Impressions of Cuba (page 4)
Impressions of Cuba
page 1  page 2  page 3
page 4  page 5
       Life in the barriadas of Peru came back to me our first night in Trinidad, when, trying to sleep, we were awakened by howling neighborhood dogs. The howls worsened as revelers returned from a big dance in honor of La Semana de Cultura — Culture Week. The echoes from their shoes on the cobbled streets sounded like a roaring river, about to breach its banks. I went out to the balcony and sat in a rocking chair until the noise subsided. It was surprisingly chilly, and the stars above me were brilliantly benign, not enemy stars.
     After three hours sleep, our landlady woke us for breakfast. Her shy daughter, who had been studying physics before dropping out to help her mother with her guest business, served us fried eggs, fresh rolls, just-squeezed orange juice, and fragrant Cuban coffee with steaming milk.
     We went to Mass on Sunday morning at the church of the Most Blessed Trinity. It was nearly full. Before Mass, a woman with Down’s Syndrome walked to our pew to greet us with the traditional abrazo. The Spanish priest also stopped to chat with us. During the homily, he spoke of the need for unity — unity with Protestants; unity against terrorism; unity against the war in Afghanistan, and unity with Cubans in The United States. He asked that we pray for those who had been lost crossing the Florida Straits. A stylishly dressed young woman led the choir of youths, their faith reflected on their faces. We held hands during the “Our Father,” and it occurred to me that the evil of the boycott is not only economic. We are withholding basic recognition of the humanity of the Cuban people. Not knowing their beauty and vibrancy is more our loss than theirs.
     After Mass, we visited El Museo De La Lucha Contra Los Bandidos. In the Museum of the Struggle against the Bandits (Batista and his followers), proud, elderly guides traced the struggle that culminated with the final victory over the dictator. After the museum, we convened at El Rincón again, ready for deliciously crisp, cold Crystal beers. Local musician Israel Macedo played the guitar and sang hauntingly romantic trova music.
     Our landlady, having earlier and discretely solicited our interest and agreement, prepared a Sunday dinner of lobster, salad, and moros y cristianos (black beans and rice, known as Moors and Christians). For this feast, each of us paid $10.00. Apart from breakfast, our landlady had no license to serve meals, unlike the owners of some private homes, known as paladares, that have special licenses to set up a few tables and serve meals. She would face a fine or loss of her license if she were caught serving lunch to us. But the game throughout this island-nation is to get dollars any way you can.
     While preparing to visit Playa Ancón, the Caribbean beach a few kilometers from Trinidad, our landlady’s neighbor asked if we were interested in buying cigars. I had legally bought five Cojibas Esplendidos for $48.00 at the Hotel Nacional, but now he was offering a beautifully sealed box of 25 of the same brand for $45.00. (Since returning to the U.S. I have learned that the same cigar would cost at least $25.00 ($500.00 per box) if acquired outside of Cuba. The neighbor, confirming my suspicions that the cigars had been stolen, told us, “In Cuba, the State robs from the people, and the people rob from the State.” (Just be aware that, if you have a U.S. license to enter Cuba, and you buy a box of cigars, U.S. customs will, upon your return, value each cigar at $4.00, and you will have used up your $100.00 limit. It’s not a matter of paying duty on extra purchases; you’ll have to forfeit what is in excess of $100.00.)
     Playa Ancón was pretty, but not nearly as lovely as Pensacola Beach back home. The unattractive hotels had few tourists, unlike the same European-financed hotels that line Varadero, the stunning beach east of Havana. The only distinctive attraction was the nubile, astonishingly sunburned, topless girl who sought relief under a palm tree.
       We learned about the Valle de los Ingenios in the Lonely Planet Cuba guide. Although the ruins of eighteenth and nineteenth century sugar mills may be found in the valley, we contented ourselves with the view from the Mirador De La Loma Del Puerto, 6 km. east of Trinidad. From the lookout, a valley of cane and bananas unfolds like a painting of Eden, as if no African slave ever suffered or died here.
     Before returning to Havana, I agreed to translate for a friend who wanted to buy handcrafted linens at a tiny house-front shop. She chose several lacy table coverings. When it came time to pay, the owner apologized for the high price of her merchandise. After all, each piece had taken days to make. Would $48.00 be too much? My friend asked me to translate her response: “Would you be offended if I offered you $70.00, instead of $48.00?” The proprietor smiled broadly and swept my friend up in a tight embrace.
     It took us a while to make our good-byes because we now had friends in three different households in Trinidad. Our landlady confided that she was grateful to have a Spanish-speaking guest, someone to whom she could comfortably speak, and I was again thankful for the boon of a second language, acquired as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Home | Back Issues | Resources | Archives | Site Index | Search | About us | To contact us

Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers | PC writers by country of service

E-mail the with comments
or to be added to the new-issue notice list.
Copyright © 2008, (formerly RPCV Writers & Readers)
All rights reserved.