Watching Havana in Habana Series by Nate Kostar


26 de Marzo, 2013

Club Nautico Tarraya, Playa Del Carmen

Riviera Maya, Mexico



I’m sitting alone on a plastic chair at a table for four with my Adidas high-tops in the sand. A bowl of Nachos and spicy green salsa with diced onions and tomatoes has just been dropped off by a sun-browned Mexican waiter with more on his mind than words. A yellow manila folder with a single sheet of paper—my ticket to Havana, Cuba—is open on the table.

It is difficult to see the small white breakers edging the glass-green water through the Coca Cola and Corona sponsored umbrellas, the lawn chairs stretched across 30 yards of beach, and the high coconut palms leaned towards the surf, but when I look deep enough hints of water and sky emerge. The sky is overcast and full of lazy, foamy clouds, and a lone seagull with outstretched wings moves with the wind like a skydiver in a simulation machine, rising and falling with steady, swooping grace.

I cannot believe the ticket in front of me is real. Not just because Cuba has always felt so distant—a place to imagine but never really see or feel—but also because the actual paper in front of me looks like it could have been typed up by any hustler with an inch of wit, and the guy who sold it to me at the travel agency had slick hair and sneaky salesman eyes. The agency itself, however, one block off La Quinta, the main commercial boulevard in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, appeared to be legitimate. And by legitimate I mean it had a roof, a table and chairs, and even some pictures tacked on the wall of places that were but a few thousand dollars away. Either way, the dice have been rolled, the check has been written, the hand has been dealt, the credit card has been charged—you get the point. All I can do now is stop worrying and trust the ticket is real.

Quiet your mind. Eat your dinner. You’re going to Cuba.

Unless of course, it’s fake. Then I’m just going to Cancun’s airport—been there, done that, no problem. Just avoid the ever-present possibility of death by stampede, of being flattened by eighty seven elementary school teachers in matching T-shirts from Fargo, North Dakota en route to Margaritaville—viva tequila! viva Jimmy Buffet!—the soft patter of their pallid feet humming beneath an onrush of excited chatter. Sure, they smile. They seem happy. They look nice. But keep your distance. Ten cuidado. This herd belongs to the tribe of sun-starved souls who have difficulty functioning under the glare of that relentless fire-coin—that Yucatan, that Caribbean, that tropical sun—and lose all sense of logic, balance and direction once grounded under its gaze. It must be something in the suntan lotion. Perhaps it’s made with agave nectar? What else could cause otherwise inconspicuous, law-abiding forty somethings to shoot shots of tequila, dance on bars, shout and scream and order waiters around with only a few dumb words in Spanish?—“Vaminos!” “Gracias!” “Si!”

So let’s avoid these guys and gals, as well as the taxi drivers and hustlers shouting amigo this and amigo that like it’s your name, and the frat boys with drinks already in hand, and the big families rolling mountain loads of luggage on dolly’s pushed by short, stocky Mexicans, and the sorority girls—oh, well… fuck it, maybe not them. At times they can be charming. But avoid the rest of the Wild West’s daily descent into chaos and confusion at Cancun’s International airport. Stay cool. And maybe you’ll make it to Cuba.

Ahh, Cuba. Cuba.

Not the way English speakers say it, but the real Cuba, with that long sexy drawn out u.


I can’t stop saying it in my head. Today is Tuesday. I leave for Habana on Friday.


I like the Tarraya Nautico Restaurant. Since my first time coming to Playa about five years ago with a girlfriend, I’ve come here often. It’s understated and modest, a respite from the ubiquitous modern, chic glass-cube restaurant-clubs that cover the beach with pillow-soft mattresses and umbrellas and blast European techno and American pop music all day and into the night. And it’s quiet, aside for the faint flicker of the radio and the mariachi bands that beachwalk in all whites looking for couples and tourists to serenade, there isn’t much more than breeze, waves and conversations to listen to.

Another thing I like about Tarraya is that the waiters here don’t seem to give a shit whether you like them or not, whether you stay or go. When it’s slow they sit around in the heat and smoke cigarettes, watch TV and listen to music. They look lazy and tired and happy—and there’s something in that that evokes New Orleans, my new home, mon amour. I truly appreciate their apathy. You see, in a town made healthy and sick from tourism’s pros and woes, in a city that dances for dollars and cents (often times off beat and inebriated), a bit of indifference to my wallet (or lack thereof) is refreshing. Also, I’m originally from the North East, so I suppose there’s something in the good ol’ don’t-give-a-fuck treatment that pulls at my heart strings. And to top it off, I can get a filet of fresh caught fish smothered in sweet garlic sauce with rice and enough tortillas to dummy-wrap an obese Mexican for 50 pesos, which is about $4, and that appeases the cheap hungry intricacies of my insatiable soul.

But it is afternoon and crowded now. People slow-walk away from the water and seek cover from the fierce sun under palms and umbrellas. They lounge around, eat, drink, and chat in a hundred different languages. Faces from Europe, America, Canada, Japan—all over the world really, with the exception of maybe North Korea (and most countries that are poor).


The Coca-Cola still comes in glass in Mexico and when the waiter walks past carrying a brown tray above his shoulder, the bottle tips steal hints of turquoise from the sea and the clear tequila shots spilling at the brims flash like silver fish.


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