"They warned me that the food wouldn't be as good as at the hotel," Coleman said afterward. "It wasn't. But we had a good time. They look the same and talk the same as our students. They even tell the same jokes."
To the visiting Americans, sightseeing both by bus and on foot, Havana seemed like the set of an old movie, the print slightly faded with age. Big-finned Cadillacs and 1947 Hudsons rolled along all but deserted boulevards, and from the balconies of oceanfront hotels where U.S. tourists once sunned themselves one could hear roosters crowing. There were similar sights and sounds everywhere. At the gym where the team practiced, a facility that used to belong to an American-run Methodist school, a rusted-out Coca-Cola cooler lay overturned in the yard. The gym has been renamed after a hero of the Bay of Pigs.
One tourist attraction the players took in was Ernest Hemingway's hilltop villa near Havana, paradisiacally set among stands of bamboo and lush ferns, where The Old Man and the Sea was written. Now a state museum, it is preserved just as Hemingway left it: bullfight posters on the walls, dining room table set for three, 10-year-old magazines waiting to be read in the living room. The team went in two groups, and the one that included Scates was caught in a thunderstorm. The attendants, concerned lest the visitors track up Hemingway's bearskin rugs, permitted them only to look through the windows. As he walked the grounds, Scates allowed that "It seems like a great place to write," the judgment of one whose forthcoming book, Winning Volleyball, gives him an obvious literary affinity with Papa.
Following practice one afternoon the U.S. players were taken to a beach outside Havana, where they tossed around a Frisbee, a bourgeois contrivance unknown in Cuba, and were besieged by off-duty soldiers in fatigue-green swim trunks anxious to talk about such rock groups as Sangre, Sudor y L�grimas, better known 90 miles to the north as Blood, Sweat and Tears. And they came upon another example of Cuban hospitality when Patterson and a teammate, Byron Shewman, paused to watch a group of men playing dominoes outside a caba�a.
The Cubans struck up a conversation with the strangers. Soon one of them, a taut-skinned fellow wearing the green shirt of the Canecutters Brigade, handed out cold beer all around, this being one of the few items in Cuba not strictly rationed. The man, who was spending a week at the beach with his family in reward for his work in last year's sugar harvest, spoke in English. "You are visiting my country," he told the Americans. "I want you to be at home. This is beautiful."
Plentiful as such confrontations were, there still remained one more, this time with the Cuban volleyball team. The leftist demonology has always considered the U.S. the shark and her Latin-American neighbors as sardines, but the roles seemed reversed when the Cubans came from behind to chew up the North Americans. The Coliseum was SRO four hours before the match began, and among those on hand was Castro, who chatted for half an hour with the U.S. players. He wished them luck, adding, "Of course, I hope Cuba will win."
For a time Fidel had reason to worry. The Americans, getting strong blocking from McFarland and Smitty Duke, took just 19 minutes to win the opener 15-8, then edged ahead in the second game 10-8. "The key to beating the Cubans is to beat their strong block," Scates had said beforehand. But it was the Cubans who began finding openings in the U.S. defense. With 21-year-old Diego Lapera doing the spiking, Cuba scored seven straight points to win 15-10. The third game started as an uncompromising struggle, the points coming so grudgingly—only the serving team can score in volleyball—that it was only 3-3 after 17 minutes of play.
Then the U.S. began to disintegrate. As the crowd chanted "Coo-ba, Coo-ba," Lapera and high-jumping Pedro Delgado fired the home team to a 15-6 win. Cuba took the final game 15-8, and Suwara could only lament. "We just couldn't seem to get together."
As for Castro, he told foreign journalists he was impressed with the "high-quality games," then slipped off his gun belt to demonstrate his serving technique. It only confirmed what such U.S. players as Dodge Parker had suspected all along. "I think I like Castro," Parker said soon after arriving in Cuba. "He seems like a hang-loose guy."