By Irina Echarry
Could it be that sea turtle eggs are magic, and when you touch them they do in fact change the way you see life? Perhaps. Once again I wanted be far from the city, hoping that the unpredictable sea turtles chelonioideas would come closer to the beach during my research stint there.
This time there were three of us – two women and a sole man – camped out at Perjuicio (“Damage”) Beach. No one knows why it’s named that. This is a shore with special qualities. You need to walk more than a mile over ground made of “dog teeth” (sharp volcanic rock), and then descend a rustic rope ladder. When we finally reached the beach, we confirmed that it was one of the most alluring along the entire peninsula.
The snails there possess the most vivid colors, the sea is more fervent and there is the greatest diversity of species of fish that anyone could see from the shore.
A beach for three people; it felt strange. I’ve never desired to be owner of any place; there, however, I felt powerful.
Our male colleague, Maikel, conducted himself exceptionally; he was truly a hero. He had to haul the drinking water from near the highway, which meant going up the rope, walking back a mile over the dog teeth and returning loaded down. He cooked, gathered firewood and told stories.
The days and the nights passed with no real changes, only the light. The gnats were the veritable owners of that plot of sand we occupied. They seemed ready to draw all the blood from us that they could. We cooked shuffling from side to side; we ate shuffling from side to side – during the day, at night, and at dawn.
The wait for the turtles became unbearable, yet they still didn’t show their faces. A jittery mood took hold of us when a hurricane approached on the horizon. Pinar del Río is a Cuban province with a special magnet for hurricanes and other harsh weather conditions.
We collected our things, confident of the government evacuation effort. The beach was dangerous; we were hemmed in between the sea and a headland (a kind of a natural rock wall). The air blustered as we looked out at the gulf to see the rains coming closer. We moved our only tent closer to the headland to protect it a little more. Along with all our backpacks, we crammed inside. Between the three of us, we felt we’d be able to make it.
The wind brought the tide increasingly close. At one moment I looked out and saw that the place where our tent had been set up was already covered by water. At once I remembered that I didn’t know how to swim, as if that were important in those circumstances.
The wind from the south, which we had previously longed for to drive away the gnats, blew with such force that we hardly thought about the absence of the bugs. We spent the night trying to hang in. We didn’t even speak.
The following day we cursed the world for leaving us to our fate. There were only about eight meters or so before the sea would take us. We were thinking of trying to go out and cook something, since our hunger was consuming us and the weather was getting better, when we heard some voices. Total joy reigned.
A man with the face of someone important informed Maikel that the wind from the south was dangerous, but also that information had come about the landing of some drugs, so they needed a sample of his urine. Maikel didn’t say anything until they left; showing an even-temper, he peed, and they disappeared.
The insult gave us the force to again pitch camp and cook as if nothing had happened.
Later we found out there were no trucks to evacuate anyone from the beaches. Many people had been made to urinate in vials and others had to do that at the police station in Sandino (another town in Pinar del Río), in addition to tolerating a dog sniffing through their belongings.
Was the matter of the drugs more important than our lives? The professor in charge of the turtle project had gotten tired of requesting that they evacuate us, since nobody listened to him.
It’s a complicated matter. Guanahacabibes is a nature reserve area, but there are those who go there to hunt. With people on the beach things can get a little difficult. What they wanted was to scare us so we didn’t come back.