My Childhood Fears Growing Up in Cuba

Carlos Fraguela


HAVANA TIMES — When I was a kid, my father used to take me to some of the most fantastic places I have ever been to in Cuba. At least once a month, we would go fishing at a river or dam in the outskirts of the city, with poles or just a stick with a bit of line tied to it.

Sometimes, we would go snorkeling and do underwater fishing. On other occasions, we would go out in search of fruits, such as mangos and guavas. We’d almost always come home with a big load of them. I think I was very fortunate in this regard, even though there were certain incidents that made me feel afraid.

For instance, I recall one time when we had to walk along the edge of a hill to get to a place where people caught shrimp. The path was very narrow and steep. I was afraid of falling and rolling downhill and my father would pressure me to walk faster. I was kid and was shitting my pants with fear.

Falling accidentally into the water (when I still didn’t know how to swim) was another childhood fear of mine. These are the experiences that made me the adventurous person I am. These excursions were something of a privilege at the time. My dad had a motorcycle because of his job. Without it, our trips would not have been possible.

Another moment of fear for me was my first crack at snorkeling. We were at the Rincon, in the town of Guanabo. My dad was giving me diving instructions. I must have been ten. I put on the goggles and snorkel like he told me and went into the water. Trustingly, I swam next to him. The only thing he had told me was to swim by his side, at a distance of some two meters.

Anyone who’s been to this beach knows that, with a few strokes, one gets to a fairly deep place near the shore in practically no time. It didn’t take me long to see a group of barracudas in the water. My dad only turned to look at me and made a gesture which I understood meant there was no danger, to stay by his side.

I trusted him like one trusts a teacher that one admires, but I confess those creatures are scary. They have teeth that look like canine incisors jutting out of their mouths. Later, I learned that, if you don’t bother, they will not attack you. People are constantly bothering them, however.

There were many barracudas and, at one point, my dad wasn’t sure how safe the water was with so many fish around us, and I felt it. I started to swim closer to him, swimming into him, who was pushing me away.

At one point, he swam away from me to lunge towards the closest fish. Like a madman, he hurled himself at it and managed to scare off the barracudas temporarily.

I don’t know who was more afraid that day. I was shitting bricks. In the end, we had to get out of the water. There were far too many barracudas and they were just too curious.

My dad later told me many things about picuas (as barracudas are also known in Cuba). The most interesting thing about the experience is that I learned to swim almost without noticing, and I have never since been unable to stay away from the sea for long.

I have never been attacked by a barracuda, though I’ve seen many. They always manage to make an impression on me. I’ve seen some about my size. Who isn’t impressed by a fish almost two meters long? At first glance, some of them look like sharks.

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