|Mid-November, small amounts of snow are beginning to accumulate, the forecast is for below freezing temperatures: time to think warm thoughts about warm places like Cuba, and the warmth of its people.
WARNING: this is quite a long story, but it may give you a glimpse into the lives of everyday Cubans.
When we were in Cuba in early 2009, we stayed at a resort not far from Guantanamo, in the Sierra Maestra Mountains from which Castro and his crew initiated their coup [click here]. This part of Cuba isn't all that touristy, and we were able to see firsthand how many of them lived, without the influence of many tourists.
We had been told by another guest at the resort of a waterfall and swimming hole within walking distance of the (relatively isolated) resort, so we set out to find it. As we progressed, we became less and less sure that we were on the right track.
As we walked past the gate to a small banana plantation, the farmer joined us on our walk, albeit on the opposite side of the road. After walking parallel for a couple hundred metres, we introduced ourselves (his name was Roberto) and decided to try to ask him if we were on the right trail. We knew about two dozen Spanish words, and he knew no English, but through various gestures, grunts, and utterances, he finally understood where we wanted to go, and tried to tell us--in Spanish, of course--how to get there.
He must have sensed that we didn't have any more clue after his directions than we had before, so he motioned to follow him. He took us across a small stream on a "bridge" which consisted of a rusty frame from a large truck [click here].
He waved and spoke to someone near a house on the other side (we learned later it was his house and his wife) and we proceeded. He led us about another kilometre, right to the waterfall [click here]. We were delighted with his help, but he refused to allow my wife to give him a tip.
Instead, he stripped off his shirt and shoes and partook of the cool water in the swimming hole himself. There were a number of children swimming, ranging from perhaps 3 [click here] to early teens. The young boys would show off their bravado by climbing the cliffs and jumping into the water [click here], while the young girls pretended not to notice [click here]. Upstream, a small herd of pigs and donkeys watered and bathed.
Roberto stayed with us until we looked ready to leave, then guided us back. We thought perhaps that it was culturally unseemly form him to accept money from a woman, so my brother tried to give Roberto a tip, but he again refused.
As he led us back, he managed--again through gestures and a few Spanish words we understood- to invite us to his home for coffee.
While his wife was making coffee, we sat in the relative coolness of his mud house with thatched roof and dirt floor. Chickens and small pigs wandered in and out of the house. The house itself was about as big as an average North American living room, with drapery partitions forming bedrooms and kitchen. There was no running water, but there was electricity--at least enough to power a television set, which Castro's government had provided to every household in Cuba (presumably so that every citizen could watch his 6-hour-long speeches).
He introduced us to his wife and daughter [click here], and told us about his older daughter who was away at school. He proudly showed us a photo album full of 8x10 prints of a gorgeous young woman, dressed to the nines in gowns of all types. (We learned later that in Cuba--and, we understand, in some other Latin American countries--the attainment of age 15 by a girl is a cause for much celebration and the taking of such photographs by a professional photographer, who also provides the costumes for the shoot. So no matter how poor the family is, they begin saving money for this event soon after the girl is born.)
We were a bit concerned that the coffee might be very strong, as is the Cuban style, and it was. But it was served black in a very small glass (less than two ounces) and while piping hot, was deliciously smooth. Roberto had grown the beans in his own little coffee plantation and roasted and ground it. He offered to give us some to take home, but we demurred, already overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness of these very simple-living people.
He still refused to let us give him money, but communicated that he would appreciate a long-sleeved shirt to protect his arms as he worked in the fields. We had brought along a quantity of clothing with the intention of leaving it behind, but there was no long-sleeved shirt among it. Nevertheless Roberto agreed to meet us near the entrance to the resort the following day (he was not allowed on the resort himself), where my wife gave him a large grocery bag full of other clothing.
The whole experience, plus the weather, certainly make us want to go back to Cuba again.
To see more images from Cuba, click here.