destination is the small community of Playa Larga on the south coast. To get there, we have to pass through
Larga is at the head of the
(THE FIRST DEFEAT OF YANKEE IMPERIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA)
and we can tell you it is a very big deal, indeed! We tour an excellent museum in Playa Giron, devoted to the invasion, along with hundreds of local people who are making a kind of pilgrimage on the big day. All along the road between the two communities are concrete memorials, one for each of the 161 Cubans killed in the campaign. On the anniversary day, local people stand a Guard of Honour at each memorial.
Our casa particular in Playa Larga is very nice and hosts, Enrique and Ditalia are friendly and congenial. But a special treat is in store. The following day is their daughter, Dailena's, Quince (keen-say). A Quince, or Fifteen Springs, is a party to celebrate a daughters Coming of Age. According to our guidebook, a Cuban girl officially becomes an adult at fifteen and, among other things, can engage in sexual relationships without fear of parental recriminations. We dont see any evidence of that sort of thing, but a Quince is certainly quite an occasion. Over a hundred family, friends and neighbours come to the party and there is food and drinks for many more. Cubans have sweet tooths and seem to be particularly fond of large decorated cakes. There are at least three of them at this fiesta. Naturally, Dailenas fifteen-year-old friends are all at the party, too. Cubans, as a whole, are a handsome race of people; the young girls would break your heart!
On the road between Playa Larga and Playa Giron we have a really strange experience. During April, there is a massive migration of large crabs, moving from the beach to the marshes inland to breed and lay eggs. Unfortunately for the crabs, the highway runs between their origin and their destination. We drive through a carpet of moving crabs for nearly fifteen kilometers! These are big crabs, five or six inches across. It is impossible to avoid them and impossible to drive on the road without running over them by the hundreds. The noise they make under the tires is quite indescribable. But, los cangrejos have the last laugh! Who would guess that a crab leg could puncture a steel-belted radial tire?
spend a very enjoyable afternoon at a day-resort called Calleta Buena not far from Playa
Giron. An admission fee of $12.00 each gives
us a buffet lunch and free beer all day. We
rent gear and Susan has another chance to try snorkeling.
It is a very attractive little bay, quite protected from the waves and a
good place for swimming and skin-diving. The
free-beer counter is only a few feet away and did I mention that there are one or two
pretty girls in
to our next destination: the City of
Next morning, Feliz arrives with a bag of fresh fruit and asks if we would like to ride on a steam train. There is an old steam engine with a couple of antique wooden carriages, which choo-choos its way up the scenic Valle de Ingenieros or Valley of the Sugar Mills. The scenery is spectacular and Im nuts about steam engines so we agree to go. Feliz takes us to the station and as the train comes chuffing in, he asks if we would like to ride in the locomotive (the engineer is a friend). Well, I guess we would! I have wanted to ride in the cab of a steam locomotive since I was a kid and never expected to get the chance.
We climb up to meet the engineer and the fireman and I am going nuts looking at all the levers and valves and trying to figure out what they all do. The engineer hands me a dirty old pair of gloves and says: Sit there! And I DRIVE THE TRAIN!!!! He shows me how to pull on the throttle lever to feed steam into the driver cylinders and how to operate the airbrakes to bring the train to a stop. He explains how to read the whistle code signs so I can blow the proper whistle signal at each crossing and station. I drive the train all the way up the valley. At first the engineer always keeps his hand on the throttle while I am adjusting it. I suspect you could do a great deal of damage to an old steam engine if you yanked on it too hard. Once he sees that I have the hang of it, he just tells me when to go and when to stop and if we need more power to climb a grade or to back off because there is a downhill grade ahead.
We stop at a little station where everyone gets off for cold drinks. Sometimes we stop to let local people on or off. At the top of the valley, there is a wye where the train is turned around. The brakeman throws the switch and I move the big lever, which changes the timing on the valve gear and makes the engine run in reverse. Then I very slowly back the train across the top of the wye. The brakeman turns that switch, I throw the lever into forward and away we go back down the valley.
The engine was built in 1907 and was originally a hand-stoked coal-burner. Some time between then and now it was converted to burn oil, Because, says the fireman, Cubans dont like to work that hard.
is without a doubt the highlight of my trip (If not my life so far)! In fact, I would have gone all the way to
In the evening, Feliz takes us to a private home in the port-town of Cassilda, and the family serves us dinner. We invite Feliz to eat with us and he is delighted. We have an excellent meal of fresh camarones (shrimp) and a bottle of very acceptable local vino blanco. It is still early when we get home, and Susan doesnt feel like going out, so I walk into the central square on my own. There is a large crowd of people gathered with a very good band playing Cuban music. There is also a troupe of semi-professional dancers who are a pleasure to watch. When the music plays, Cuban girls can move their butts in ways that seem anatomically impossible. On the way home, I am accosted by a rather young and very polite jiniterra. Fortunately, I have been practicing suitable Spanish phrases for just such an occasion. So I say: Tengo una esposa a mi casa, and she politely excuses herself and melts back into the shadows.
morning, we meet Feliz again and he takes us down to the beach at Playa Ancon about 10 km
At the end of the swim we give Juan a $5.00 tip. He is so tickled, he takes us back to his house to meet his family and we get the royal treatment. Chairs are brought out for us to sit on, glasses and spoons appear. We have a drink of rum and fresh mangos picked from the tree in the backyard. We ask him if they grow coconuts. Juan harvests a couple and whacks them open with a rusty old machete so we can drink the milk and eat the meat. Boy, they are a lot tastier than the ones at Safeways. Next, Grandma comes out with a pail of water and a fresh towel so we can wash our hands. Eating fresh-from-the-tree mangoes is a pretty juicy experience!
This is just one of our many encounters with the unbelievable friendliness of the Cuban people. It doesnt have anything to do with money, although they certainly have a great need for it and never turn it down if it is offered. They are just warm, friendly people who seem to get the greatest happiness from making you feel welcome in their homes and their country.
morning we leave