By Irina Echarry

Fish salted for taking back to the city
Fish salted for taking back to the city

We can distance ourselves from other people by thousands of miles; we can try to remake our lives in different places, and we always want our children to be better off than ourselves.  But the reality is that we cannot escape from ourselves; wherever we go, our own nature imposes itself, above all else.

That is what happened when we went to Guanahacabibes.

Human beings, so complex, explore the real possibilities of being free.  Can we achieve that?  Will it end up that we ourselves are what limit us?

It’s nothing to be on a deserted beach, to feel like the owner of a piece of the sea or to hug the starriest night without people sharing it with you.

This was the company that I had – people who were sincerely interested in the Marine Turtle Conservation Initiative. They were people conscious of environmental deterioration, ones who picked up garbage off the beach, who collaborated seriously in awareness campaigns so that children would learn how to love their environment.

Nonetheless, these same people spent a great part of their time on the beach or in the sea trying to catch red snappers, bass, baby sharks or lobsters.

Cleaning fish
Cleaning fish

On one of the beaches they made a small rustic structure which they salted their fish.  In this way they could take them back to the city without their catch going bad.  At another, the two men at the camp insisted on us taking pictures to demonstrate the eminence of their fishing prowess.

When walking along the seashore, it was frequent (even on those deserted beaches) to see the heads of big fish, turtles shells (despite of the presence of our initiative) or lobster shells thrown down onto the sand.  These remains were evidence of the massacre committed against them.

There was no need for that; we were all given enough food there for 15 days.  We only had to portion it out so that it would last.  Though the temptation was great.

When I discovered that the people who were going to take care of life on the beach were – at the same time – going to mistreat it, this seemed so paradoxical and unreal to me that I experienced some really difficult moments.

Lobster
Lobster

I began to notice that the camp head liked to order the women to cook, as if he were our owner, and that most of the men tried to go to bed with us, as if we were geishas willing to please them in all their desires.

On Caleta del Piojo Beach, which owes its name (literally “lice cove”) to the tremendous number of gnats that frequent it, I spent the 15 days walking between 10 and 15 miles a day. I, along with the other woman at the camp, did this to avoid having to stay with the two guys who were assigned there with us.

We visited other beaches and later returned at the risk of something happening to us along the way.  We travelled alone (often at night) the length of the entire highway, escaping wild heifers that didn’t want to be bothered.  One day we got caught in an electrical storm while on a plateau, where there was not even a bush to hide under; we had to lie on the ground and hope that it would end.

Fish head on the supposedly protected beach.
Fish head on the supposedly protected beach.

José – one of the people who I got to know there, and who looked like he came straight out of a shipwreck movie – knew how to make hammocks.  He was the best and fastest at cutting firewood and cooked amazing dishes (when he decided to do so).  Since he was a biologist, he also knew a lot of things that were useful in those circumstances.

However, his self-proclaimed perfection was bothersome, but the worse was when he drank.  He would begin to start crowing about past feats, tactlessly criticize people and even try to overstep the bounds of one of us women.  We all had some complaint about José, but since you should not become enemies under such adverse conditions, we tried not to anger him.  That guy made me feel sorry for him; he was washed up, sad, and very alone.

Luckily, one can scream near the sea.  To remain silent is damaging, it does physical and psychological harm.  So somebody found a pool where what we could scream, if we wanted, without anyone hearing us.  We would go there in the daytime to vent.  Ah, how great it is to vent; you feel free, and with less of a load to bear.  Here in the city, I often miss that pool, there are so many things that I would like to scream about… but of course they no longer have to do with sad José…


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

One thought on “Precious Freedom (part 4)

  • I’m sure plenty of people wish they could have your problems… But certainly: we have a long way to go before the World achieves socialism, let alone communism. I have my own ideas on what should be done here with this type of ‘interpersonal’ dynamic; but since I’m always handing out unsoliticited advice on your website — I’ll just pass on that this time.

    In any case, I’m glad you at least can enjoy the nature and are working to preserve it.

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