Upon returning, I recalled that a friend from high school had spent grade 11 in Cuba as part of an exchange student program. I remember that he came back speaking very highly of the people he had stayed with during his time there, as well as of the people he had met. I remember his speaking of their kindness and generosity, despite their relative "poorness". From my own much more brief visit, I can only agree with his comments.
After the wedding ceremony, the bridal party and parents of the bride and groom (including yours truly) headed out in two horse drawn carriages for a trip into and through the resort town of Varadero. In town we were brought through a lovely park which contained several lovely restaurants. We ended up stopping in front of one of these restaurants and the chef came out to show a lovely piece of fresh fish and to invite us to see their dining area which was actually a small cave.
Since most were quite hungry by this time and dinner was a few hours off, the group decided to have a bit of a meal in the cave restaurant. I, however, decided to stay outside where I could smoke a couple of cigarettes and wander the park taking some more pictures. I will be forever glad that I did so for a few reasons. By this time I was really noticing a sense of heightened emotions, like my emotions were closer to the surface than I was used to (and I'm usually a fairly emotional fellow anyway). Obviously a lot of this was due to the fact that my little brother had just gotten married but I really do think there was more to it.
So just outside this cave/restaurant several various fowl ranged freely, including a bantam hen and her 10 or so little chicks. I got to watching them for a little while, as she led them back and forth across the lane, teaching them to scratch and peck at grains and bugs and such. It had been a very very long time since I had been around a mother hen and her chicks, I had forgotten just how much of her time is spent in teaching the young. As I said, she kept leading her chicks back and forth across the lane here and I thought it odd that none of the much larger peacocks seemed to be having a go at the baby chicks. No sooner had I thought this, but the runt chick got itself separated from mom and the others as it was unable to jump over the curb. So while the increasingly anxious hen was searching for the one lost chick, the two peacocks had ambled over and were taking pecks at the struggling but stranded runt chick. So despite my belief in nature's balance, I took action and shooed off the attacking peacocks, then helping the runt chick back to the others. This happened 3 or 4 times before I finally regained adulthood and headed off to photo some more of the park, including one of the rattiest (and aggressive) tom turkeys I have seen in awhile. Interestingly, the tom was protecting a flock of a few odd looking ducks and geese, and a couple of bantam chickens, but no hen turkeys.
All of this wandering eventually led me back to where the carriages waited with their increasingly impatient horses and into a conversation with one of the drivers, Enrique. This conversation turned out to be one of those rare sparkling moments in life where you know you have become better for having briefly met this person. Enrique and the other driver, Miguel, had grown up in the area together. Both owned small nearby farms and drove carriages in the resort area. We talked about a lot of different things, much of it Enrique translated back and forth between Miguel and I. It turns out that Enrique has family and friends who have come here to Alberta and have or work on small farms in different parts of the province. He has even been able to come and visit once.
Back at the resort, as we were settling up and thanking Enrique and Miguel for the great trip, Enrique asked me if I would like to come and visit his family on their farm sometime during my remaining time. I was floored by this humble invitation but I could only say that Saturday was the one day remaining which I did not know there was something planned for the day (Friday was the catamaran tour on mom's birthday and Sunday I was going home). It near broke my heart when Enrique kind of slumped at the prospect that I might not be able to see his farm and meet his family. I rather felt the same actually. I cannot explain how moved I was to be invited this way. Since he was often through our resort we agreed to try to run into each other and arrange something on Saturday.
When I mentioned all this to my brother, in asking if there were any plans for Saturday, he said that he'd been wanting to go into the countryside on kind of a non-tour tour of some farms...since he knew I had been hoping to have this kind of experience while in Cuba. So he mentioned the whole situation to the restaurant booking lady at our resort, who he had found to be extremely outgoing. It turns out that she was more outgoing that he realized. Even though I only had Enrique's first name, this wonderful woman got to checking around and trying to arrange for us to visit Enrique's farm. She went so far as to have her husband take her around on their scooter on Friday evening, trying to locate Enrique's farm and set up a visit, since she knew it was unlikely that we'd stumble into each other at the resort.
So come Saturday it had been arranged that this lady, Nivia, would get off work a little early and would set up two cabs to give us a bit of a tour, including a stop at Enrique's farm. One of our drivers was apparently a friend of Enrique's friend Miguel (the other carriage driver) and he knew where Enrique's farm was. Apparently, this farm was near Nivia's home town of Cardenas so after showing us around her fascinating town, we dropped her at her home where she lived with her parents, husband and son. Sadly, her son was not home so we could not meet him but Nivia's parents were two obviously warm and loving people though they spoke no English at all and I not even enough to be able to thank them for having raised such a lovely daughter. This short tour with Nivia was as informative as our entire day in Havana, in my opinion. It was here that I feel I got to see some of the real Cuba, the passion and the history, and the desire to be a part of the world but on their terms and with their own sense of freedom.
In the end, we did not make it to Enrique's farm. There'd been no chance for anyone to confirm our visit and just dropping in (with a group of 8) would have been impolite. We did, however, see the farm (I'm told) as we sped by it just outside of Cardenas. I won't forget him though. Nor will I forget all that Nivia did to try to get us to see his place and to show us around her home town. Or that in this country where useful gifts from tourists are like treasure (I wish I had researched beforehand and known this), this beautiful lady passed ME a gift just as we drove off, as a parting gift from Cuba since I was to leave the next day. I hope her son enjoys the Calgary Flames tshirt that I left through my brother. Thank goodness I accidentally had something gift-worthy to leave behind.
Here's hoping I get the chance to see Enrique, and Cuba, again.
Peace and comfort, all.
22 hours ago