Cuba: A Land of Too Many Locks
Updated: Jan 25
This is an old story but it’s a pretty fun one.
March of 2018 good buddy Max and I headed off to the land of cigars, rum and communism: Cuba. After fretting a great deal about visas and tickets due to the shaky US-Cuba relationship and a short flight from Miami we arrived in Havana. Prior to the trip we had booked a long term Airbnb with a friendly Cuban couple named Isabella and Ernesto, a doctor/engineer combo that lived in Havana with their 20-something son, Ernesto Jr. They were incredibly friendly and communicative in the interim time between our booking and arrival; and through what I assume was some Facebook stalking they had learned that Max is a drummer, and let us know that Isabella’s brother is a very famous Cuban drummer, Enrique Pla. They offered Max a lesson with him, which Max delightfully accepted. Additionally, they let us know that we had coincidentally booked our trip during Cuba’s Festival de la Tambor, Festival of the Drums. So there were all kinds of music related events in the city.
After pretty much immediately getting scammed by a taxi guy, we arrived at Isabella and Ernesto’s. They have a beautiful house a 10 minute ride away from Havana’s city center. Though we never felt unsafe, all the houses in the neighborhood were locked up tight. Isabella and Ernesto’s had an iron gate crowned with barbed wire protecting their yard, compounded with a heavy iron door. Isabella greeted us and though she spoke only a little English was able to give us a tour of the house. The entryway was adorned with art from Ernesto’s late father, straight ahead was the dining room and kitchen as well as a long hallway that led to ???... we presumed the family bedrooms in the back, so it seemed nosy to check. Our room was to the right up a cramped set of stairs, but we had the whole second floor to ourselves. This consisted of a bathroom, a bedroom with two beds, a kitchen, a small dining room and two terraces. Fantastic.
After a short nap we headed out to explore the area and grab some grub. We found a shitty sandwich place where we both had a mediocre Cubano. Turns out that food sucks in Cuba cuz communism, but that’s a whole-nother story. We returned to the house once we were finished with lunch to indulge ourselves in another quick nap. We awoke to Ernesto, a mid-height Cuban man with a big bright smile that spoke elegant, sophisticated English. After shaking off the post-nap grogginess and a lengthy briefing from Ernesto on the sights to see and the government sanctioned protocol to bring prostitutes back to the airbnb, we decided we were going to hangout on the front porch before calling it an early night.
We headed out onto the porch closing the heavy door behind us. After a short conversation and some decisions about what we wanted to do the next day we decided to head back in only to find the latch locked behind us. Turns out the door locks automatically when it closes… andddd we don’t have our key. There wasn’t any way to contact the family as there’s no wifi in Cuba (at the time, I don’t know about now) and we didn’t have cell service. We chuckled in embarrassment and began to pathetically knock at the door. After maybe 15-20 minutes Ernesto Jr. just happened to be returning home. We played it cool and didn’t mention that we were locked out.
The next day we awoke to a breakfast made by Ernesto and Isabella, after which we went to explore the city. Havana is beautiful, it really is like it’s stuck in the 50’s. After some failed attempts to get decent food and cheap cigars we head home to do some planning and journaling out on one of the terraces overlooking the neighborhood. We percolate some coffee, swing open the big iron door that leads to the terrace and nestle our cute little butts down into some chairs when Max says something dumb along the lines of...
“Do you think we should prop that door open with someth…”
BAM, a breeze slams the door shut.
It was then that we realized that this door also latches automatically. There wasn’t even a door knob, it was a door that only opened from one side.
We’re once again locked out of the house, no one is going to be home for another 5 or 6 hours, we’re wifiless, serviceless, waterless, the sun is Caribbean Hot and the day isn’t getting any cooler.
So let’s examine our options shall we?
Option A: Climb down
It’s a sheer wall, no holds, no nothing. The closest “ground” is maybe a small part of the roof 15’~ down. And let’s be honest, my weak spaghetti arms can’t climb stuff.
Option B: Cry for help
Our next plan of attack was to yell into the small grate that led down into ???, the kitchen maybe? We knew that no one was home, but it was worth a shot. A small Cuban abuela was on a balcony nearby, we caught her attention with some “ayuda mes” and we tried in broken Spanish to explain the situation. She eventually understood our (Read: Max’s) Gringo-Spanish and tried to help, but no one was home and the place was locked up tight. Shouts-out to abuela for trying though.
Maybe start to panic.
Option C: Climb up?
We knew there was a second terrace attached to our loft and maybe that one would have a way to get back into the house. The wall was too high to climb naturally, but there was a stone sink that we utilized to get onto the roof. With the help of Max, on account of my aforementioned spaghetti arms, we eventually both parkoured onto the roof and found the second terrace. The second terrace not only was locked from the inside, but also had a wrought iron gate on the terrace side for some reason. So it was double locked.
Option C, Part II:
As luck would have it there was a third terrace attached to the house! We climbed down to check if the door was open and uncharacteristically, it was! We open the door, apprehensively walk inside and almost immediately we hear the sound of light snoring coming from the bedroom. I take a peek and sure enough, there’s a dude in there. We don’t know that dude. Ok, time to break into this guys house and sneak through, Jack and the Beanstalk Style minus the theft and eventual murder.
Not actually, we escape the dude’s house, find a break in the barbed wire and pop out onto the street. Now we are locked out on the street rather than on the roof. Phoneless, walletless, shoeless and rapidly baking in the hot sun, we prop ourselves up on the wrought-iron gate outside the house. But we catch another stroke of luck as after maybe 15-20 minutes Ernesto Jr. just happened to be returning home to save us for the second day in a row. Head in hands, we return to our rooms, collect our essentials and wave goodbye to the idea of relaxing. We head out the door, paranoidly double and triple checking our keys.
After a day of exploring and calming our nerves we return to find Ernesto and Isabella home from work. We have a quick conversation and fish for some recommendations for stuff to do at night. I see Isabella’s eyes light up, “They should go to fuck”, she says as Max and I stifle confused laughter. Ernesto agrees, “oh yeah FAC... Fabrica de Arte Cubano, FAC”.
Turns out Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a part gallery, part nightclub, part live music venue that hosts artists from all over Cuba. The gallery is maze like, exhibitions are bridges to different rooms that range in utility from musical venues to art exhibits. After running through the gauntlet of different exhibits and having ourselves some workable tapas and a michelada, Max and I arrive at the main stage in time for a jazz trio performance, fronted by a large Cuban bassist with a messy man bun. The performance is tight and interesting, jazzy and avant garde but also still pretty accessible, but it’s getting late so Max and I head out after the performance finishes.
Several days later we’re walking back from informing our loved ones that we’re alive at the hotel where we can get wifi, we see at the end of the street a large Cuban man with a messy man bun. What’s more is that he’s fumbling with his keys at the gate next door. Max, being the ever personable… person, walks up to him and introduces himself.
“We’re you playing at FAC the other night?”, Max asks.
“Yeah, my name is Gaston”, he says with a big friendly smile.
He invites us inside to listen to his new album and chat. We marvel at his humble abode which we had broken into earlier in the week, throwing out the requisite, "nice place ya got here."