Stomach over-full and content, Josefa and her hunger put to
the back of my mind, I get a bicycle as there is a nice breeze and some
occasional cloud cover. But don’t think it’s not hot. It is.
I want to try to make it to Chorro de Maita today if I can.
It is about 9 kilometers from the hotel but I hear there are several las lomas, ‘uphills’ on the way.
I ride past the town I visited last week, making a left turn
to continue upward, after confirming I’m on the right road.
Another bicyclist with the blue-black one speed bike of the
hotel and the plastic tourist wrist strip, catches up with me and informs me,
after he asks where I’m going, that he’ll ride with me.
He is white, male, speaking English and most likely from
Canada. He says he thinks that the old man we just passed who wanted me to
stop, was going to hop on my bike.
I tell him I heard him and did he hear me say, lo siento, no
senor? I tell him I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m on a spiritual journey and
would rather bike by myself. When he doesn’t look convinced I add that I’m
meditating and cast spells. I’m really glad I can say this in English although
I’ve learned conjuros is spells in espanol. He looks a little shocked mixed
with defeat when he says with surprise, oh okay and quickly takes off, which is
not so easy because now we are going uphill.
My great white savior disappears in a cloud of reddish-brown
dust. How’s that for spells?
The road is not busy with many cars, thank goodness, but the
occasional huge old truck spewing black diesel smoke passes, as do other
bicyclists and horses, some hauling carts, others merely a rider.
I see no womyn at all either driving cars or horse-drawn
carts or buses or trucks. I only see two or three other womyn riding bikes, who
are not tourists.
People are also walking alongside the road or waiting at bus
stops, but not many. In the fields I pass, I see several horses and goats, a very
small scattering of cows but more oxen, and many, many gardens growing mostly
corn (the good kind, organic & non-gmo), tomatoes, other veggies I don’t
recognize and lots of fruit trees, especially banana and coconut.
I hear more chickens than I see but occasionally a mother
walks her chicks across the road or a turkey dashes into the yard.
Lizards are the animal that are most abundant here although
sand crabs abound on the beach.
I have to get off my bike at least 3 times to walk,
especially toward the very end in order to make it up the hills.
The turnoff to go up the mountain is very well marked. On
one side of the road is a billboard – the only billboard I’ve seen thus far in
Cuba – that is a very large, blown up picture of an advertising photo obviously
from the internet. You can see the blue line with facebook, twitter, etc. icons
across the bottom of the billboard.
On the opposite side of the road, is a replica of an
indigenous statue with a tablet attached announcing this is the way to the
museum and the little village.
More houses appear the closer to the museum I get. I have
not seen one tienda along the way, although I have seen a very small number of
restaurants most likely for tourists, and a few signs for rooms and houses for
There is also the doctor’s two story house which sits among the
other one story, smaller houses alongside the road. I can see inside one of the
rooms that says ‘consultoro’ a womon dressed in white similarly to the medical
womon of the hotel. I ask her if I can take a picture and she nods smiling but
disappears into the dark interior.
I’m sweating so much my fingertips are wet and I have a hard
time making the camera work, but finally it does.
I continue up the mountain (I’m walking my bike by this
time) and just when I’m wondering where people buy or get food around here, I
hear a man shouting something.
I turn around and see he is on horseback and carries a
couple of bulging sacks slung over its bareback. He is selling something but
he’s swallowed up by dark green vegetation as he trots down a yellow dirt path
before I can question him.
Soon I hear another man shouting something that sounds like “prisas” – this man is on
foot, older than god, and overtakes me so I can ask him what “prisas” means as
I think that’s what he’s saying.
He grins toothlessly and shows me inside his shoulder bag.
It is the newspaper! I ask him how much, even though I’ve only brought two 10
dollar cucs with me, and 1 peso. He tells me his bag is heavy, I think he says
5 kilograms or something, not pounds.
Then he reaches into his bag and gives me a paper. I say ‘oh
no, how much does it cost’ and he says, aahhh, nada, es free (I forget the word
at this moment.) I try to give him my peso but he refuses, beaming and waving
side to side, a gnarled pointed finger at me. I thank him, wishing I had
something to give him that he would take.
Cubans are always giving me something, it seems. Most of the
time, I don’t think they are expecting anything in return – unless they are
working. Several times, I’ve been given clever little flowers handmade from
white napkins, the edges lined with bright paint. Once a man gave me matches,
another tried to give me a piece of coral, which I refused.
Sometimes womyn try to give me a pencil or pen or what looks
like a pad of paper. Little things.
Other times pieces of fruit or an offer of coffee. I have nothing to give back
so I try to refuse, hoping I’m not offending anyone.
It is getting harder and harder to continue up the mountain.
There is no shade at all, the breeze has disappeared and the sun dominates the
Everyone who sees me waves happily and shouts “Hola” or “Buenos
Dias” or “Buen Dia”. I ask a womon whose house and her both are standing close
to the road if the museum is cerca (near) o lejos (far). She smiles broadly
extending her arm stirring the hot humid air with the universal adelante hand
motion in the direction I need to go and tells me lejitos which means a little
All the houses seem almost equal and comparable in size and
land, with the smaller, grey cement, non-painted, thatched-roof houses
interspersed amongst the more wealthy-appearing, brightly painted, tile or
metal roofed buildings that sport more ornamental plants than food.
They all have narrow, parallel slats for windows and open
doors looking into dark rooms, capturing whatever breeze available. I hear
music and tvs playing from many houses and some conversations. I pass a couple
of schools where I can see uniformed children standing around tables, laughing
and talking as their hands are busy doing some kind of work on the tables in
front of them.
I see only one brilliantly painted gold and orange
ostentatious house as I near the top of a hill, surrounded by smaller matching houses
and lots of green grass lawn – practically the only and certainly the largest
lawn I see – with several dark-skinned womyn sitting together at tables under a
long outdoor open thatched-roof covering.
I think this must be a hotel but it is pretty far from the
beach and the beaten path of tourists. As I get nearer I see that it is a fuckin
catholic church and I say of course, this is where the people’s money goes to.
Soon the road splits again and I’ve still not arrived. The
white man who offered to escort me to the museum appears and passes me on his
way down and tells me it’s still kinda far.
By this time I’m out of water (I broke my 16 ounce glass
water bottle a couple days ago much to my chagrin and had to buy a little
thermos which probably holds only 8 ounces of water, but keeps it very, very
I can no longer ride, the road is so steep but I do see a
sign that says the museum is only 200 meters from here. I calculate quickly and
think only 2 football fields to go!
It is the longest 200 meters I’ve ever walked. Fortunately before
I get to the top, another womon comes charging down the hill, waving cheerfully
and insists on take my bike from me. She tells me she is very strong and will
help – I should just walk.
And she does take off, after affirming that I’m going to the
museum. She parks the bike under some trees on the opposite side of the road,
and when I catch up, she tells me she is Rosa, points out her home, and tells
me she will wait for me in the shade while I go to the museum.
There is a large, outdoor bar filled with many tables and
chairs under a thatched roof, at the top of the path to this part called the
aldea, which means small village. I can see statues of life-sized indigenous
people with skin that looks very much like the orange hue on white people from
the fake tanning lotion.
There are several very large, round adobe buildings
scattered about crowned by the tradition thatched-roofs. I’m so thirsty by this
time I ask for water, although the waitress would probably prefer to sell me a
cold beer or mojita, neither of which I want.
First she tells me 80 centavos but she returns with the cold
bottle, she tells 1 peso. I say okay and give her my 10 to change, with no tip.
It is 5 dollars to go into the fake tanned village close-up,
the pleasure of which I pass on. When I return to the road with a cold bottle
of water, Rosa has been joined by an old man, her neighbor, she explains.
I offer her some water but they both refuse. They are okay.
We begin to talk with Rosa picking up her shoe and showing me the holes in the
bottom of the soles. She is not skinny and her clothes are simple, mended in
places, clean but not raggedy.
Only her shoes are worn thin. She tells me she’s needing
money. I tell her not now, maybe after I go to the museum – the real museum,
not the aldea which costs $5 to enter. The museum is only 2 dollars. She
agrees, yes, yes, yes.
A very, very old womon who is incredibly skinny, barefoot
and whose clothes are hanging so loosely off her I worry that she will shed
them like a snake skin comes racing down the mountain towards us.
Rosa and her neighbor try to get in between this old womon
and me. I never learn her name and she attempts to lean over around her
obstructive neighbors and discretely put her hand out, eyes pleading for money.
We have our total conversation in espanol, as neither Rosa
nor Rigordes, as I learn his name is, speak English. They both tell me they
grow food and get food from the government but it is not enough. Because of the
tourists, nothing close by is affordable. What tourists can buy for $10 cucs
which is about $7.50 canadian, they have to pay $300 pesos – their monthly
When they ask how much money I make in the u.s. we talk
about what things can buy there, what security they have here, knowing they
have a doctor close by and free, they have a home and land no one will kick
them out of, they have some food at least, they have free education.
They say oh yes, all the things Castro promised have come
I know it is so hard to look at everything we have in the
u.s. and not see the death and destruction necessary for us to have so much.
It is very hard for those of us who live in the u.s. to make
the connections between 383 years of war and genocide and enslaving people and
all the wealth we have – let alone for people who have a hard time having
enough money for shoes, let alone being able to buy tons of food 24/7.
When I tell them how much schools cost, health insurance,
and the fear of eviction or foreclosure, the chemicals destroying the mother
earth, they nod slowly, looking stunned and sad.
They understand “gmo” and agree with much enthusiasm that
chemicals should not be used on the mother earth nor plants.
Rosa reaches somewhere behind her where I cannot see and
pulls out a large fruit that I LOVED in Mexico. She tells me in Cuba it is
called “guanabana” if I understand correctly and she gives it to me. I ask how
much? And she says it is a gift for me. I say no, I must pay. She refuses.
Rigordes shows me a bag of fruit he has and pulls out a
small banana that appears to be green. He shows me several mangoes in his bag
and lots of green bananas.
I protest the bananas are not ripe. He fervently disagrees
and peels one for me to taste. Oh, muy rico! Damn, what a good banana. I ask
him how much. He also says no, it’s a gift.
I tell them I’m going to the museum and when I return I will
ask again, how much. I want them to think about it.
When I get several more feet up the road I see the museum on
the left side this time. It is a large square dark brown wooden building that
has sections missing from the walls on two sides allowing a breeze to flow
I can see several more rooms on the right where a couple
womyn are working. One comes down the stairs and approaches me. She lets me
know it costs $2 pesos/cucs to look around. There’s a sign that says $5 more
pesos to take pictures.
In the middle of the square extending out to almost the
walls with only maybe a 3 foot path to walk around the entire square, a few
feet down are skeletons that have been arranged so orderly and on vividly
contrasting to the red earth outside what appears to be sand, I ask if this
burial ground is original or laid out more recently. And if the sand has been
brought up from the ocean.
She tells me no, this is original as is the dirt, then she
hands a paper written in mostly good English that explains what is happening
It is so very sad. I’m thinking I’m coming to an original
native peoples burial ground of maybe thousands of years ago but instead it is
a burial ground of indigenous people but it is one where people died suddenly
and together about 500 years ago because of disease and violence brought to
them by the conquistadors who were ‘teaching’ them fuckin catholic religion –
descendants of whom still are ‘teaching’ indigenous people catholic religion
down the road.
The most interesting part of the museum are the glass
display cases built into the walls where tiny early original artifacts sit
together on shelves looking out onto the unearthed burial ground.
They were made from gold, from stone, from shell, from bone
– all representing something to these first people of Cuba. There were no
weapons but only pieces of pottery still surviving and shells used as utensils.
There are also a few beads made from stone or shell with
holes in the middle to string on something. The womon who works here tells me
these early people came to from Venezuela maybe 8 or 10 thousand years ago.
I leave the museum and head back the hill where my new
friends are waiting. Rosa asks me, eyes twinkling, if I have an esposo –
husband. The first time a Cuban has asked this of me – Canadians and europeans
have asked, but not Cubans.
I tell no way, no necesito! She smiles even more broadly and
tells, she doesn’t have or need an esposo either. I tell her I’m a lesbian. Yo
soy lesbiana. Her neighbor takes a step or 2 back, nods, but doesn’t stop
Rosa then asks me for my address and phone number in the
u.s. She hands me a small piece of paper and I write on it.
She asks me if I will give my clothes and things to her before
I leave for the u.s. I tell her, I’m sorry but I’ve already promised them to a
womon who lives close to the hotel.
She nods and tells me no problem.
I ask Rigordes how much he wants for his fruit. I take
several mangoes out of the plastic bag and leave 3 in with maybe 6 delicious
bananas. He insists many times, this is a gift. I insist no, I must pay. He
asks me how much do I want to pay.
I tell him I have no idea, he should tell me what he wants
to sell them for. He gestures over his shoulder to his yard that is full of
fruit trees and green bananas.
Finally he bashfully tells me dos pesos – ah, I quickly pay
him, return the bag to my basket where he placed it earlier when it was heaping
full and a gift.
I turn to Rosa and give her my last 2 pesos in change that I
have for the fruit and her help. Then I ask her where the old womon when to.
She motions back up the hill – where I am not returning.
I ask Rosa if she will give the old womon a peso from me.
She agrees and I pull out the paper peso, only the $3 peso bill comes out first
before the one dollar peso. I should have planned better at the museum, instead
of being so careless with my money.
She takes the one dollar bill and promises to give it to the
old womon. I tell her – and him – that we will all be so old one day, if we’re
lucky, and we will need help.
They agree and say that old people do not get enough help
from the government. I ask about help from the neighbors and they look
uncomfortable but tell me they try.
Then Rosa tells me she will trade the two dollars in coins
for my $3 dollar bill. She picks up her foot and shows me again the bottoms of
the practically non-existent souls.
I give her the $3 dollar bill and as she tries to return the
change to me, I sigh and tell her no, of course not, it’s okay, keep it.
After I leave when I’m at the bottom of the hill, I think
instead I should have traded my shoes for hers. I don’t believe she can buy
good shoes here for even $5 CUCs.
The trip that took me an hour and a half to make, takes me
only maybe 20 or 30 minutes to return which is good because the bicycle stand
closes at 3:00 and it’s 2:45 already.
Time for a nap!