The Cuban Heart

Entering through the narrows of Saint John, Newfoundland reminded me of the entrance into Santiago de Cuba, both about the same in width and with cliffs on either sides, both spectacular and to our misfortune both up wind but worth the effort.

Our time in Santiago was one of the most memorable, not because of the place but because of the friends we made there and how we learned how big the heart of a Cuban can be.

It was January 2011 when we sailed into Santiago, this was my third visit to Cuba. The first to La Habana in 2004 by myself, the second in 2010 with my father, two brothers, and my two daughters to meet mi marinero Jay who had delivered a boat there from Florida, this time visiting Jirón, to the south as well as La Habana. Jay and I vowed to return one day on our own boat but we were interested in anywhere other than the capital of La Habana and Santiago caught our attention. On our first visit out of the marina upon arrival, we were approached by a young cuban Pochito who offered his service for anything we might need, discovering we were latinos he toke us over to his house. There his parents received us, Rosa and Pedro, they welcomed us in and from that moment on did not let us eat one day on our boat, they prepared a meal for us, a feast, every day. We spent countless hours with them. Rosa washed our clothes by hand, she prepared warm pails of water for us to bathe in, braided the Chicas hair, Jay even learned how to fill a propane tank with Pedro by gravity from one tank to the other via hoses. They made a living from the Cuban black market, for less than $10 they would feed 9 people. We could only stay for a week, though they wanted us to stay longer, and so did we, but we explained we were on our way back home to Costa Rica for our wedding scheduled for February 5th, just a couple of weeks away. We asked where we could go buy some clothes to wear at our wedding, the white linen garments original to Cuba is what we had in mind. Pedro asked Jay what was he looking for exactly, Jay relied “a white shirt and white pants”, Pedro looked him over and got up and left into another room, he came out with a black garbage bag and handed it to Jay and said “you do not need anything, here is what you will wear to your wedding”. Pedro was a thin tall black man, pretty much the same size as Jay. As he revieled the contents inside the bag Pedro told us that about 5 years ago he had befriended a Mexican who would return to visit again and asked Pedro what he would like from Mexico and he replied “white pants and a white shirt so that when I escape from Cuba one day I can arrive in a new port dressed in white”, of course, the color of freedom! He told us “now I know I will never escape this prison so please wear it for me”.

That is what Jay wore to our wedding, it fit him perfectly and the thought of it always brings tears to my eyes, what a sad realization to come to, how sad the Cuban existance, but above all, even under such circumstances, what a big heart that of the Cubano.