The Walking Dead
I woke up still giggling at where I was and what I was doing. I was in the love nest with me, myself and I, the three of us in a tiny town in eastern Cuba. And last night I did something I had never done before. Nope, not in the love nest, silly… I watched an American tv series called, The Walking Dead, about a zombie apocalypse. Now, you may wonder why I felt the need to explain what the tv show was about because I think most everyone is aware of it but I don’t watch tv, except for football and hockey so this was new to me. But the 15 year old grandson of the owner of the casa wanted to show me he had something on tv in English which was nice of him. But really? THIS is what the Cuban kids see of American tv? I was rather embarrassed, it’s a pretty stupid show.
Cubans can get what’s called, el paquete, the package. Someone is able to download or bring from the US on a flashdrive, weekly updates on American movies, tv shows, etc…For a price, equal to about 2 days wages in Cuba, you can get the latest. Then, of course, you share it with all your friends and you all pitch in to cover the cost. Brilliant! But after 3 episodes of this ridiculous show, I simply had to call it quits.
So the morning of walking, Day 2, I was fired up! I knew what I was getting into, had a place sort of lined up to stay, at least a contact, and I was feeling good! However, I first had to figure out the breakfast thing. Last night, even though I asked for small portions, again I received a huge dinner. I was very appreciative but just couldn’t eat it all! The comment from my hostess was, “Anita come nada” Anita eats nothing. So I came downstairs, already packed up, ready to walk out the door, no plan for breakfast. She tried to give me yet more guavas, I claimed they were very heavy to carry. I think there are Cuban/Jewish grandmothers here, lol! So the problem became, I didn’t want a huge breakfast but once I was walking, what was I going to eat?
Ah…..well, I had been smart to bring some “snacks” with me from home. I wanted light things but full of protein and a little comfort food. So in the bottom section of my pack I had snack sized stuff such as peanut butter, cheese crackers, chips ahoy cookies and 3 packs of chicken in foil (like the tuna packs). I was loaded up on water and ready for what the day would bring.
My plan was 10 miles for this day, a bit longer than yesterday but certainly not overwhelming. It was Sunday morning, and like yesterday, there were lots of people out and about. I smiled, said hello and strolled out of Calixto towards the town of Las Parras. A couple of hours down the hot, unshaded road, I found a tree to stop under and eat one of my guavas and some crackers for my breakfast. One of the funniest things happened as I was sitting under this lone tree. An old man drove by on his bicycle. Like everyone else, he turned and gave me a long look as he passed. Then, as if talking to himself, he said, “Porque estas solo?” “Why are you alone?” and then turned and just rode on. It appeared rhetorical but he simply could not fathom a single woman alone sitting on the side of the road with a mochila (backpack). Once again, I started laughing. This was way too much fun I was having!
One thing I discovered that would help me with the heat were bus stops. They are just big concrete blocks with benches but they have shade. And I often found myself stopping in them to get out of the heat. In fact, my word of the day today became “la sombra” the shade. I would stop, drink some water and take some time to write in my journal, watch the clouds, hope for more!, then move on. This way, I was able to keep up with the journal and get out of the sun. While I was sitting in one of these, a horse and buggy came by with two guys in the back who called, “Vamos!” Come on! and motioned me toward the cart. I yelled back, “Estoy caminando!” “I’m walking”, they yelled back, “Vamos!” and we did this six or seven times until they were out of sight and everyone was laughing.
Even though I was walking 10 miles today, I still arrived in Las Parras before 1:00pm. I went into a local cafe for something cold to drink but realized it was “too local” for me. What that meant was that they didn’t have any bottled water, it was just in a cup. I couldn’t risk it. They were also pouring rum from a large bottle into small ones of whatever people wanted to buy. No matter how much I want to learn and understand Cuba, I will never be “Cubana” and I have to be careful where I eat and what I drink. So I wandered across the street to the local gas station and bought a lemon soda and bottle of water at gringo prices.
One of the things I kind of bummed out about was that once I arrived in these small towns, there really wasn’t a good place for me to just sit and watch the town. I wanted a bench at the side of the road. Often I sat under a tree on my pack but I had discovered biting ants so I was careful where I sat down in my shorts! I ended up walking to the local school yard and sat on my pack and cooled off, watching the town from one end of it. I called Vladimir who said that he would meet me. I was confused as I had met him in Calixto, what was he doing in Las Parras? Well, it turns out he lives here and wanted to take me home and introduce me to his wife. It was about 1km to his house. Was I okay to walk it? Did I want him to carry my pack? SERIOUSLY!!! While yesterday I gave in to the chivalry, today I honestly wasn’t sure if Vladimir could carry my pack. So off we went down the dusty road, me with my pack on my own back and he proudly announced his home where I met his wife, who I’m not so sure was terribly happy to have me there. He showed me his degree on the wall, engineering from Santiago de Cuba University and poured me something cold to drink.
I loved having the opportunity to be invited into someone’s home with no motive, just a friendly gesture. This was real Cuba. They set up the fan in front of me to cool off and then Vladimir’s wife showed me their seven new born puppies! Adorable! Vladimir’s wife sat in a chair nearby plucking her eyebrows (I saw a lot of women in Cuba doing this), he pulled up his English language program on the computer and we bantered around Spanish/English words. When there are words that are similar, sometimes it becomes hard to explain to someone the difference in meaning. For example, we all know that “curious” and “wonder” are slightly different in meaning but I was challenged trying to explain….it was fun and very interesting.
Then we went on to the subject of music. He wanted to know what Cuban artists I liked. I didn’t want to just come up with the most popular musician I knew from being a tourist, so I thought back into my collection that a friend gave me. I came up with Polito Ibañez, proud of myself for not simply blurting out Polo Montañez. He was impressed, I silently thanked my guide Rigo for all the music he’s given me. Thanks dude!
It was time for me to go to my new home for the evening and Vladimir walked me over to the house. On the way, we ran into his father, an 83 year old gentleman named Mario. Since so many families live either together or nearby, it wasn’t odd to meet him on the street. I can’t ever imagine just walking down the street and running into my mom or dad! At any rate, they explained that the grandfather had come to Cuba in 1912 from Spain to help build the railroad to move sugar cane to the coast. Hard, back breaking work…..much harder than walking down the road! Since Vladimir has a grandfather from Spain, he is able to obtain a Spanish passport which allows him to travel with less restrictions in the world. He is leaning English to eventually go to the US on his Spanish passport. Such interesting and kind people I have already met!
We arrived at the casa de renta, again one for Cubans, not tourists, and my hostess settled me into a room which was, surprisingly not a love shack! Once again, she would cook for me for 2 cuc ($2.50) and the room was 10 cuc. She cooked traditionally for me which I loved, chicken, con gris (rice and beans), fried plantains, sliced cucumbers, bread. The same meal I have had for three nights running, but absolutely fine with me!
She and I had a wonderful chat, the subjects of which I understood just a little. I tried my hardest with my Spanish but she spoke rapid fire and even though I explained I didn’t understand, she kept right on smiling and talking, it was hysterical and perhaps the laugh was on me but I never would have known!
So far, my experience had exceeded my expectations. I was meeting fun, interesting people, seeing and smelling the countryside, having great time for internal reflection and even getting a tan! I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring, because from here on into Holguin and beyond, I did not know anyone who knew anyone, I was completely on my own. Ah, into the unknown!