspective, most Americans and Canadians of course will never have a night out on the town as described by ‘Moses’, even as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I come from a working class background and can attest that my parents and grandparents never felt flush enough to indulge themselves like ‘Moses’.

    I come from the last generation that was reasonably certain they would be better off financially than their parents. Talking with the younger generation, that is no longer true. I can afford to have an occasional night out treat as described by ”Moses’ but on my income, would consider it an extravagance rarely if ever worth the price. All the folks I know, representative of the vast number of Canadians, feel the same way, but then I don’t hang out with the privileged class. Traveling to the US, I’m always struck by how poor it seems relative to Canada. On top of that, the Americans have no universal health care and a miniscule social safety net.

    So why is ‘Moses’ writing about his privileged existence? Everyone knows there is an elite class in the US. He would have us believe this is the norm? Or that anyone can have a plush lifestyle if only they work hard enough? Most Americans will tell you both are cruel jokes perpetuated on the 99% by the 1%.

    Reading the ‘Moses’ post is reminiscent of an infamous story in history, the one where Marie Antoinette reportedly said, “Let them eat cake”, an example of her obliviousness to the economic state most of her subjects lived in. Is ‘Moses’ being oblivious, or is he propagandizing – painting a selective picture of life in the US enjoyed by a few whilst leaving out the reality for most.

  • I live in San Francisco, inarguably one of the most beautiful citiies in the world both during the day and at night. I had dinner recently in a restaurant located on the top floor of one of our tallest buildings several weeks ago. I can tell you what skyscrapers cost. I valet parked my car in the building garage. If I had not had dinner that night and had my ticket stub validated those two hours of parking would have cost $50. My wife and I had a nice dinner and a bottle of wine for just under $170. It could have been much more with desert and more expensive entrees. Tips to the elevator operator, valet and maitre’d rounded the evening out to just under $200 for dinner. That’s what skyscrapers costs. But if you have not seen the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sunset District from nearly 80 stories in the sky, you have not lived. Well worth every dime.

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