By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – This is what a young woman from this town told me jokingly, a couple of years ago. We had been seeing each other but it never turned into anything serious. She was too young for me. But it reminded me about the popular saying about the town.
Mendoza is the old name for the town that is now known as Isabel Rubio, which belongs to the Guane municipality, 58 kilometers west of Pinar del Rio city. It had this name from the very beginning because of a train station that the Mendoza company built in Guane. It was later called Isabel Rubio, in honor of the Captain of the Liberation Army, who was born in this region in 1837 and died in 1898.
It has approximately 8,400 inhabitants and is a poor, rural town. As you would expect, farming – mainly tobacco farming – is the main economic activity here. It’s one of those “lifeless” towns, as people say. A lot of poverty. However, the people are the best thing about the place. Most of whom are humble, without a bad bone in their bodies. The kind of people who share everything they have with you. In short, good people.
Of course, there are also criminals and soulless people like anywhere else in the world. But the majority are good folk, like people from the countryside generally are. I have been to the town a few times and I have been able to see the difference for myself; they are noble compared to people in Pinar del Rio city, and even in Consolacion del Sur.
Locals in Guane, Isabel Rubio, Punta La Sierra, Las Martinas, Mantua… that is to say, people living in the western part of Pinar del Rio, are among the most generous in the province. This whole business of people from Pinar del Rio being noble is just a stereotype. If you have doubts, please go to Pinar, and you’ll meet shady, bad and scheming people in heaps.
Mendoza, or Isabel Rubio, however you want to call it, has the same thing every small Cuban town does. Bodega stores where people go with their ration booklets to get some basic essentials they need (not all of them) which only last for 10 days; half-empty stores selling in CUC hard currency, which are even emptier nowadays I’m guessing.
Towns normally have primary schools, a high school; family doctor centers which are there just for fun pretty much. They’ll have an undersupplied butcher; an agro-market in the same condition as the butchers, a state-run café in the same shape. A drugstore where medicines are in shortage; a workshop where electrical appliances are repaired with a shortage of spare parts… there’s no need to go on, it’s a typical provincial Cuban town.
That said, the popular saying that gives this article its headline dates back to the 1940s, when a US air base was built 9 km away from the town, during World War 2: the well-known San Julian Military Base. I spent my loathsome Military Service there.
It isn’t operating today and there is a project in the works to build golf courses there for foreign tourism. How times change! The thing is though, that back in the 1950s, prostitution flourished in Mendoza and brothels became a profitable business. US military men were regular customers. Which is where “If you want to have a good time, go to Mendoza” comes from. The young woman obviously didn’t know this.