In December 2012, I ventured to Havana, Cuba on a last-minute solo excursion. Before departing, I asked each of my friends what they wanted from Cuba. Most asked for cigars and rum, but one asked for a single, Cuban marble. I thought it was a joke, given the embargo in place since the 60's. They wouldn't manufacture marbles in Cuba, so where and why would I find one?
After arriving in Cuba, I met a gentleman named Habib. Habib was a friendly, seasoned solo traveler from Montreal, also there on a last-minute solo excursion. Minutes into meeting him, I knew that he'd be the perfect travel companion. (It also didn't hurt that he spoke several many different languages fluently, including English, French and Spanish.) I advised Habib of my need to purchase local cigars, rum and a Cuban marble. He laughed, and agreed to help me with my quest.
And 'quest', it sure was. Every day, after sleeping in, having lunch, and sunning on the beach, Habib and I would catch up at the taxi/bus stop then head into the city. From there, we would go for a walk through the streets, visit an attraction/museum. Every evening, we would have dinner at a different recommended restaurant, then end each night with a live show and dancing. So, we spent every afternoon wandering the city streets.
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of street vendors at/near each tourist attraction. Everything on the list was easily found ... except the marble. Inquiring about a marble with each vendor led us down some unexpected paths. It didn't take a lot of prodding to convince each one to take us back to his/her place to show us their full inventory. We weaved in and out of back streets and housing; were shown private collections of decades-old goods carefully preserved for resale. And why? Because no Cuban vendor - even with a fluent translator in Habib - could understand the concept of a marble. We were shown collections of marble-made products, some of which I purchased for their rarity and beauty. However, not only no sign of a Cuban marble, no understanding of it. We used hand gestures and drew pictures. We described their use. Nada.
I have since lost touch with the person who requested the marble. I'm sure it was a joke, but it turned into a fun adventure that took me through the backstreets of Havana, uncovering a variety of treasures I stood no chance of otherwise stumbling upon.