Have you seen the penguin? No, I thought you had him? Horrified WTF looks exchanged as we unpack in Trinidad and realize that “Pengy” is missing. This is one well traveled little blue penguin but somehow he has gone missing this time. His 4 year old friend, our son, is looking at us with that sideways look that says, ok I know something is wrong but I just don’t understand quite what it is yet? How will I explain this?
This is our first visit to Cuba. We have been staying in home-stays or casa particulars. These are basically B&B’s Cuban style, a spare (in all senses of the word) room with its own bathroom and occasionally a fridge stocked with Cristal Beer, Ironbeer soda and bottled water. As we travel between cities we get to stay at different casa particulars and meet new families in each city, such a great way to meet real people in real homes.
In Trinidad we are staying at Hostel Yamile Alejo. After a frantic explanation to Yamile of the situation, she gets me on the phone with Guillermo, our host at the Casa Particular Costa Sur back in Cienfuegos. Lo sientos Steve, no tengo pinguino aqui. As I am about to hang up dejected, I hear an excited cry in the background. Guillermo’s wife has overheard the call and went back into the room for another look, si, si, si, yo tengo penguino!
As I gush my profuse thankfulness, we make arrangements to get “Pengy” back. I’ll email address, send money for postage, wait several months until he arrives..but what to do now? On an island known for its music, cars, cigars and rum, penguins are hard to come by. I walk back to our room, relieved but trying to work out how to explain to our 4 year old that his best friend might be traveling without us for a while.
The next day, after a fitful and penguin free nights sleep, we go out and explore Trinidad, a beautiful colonial city of cobbled streets, cafes and music. A nice lunch, a cerveza or 2 for mum and dad and we head back to our room in the afternoon for a little siesta. As we come through the door of the house, Yamile and Carlos are waiting for us. And…so is Pengy.
It turns out that Guillermo had called Yamile again. A friend was coming to Trinidad the next day, so Guillermo gave him instructions and a blue penguin. Carlos, Yamile’s husband went down to the Trinidad bus station to find the traveler with the penguin as the bus from Cienfuegos arrived. I can only imagine him yelling across a crowded bus station, probably somewhat self consciously “el pinguino, el pinguino, quien tiene un pinguino azul?“. And thankfully someone did.
We will always be grateful to both families. Their actions were in my mind above and beyond. It would have been easy for Guillermo to wait till I emailed him and then sent the money to post Pengy back as we planned, but I suspect that he didn’t really even consider that for a second. Life is not easy in Cuba. There are many things that people do without. The willingness to help each other out be it family, friends, or slightly overwhelmed travelers seems to be second nature to Cubans. It is genuine, real and priceless.
Thank you Cuba