My most inspiring holiday was Cuba in 2013. Here I met many amazing inventors and had great conversations about how things work. Cuba has a similar “invent-o-gene” to NZ — it’s an island of can-do shed dwellers. I was particularly taken with the story of a man who escaped in 2005. Sick of the oppressive life under Castro, Rafael Diaz spent a year secretly converting his 1959 Buick Electra four-door hardtop into an amphibious jet boat.
He used parts from the local dump and the black market. In 2005 he packed his pregnant wife and 3-year-old son into his Jet-Buick. They drove calmly waving past the Havana police, down on to the beach and into the ocean. As they sped off, the police opened fire on them. Narrowly escaping, they further risked their lives in shark-infested stormy seas. They made it to the USA and now live a happy life in Florida.
I was so taken with this story that I flew to Miami to meet Rafael Diaz. I turned up on his doorstep and said “Hi I’m Luke from New Zealand”. He could not understand a word but luckily we were both fluent in “invention”. That same day Rafael took me fishing for barracuda in his boat to Boca Chita Island off the Florida Keys. On the island we drank and danced salsa as Rafael’s wife, Nivia, cooked Cuban-style barbecued fresh barracuda in olive oil and garlic. A “hit” indeed.
I had been told that there were no ATMs in Cuba and to just take cash if I wanted to survive. So I arrived with €3000 in my wallet and that was to last me three weeks. It was my first day in Old Havana wandering around in a 1950s daze. An hour or two later, I realised I had lost my wallet. Blood rushed from my head and I turned pale. I thought I’d been robbed or maybe just dropped it? I spent another hour retracing my steps looking for the wallet. I’d been to the toilet, a coffee shop, countless streets and alleyways. I could not speak Spanish and felt truly alone and desperate. Scared, with no credit cards, no money, no ID, what do you do? I thought of finding the NZ consulate but had no idea if that was even a thing. I was not thinking straight at all but figured all I could really do was find the fanciest hotel I could and ask to use the phone. I entered this marble-clad five-star hotel and asked the concierge if he could help me. “I’ve lost my wallet and all my money — what do I do? I’m from New Zealand!” I rambled. He calmly asked my name and when I told him, he said, “Oh I have your wallet here, it was handed in”. He handed me my familiar brown wallet, the one Dad had given me. Every single euro was there, untouched, visas, licence, everything. I was left with the warmest feeling of joy for humanity that I’d ever felt. The next few weeks were just as good and the amazing Cuban people I met became good friends forever. However, sadly, I never met the kid that found my wallet.
Luke Nola is the creator of kids’ TV show Let’s Get Inventin’, with full seasons available to watch on demand at heihei.nz
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