Señora Noris' daughter tried to help us rent a licensed cab that will take us to the beach. The only driver available was asking US$60 for the round trip. We immediately refused. There were also no mopeds available for rent. Our only way was to hitch from the main rotunda on the way to the beach and hope that tourists with rented cars would stop to pick us up and take us to where they are mostly headed, Cayo Coco.
Señora Noris' husband (we never got his name because he didn't talk much) drove us in his sweet white car to the gasoline station where most cars stop on the way to the cayo. We asked a parked younger couple where they were headed and if they could give us a lift. But they just came from three days at the beach and were on their way to Trinidad. They were actually from New York City. We all had a laugh when we started asking each other how we were all planning to re-enter the United States.
After they drove off, we situated ourselves at the rotunda and put out our thumbs to every tourist-driven car that drove by. On the other side of the rotunda were Cubans looking for rides much as we've seen before along highways around the country. An empty cab sped past my hitchhiker's thumb, but stopped a few yards away to back up. His cab was licensed and we knew he could drive us to the beach. We set a price of US$20 for him to drive us past the checkpoint and to the public beach of Cayo Coco. His girlfriend was in the front seat accompanying him to run a paid errand to deliver packages to a certain hotel by the beach. He probably figured he could make a few extra dollars on the side that wouldn't have to be reported to the state. The beach was a long way for only US$20, but he grumpily agreed anyway.
The problem began at the checkpoint. We gave up our passports for inspection to the guards so that they could log tourists coming in and out of the cays. Everything was going well until the guard realized that the girl in the front seat was not with us and was Cuban. They wouldn't give up or bend the rules. So she had to step out of the car and wait for our cab to return after dropping us off at the beach. Understandably, she was angry at her boyfriend for picking us up in the first place. It wasn't going to be fun to wait two hours to be picked up again. We were faced by our own potential problem finding a ride later back to Morón.
Cayo Coco is exclusive, full of beautiful resorts and beach houses that rest on stilts in the middle of the water. We were told that a room's going rate was US$500 a night and that if we wanted to enter the beach, we would have to pay US$60 to join those patrons. Luckily, we were able to find a public patch of beach without being asked if we were checked in at any of the hotels. The beach was beautiful, but definitely full of tourists who were willing to pay more for the beach than we were. There were parasails above us, jet skis in the water, and old Europeans walking around topless -- it was the ultimate Cuban resort for those who are on holiday.
On our way back, we caught a ride aboard a shuttle bus that took us from one rotunda to another. We found ourselves at a gasoline station and negotiated another one-way trip back to Morón with a cab for US$25.
Back in Morón we were surprised to see that people were all celebrating New Year's Eve at home. There was no party at the plaza, no loud music in the streets, and no mass in any of the churches.
Señora Noris didn't even know where the church was! There were more people in the house now, their kids and grandchildren visiting for the night. We finally felt like we were connecting with the family. We joined them for dinner, insisting that we should eat dinner together. We had drinks with their children (no one was younger than 32 years old) and even played a few rounds of dominoes where they proudly defended Cuba from our winnings back in Trinidad.
Before the clock struck midnight, we walked to the plaza, sat in the park, and welcomed the new year quietly and peacefully. I think it was the tamest new year I've ever celebrated in my life.