My Trip to Ciego de Ávila (I)

By Osmel Almaguer

When I traveled to Ciego de Ávila I was only 19. Previously I had only ventured out of the city of Havana to visit my relatives in Holguín and when they took us to the countryside schools (which students go to for a short time every year to work on farms outside of Havana or in Pinar del Río Province, in the case of youth from the capital).

From the very beginning of the trip, everything was new. To get the airplane tickets we had to get up early and get in a long line, which allowed us to journey through the streets of the downtown Havana’s Vedado district and delight in the dawn from the Malecón seawall.

The very fact of getting on an airplane for the first time was thrilling – to travel so fast, to fly so high.

In a little more than one hour we were in the city of Ciego de Ávila. It had gotten dark, but since Ubiel knew the town like his hand, we soon got a ride – something usually difficult – which took us the seven miles that separated us from his house, located on the side of the Central Highway that stretches across the country.

It had been a long time since he had entered an authentic country house – surrounded by cows, livestock harnesses and implements, and planted fields – and far from other homes.

I lived by the customs of the place. I got up very early and went out with the carpenter to take care of acquiring the wood he needed for his workshop in Havana. I brushed my teeth in the backyard, with a pitcher in one hand and my brush in the other, receiving the morning sun before a completely unfamiliar panorama and in a different light; what I felt is completely impossible to narrate.

For breakfast we had cow’s milk, freshly milked. We generally ate lunch in the street; we’d have rice congrís (beans and rice), pork and slices of avocado served in small cardboard boxes. At night we ate beef jerky (preserved with salt for when people don’t have refrigerators). We went to bed early, because between the mosquitoes and the boredom there was no other alternative.

People in town could tell that I was not from there. “You’re from Havana,” they’d say to me, with that natural small-town interest aroused by those who come from the capital. Fortunately, this also happened with the girls.