Seeing what Columbus Saw

From Cuba at Sea by Ron Ridenour

El Yunque de Baracoa, foto:

HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 13 — I awoke before dawn and hurried to the bridge to witness the historic landmark, Bariay.  I stood beside Sigi at the helm as the sun dawned and we could see where Columbus first disembarked in Cuba.

Throughout most of the day I gazed at the beautiful shoreline.  It was a sunny day and I was enraptured at the lush foliage along the shore.  At mid-day we passed slowly before Yunque de Baracoa.(16) This 530-meter high, odd-shaped mountain standing alone was sighted by Columbus on November 27, 1492.

He disembarked here and spent a good deal of time enthralled with the beauty of nature and friendliness of the natives.  In 1512, Diego Velázquez came to slaughter the people and force the captured to build the first Spanish settlement at Baracoa.  It was here around the easternmost tip of Cuba at Punta de Quemado that Columbus witnessed the most precious of scenery “eyes have seen”.

I was fortunate not to have to work set hours and took advantage of this day to take in the landscape from the bridge, bow and stern.  It was a time to contemplate nature and mankind’s development these past five centuries.  I also contemplated at what I had witnessed in my lifetime, from the advent of television to war as a permanent point of reference.  And here I was defying the war-makers by enjoying the company of a people just as friendly and open as were the Taínos when they embraced their soon-to-be murderers.

The film, “The Mission”, captured this dichotomy. It is as though the natives were, just like the Cubans, too good with one another to be allowed to live by a people raised to be bad with one another.  I came to think of the time I was in the jingoists’ Air Force.  I never witnessed the fraternity that exists here among officers and men. Under Captain Marrón vibrations among the crew were smooth and cheerful. His door, and the first mate’s, was always open.

It was common for officers and men to be found in the captain’s berth watching television or a video, smoking and sometimes drinking beer—although never to the point of intoxication. The captain did not appear any different than the rest of the crew.  His speech was that of the street and I never once saw him in uniform.  He was just as often interrupted during conversations as any seaman.

After chow, I found the captain watching television in his cabin. He invited me in for a beer.

“Tomorrow a party representative from Havana will board ship and help conduct the afternoon meeting. It will be good for you to partake,” the captain told me.

“Great. Can I say what I want?”

“Sure,” he replied unhesitatingly, and then paused before continuing. “Of course, you know the difference between ‘All within the Revolution, nothing against it?’ The party will not discuss multiparty systems, capitalist measures, or direct vote for the presidency.”

“Yes. I know. But, for instance, could I say that I think it was a good idea that you suggested the officers could donate half their soap ration to the crew.  It is the men who get greasy not the officers. That would be practicing camaraderie and egalitarianism.”

“Oh, Ron, you are a romantic idealist,” he laughed. “Anyway, don’t worry about it. I’ve solved the problem. I told the purser to release some of our soap reserves, which we keep—among other items—for just such an occasion as this one.”

To purchase a copy of Cuba at Sea you can place an order with Amazon (, Socialist Resistance ( or write the author at Soderupvej 1, 4330 Havalsoe, Denmark.

One thought on “Seeing what Columbus Saw

  • was in the beautiful area of Baracoa two years ago and am returning at the end of February. That was my first time there and I really enjoyed my stay amongst those most gentle people. I thought of climbing El Yunque back then, however, did not find the required time to do so and/or El Ron tired me out.
    One of the things I did however, was to swim in the River Toa. Legend has it that if you do swim there then you will someday return and that is what’s happening to me. I think the legend is true, at least in my case.
    I also think that my being Metis (French/Algonquin/Irish) is drawing me back there. I need to climb it to see and get the feeling of the fleeing Arawaks climbing up there while being chased by the Spaniards with their muskets/swords/whips, horses and wardogs, which was too much for their poison arrows and clubs for self-defence tactics. They did manage to survive for a while after resorting to guerilla warfare. Quite a history there since 1492.

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