Ten Steps From The Hotel Inglaterra
A Womans's Romantic Adventure in Havana, Cuba


From the pages of Ten Steps From the Hotel Inglaterra

Excerpt #1:

    Enthusiastically, he responds with, “You are the master, my lovely, bright, sparkling Charlotte Sweeney. And Clyde, he is one lucky animal tonight. Wish I were there to celebrate with you guys. Listen - I have a special plan for us, a delicious idea on how we can celebrate in style. We start this Amco gig mid-January, so we have three weeks clear coming up here at Christmas. Let’s spend it together in Maui. My kids will be there part of the time, with Monica. But then we’ll have several days through New Year’s all to ourselves, in a deluxe ocean front, top of the line condo. Just you, me and the gentle sounds of the Napili waves.” I swallow hard because what I’m about to say may not go over well.

Excerpt #2:

    Carla has been an inspiration to me – funny, sarcastic, naughty and nice; all at the same time. You always know where you stand with her. She can immediately command a room with her inner strength; her charismatic presence. And Carla can fix anything – showers, sinks, vacuum cleaners, dish washers. With her forte in IT, she is remarkable in troubleshooting laptop issues or dealing with any computer catastrophe. I call her “the mistress of machines.”

Excerpt #3:

    I nod with eager anticipation.  “It was you Carla. You inspired me to even consider Cuba as my next adventure destination. So here’s my plan. Catch a flight to Cancun, Mexico. Stay a few nights there, pretending that’s my final holiday destination. Three days after arrival, I appear at the airport’s Cubana Air ticket counter in Cancun, and “on the spot,” book a flight to Havana. I don’t use my passport but instead have them stamp a white piece of paper, leaving no trace of me officially flying into Cuba.” I pause and take a breath. Carla hits me playfully on my shoulder.

Excerpt #4:

    Laury reluctantly handed the keys to Carla. “That’s fine Ms. Andretti. I will now hand over the car keys to mild-mannered Carla Lopez,” Laury said sarcastically. “Let’s just get there,” she added; annoyed. Carla, always looking out for me. Carla, like the sister I couldn’t be to Priscilla. Carla, like the supporter I can never become for Priscilla. Suicidal Priscilla. Gone.

Excerpt #5:

    “Mexicana Airlines, Flight 430 to Cancun; now boarding at Gate 15. We are ready to board first class, 1K and business class passengers at this time.” Shit, that’s my flight. The loudspeaker announcer beckons me to race away from Starbucks, where I must get a latte or I’ll fade away. I haven’t had my coffee yet. It takes forever for the young European twenty something in front of me to get his unfamiliar American money out of his duffel bag. He finally pays the cashier. All he gets from Starbucks is a bottle of water. Yes, hard to believe. I add sweetener to my skinny vanilla latte at the condiments counter and re-gather all my crap, quickly turning, ready to dash to gate 15.  Geez, I’m only at gate 7.  I crash head-on into a large man. My stuff scatters to the ground. My heavy backpack now hangs uncomfortably. I’m stressed. I bend down. The backpack drops to the floor with a thud, painfully yanking my back. The stranger kneels in front of me. His eyes are huge dark orbs and his hair is black as black gets, and falls fully around his manly neck….“I am Enrique. Enrique Ruiz,” he says in raised voice, as it’s getting noisier in the departure lounge area; dozens of people rushing to line up for the now boarding Gate 15 flight. He speaks in my ear as he follows close behind me. “I am on my way to see my family in Habana, Cuba; going to Cancun for a short holiday first.” 
    I almost erupt with: “Oh my God,” but I resist the urge.

Excerpt #6:

    Tanya, the baby girl, fidgets in his arms; pushing Jack away with her strong chubby little hands. The only sound I can hear in this scene is Tanya, starting to cry; louder and louder, until she is screaming at the top of her little lungs. Pushing, pushing her hands and feet into her father’s chest. Fighting him. He grabs her arms sternly and smacks her little hands, roughly scolding her; then glares down into her innocent eyes, giving her a stern warning.  Still no sound in the dream, except for Tanya’s screaming. He shakes her. I see him roll his eyes, making eye contact with his largest Mississippi brother whose shirt is riding up, exposing his pale, hairy skin; pants falling down below his grotesquely fat stomach. Is that a gun in his jeans pocket? My eye zooms in on his right front pocket. The outline seems to form the shape of a small pistol. Thugs, I think to myself. He notices me look over at him, and as if on cue, spits out something gross onto the ground. It looks like chewing tobacco. I turn away in disgust. I’m shaking. My brother, Sam, notices too, and squeezes my hand. I throw the second rose onto Pris’ grave. The baby continues to scream.

Excerpt #7:

    What strikes me the most are the services offered literally in the same spot - prostitutes, like peacocks with their  multi-colored make-up, clad in skimpy clothes; dozens of them hanging out  by the center stone fountain at the sea wall. Very young faces; some pretty and others not so blessed physically. Their youth is what is astounding. Some look only thirteen or fourteen years old. They strut about advertising their services on this early afternoon amidst children, babies, elderly people. The tourists stare at the prostitutes. The locals appear numbed to this tableau.  One by one, the prostitutes approach each man, whether with or without a woman at their side. There is no separation…no divide in this town between red light district activities and the ordinary bustle of people taking a leisurely mid-day walk. 

Excerpt #8:

    Enrique sits down next to me on the big brass bed. “I was married for six years to a beautiful and very outspoken Cuban woman; what I believe you call - brazen . Her name was Rita; and  she was Miguel’s younger sister.” Enrique gets up and paces the room; then settles on the rocking chair again. As he rocks, Enrique spills his terrible tale. 
    “On an ordinary day, just like today, Rita was caught purchasing red meat on the black market. Red meat… it was illegal for Cubans to have red meat…only for tourists and important government officials. Castro was even rationing our daily rice, bread and beans. Devil!” Disgusted when he speaks of Castro, Enrique grimaces. “ It was the birthday of Rita’s father. He was turning 60 years old. She wanted to please him and planned a surprise dinner for the whole family in honor of his birthday. She bought five beefsteaks from a black marketer right here on the street. It was a trick; undercover citizens paid to entice people to buy the food banned for purchase - like beefsteaks. She was caught… sentenced to three years in prison.  Prison for buying some red meat!”

Excerpt #9: 

    “Okay, you are ready to leave tomorrow for Miami, sí?” Miguel stares me in the face. Enrique abruptly stops his laughing. 

    “What do you mean Miguel? Tomorrow is too soon. Why the rush? I thought Charlie could stay for a few more days so she can feel…” 
     Miguel interrupts, “Impossible cousin. The longer we wait – the more risky!  U.S. Customs is putting in new guidelines. I just learned this. More scrutiny on entries from Cuba – American or not. More formal regulations coming any day. We can’t wait! I don’t recommend stalling.” 
    Enrique protests, No Miguel, I cannot…” 
    This time, I cut Enrique off. I feel loose now with the alcohol in my body and frankly, I’m annoyed. “Excuse me, but since you are both talking about me – I’d like to say something. Si?” They both turn to me.