Photo Feature by Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES — The same thing happens every time I visit Pinar del Rio. It doesn’t matter whether I go back in two years’ or two days’ time, the beauty of the landscape always makes a deep impression on me, particularly in Pons, a town in the municipality of Minas de Matahambre that is as beautiful – perhaps more beautiful – than Viñales (even though you won’t find it in a postcard).
The different tonalities of green, the night’s sky brimming with stars and the pure, fresh air make my stay there almost magical. There’s also my friends: those who travel with me and those who live there, who humbly open the doors of their houses to welcome us.
As we walk down fields or across mountains, everything we see is dreamlike. Thanks to the rain these past few months, we came across beautiful lagoons visited by curious piglets and several heads of cattle grazing peacefully in their vicinity. At other times, the earth has been dry and the vegetation withered.
Another immense pleasure is to see animals I know little about up close.
In the more densely populated areas, a detail that catches the eye of visitors from the capital, are the good services offered by both private and State-run businesses. The indolence and lack of respect for customers that exists throughout the country haven’t reached this place.
I don’t let my passion blind me, however. This paradise in Cuba’s westernmost region has been gradually changing. During this trip, we came across a garbage dump somewhere along a road, where all had been wild vegetation before. Beyond the singing of birds and barking of dogs, some reggaeton music could be heard, though not very loudly. To our surprise, a smoke-spewing US car accompanied us our last day there.
As electricity reaches more places today, the nightly soap or baseball game are replacing the emotion-filled stories told by candle-light. Those stories about past or present lives, predictions and the occasional horror tale about a spirit that everyone fears, are becoming a thing of the past.
Though the land is full of hard-working, enterprising people, some young farmers have opted to make a living selling wood rather than working the land. To fell a few hard wood trees is more profitable than to spend months sowing and reaping. They claim it’s because of a lack of supplies and fertilizers, which is true, but they also have no sense of the traditional ways in which people lived in harmony with the earth, without over-exploiting it.
Civilization is invading the countryside, bringing the benefits and vices inherent to it.
At any rate, I will continue to visit. It still helps me detox from the dirty and poisoned city. In the countryside of Pinar del Rio, I always come across noble people who offer me coffee, a conversation and even a bit of affection without expecting anything in return. Who knows, I may move to one of those mountains one day.
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