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A Very Friendly Place

by Rick Armstrong about a year ago in caribbean
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Cuba Stories

The wind whipped through my hair and I felt as free as the birds soaring above. I was speeding down the four lane highway to explore the mythical place that I had heard so much about, Varadero Cuba.

She, being convinced that all Cubans were rapists and would surely kill her after they had had their fun, had wisely decided to remain at the resort doing whatever she was going to do. I could see her point, after all I was taught at the age of ten to hide under my desk when the nasty Cuban commies shot their Russian supplied nuclear bombs in our direction. Besides she had an appointment with the very muscular Enrique for a full body massage and didn't want to miss it, so I was left to enjoy the wind on my face and the smell of the ocean. I looked forward to having the afternoon to myself to do what I did best, explore.

Up ahead I noticed that there was a road to the left and what look like a group of houses. Maybe I would be lucky and find a small village to roam about in. I also noticed a single soldier at the side of the road looking like he was guarding it for some unknown reason. I couldn't help myself, I turn the scooter to the left. The solider started waving at me in what looked like a frantic manner. I didn't want to be rude so I waved back as I sped by.

Very early on in his life Fidel Castro decided he had had enough of what he saw around him. He was a rich kid whose daddy owned a lot of stuff, so he was raised with the privilege that goes along with having a rich daddy.

I suppose surrounding yourself with a lot of stuff does not isolate you from using your eyes and ears to see and hear what is going on around you, and everyone who knew Fidel knew he was a very smart kid who turned into a very smart man. He was also a very ambitious man, which can, in some cases, turn out to be a dangerous combination.

So he thought he had to do something about the shit he saw around him. He decided to have a revolution and take over. Some people cheered, some cried, but that was neither here nor there, it was done. Rich people got the shaft, poor people got a free education and health care and Cuba was off to the races.

There was hope among Cubans for a better future and even talk of creating a “new man,” a showcase to help the world discover a better way to live. Very lofty goals for the young Fidel but he needed money to achieve these lofty aims. He needed a “big brother.” It made sense to team up with good old Russia, which back then was known as the USSR. They had money, power and could help their little brother a great deal with this new man concept.

Things went relatively smoothly for quite awhile until the unthinkable happened. The USSR went back to being just good old Russia and Russia knew they couldn't keep supporting their little brother so they told their Cuban family to move out and get on with their own lives. That was four years ago. The result was a thing called “The Special Period.” It really was that special.

So I turned left leaving behind the solider waving at me. I thought to myself, these “new men” are incredibly friendly.

I drove along the dirt track that represented the road. It soon appeared to me that this was not a quaint little village where you could stop at the town bar and sip a cool glass of beer while having a friendly chat with the local town drunk. It was just a series of abodes, calling them houses would be criminal. Shacks, some wood, some tin, some brick, all falling apart and in need of a good carpenter, was what for these people represented home sweet home. A few chickens scurrying about, two pigs, and a horse helped boost the neighborhood's population.

I have been around the world a couple of times. And I fancy myself as a bit of an explorer. Africa, central and south America, Asia, I have explored a lot of poor countries filled with poor people.

This was as bad, or as worse as anything I had seen thus far. Was this supposed to be the new man that Fidel and Che talked endlessly about. People stopped dead in their tracks to take a look at this guy going through their barrio on his resort supplied motor scooter.

To a person they were thin, shabbily dressed, tired and worn out looking, and not, or at least it seemed to me, very happy with life. To a person they raised one of their hands in a wave. A couple of them even gave me the thumbs up. I felt embarrassed intruding into their lives for my own amusement. It seemed shameful to me to be there. I turned the scooter around and started back to the main road. I wondered what this magical place known as Varadero would be like, if it would live up to it's mystical image.

I saw my friend, the solider up ahead, it seemed he had invited a couple of his friends to see the man on the scooter. They all started waving at me. I kept thinking, damn friendly people as I pulled alongside of them to say hello.

Well it didn't take very long to figure out that they were not there to get to know me better, because they all started talking, in very loud voices at me at once. Not to me, at me. Thank God my Spanish was almost non existent, because if I knew the language, by the way these guys were yelling at me, I was about to spend the next twenty years in a Cuban prison. Even though I had no frame of reference I really didn't think that I would enjoy spending the next twenty years in a Cuban prison all that much even if the weather was beautiful all year round, eventually I would miss the snow.

So as I stood there listening to the ranting and ravings of the soldiers I knew I needed to come up with a plan of action quickly. Misunderstandings had a way of getting out of control and ending badly pretty quickly if you didn't nip them in the bud. If this went any farther I was convinced I would go on trial as an American spy sent by the Evil Imperialists to overthrow the New Man single handedly, even though I was Canadian. I doubted that these gentlemen were aware that Canadians were beloved the world over as nice polite people that would not hurt a flea.

I reached into my back pocket to fish out my passport because one of the words that they kept repeating in their loud voices was passaporte. Now maybe it was because of all my traveling, maybe it was just habit but for some reason I always kept at least twenty dollars tucked into my passport for emergencies.

As I handed my passport over to the soldier that scared me the most I braved some words, “Discuple. Soy un estupido turista,” I said, which translates into, excuse me I'm a stupid tourist. I said this with the proper amount of fear and humility and I don't know if it was that, my Canadian passport, or the way the guys lit up when he saw the twenty American dollars but the tone of the conversation suddenly shifted into something that I was more comfortable with. As a matter of fact all of them were smiling at me. One looked liked he wanted to shake my hand.

Maybe it was my friendly demeanor, maybe it was my Canadian passport, but I had a feeling it was a little money that changed their attitude towards the “spy.” They looked like they were telling me I could go on my way, who was I to argue. I hopped back onto the scooter and sped off, when I looked back they were waving at me. Yup this Cuba was one damn friendly country.

Varadero is plastered on posters extolling the virtues of a Cuban beach vacation the world over. For many it, along with Havana which was only a short distance away, symbolized Cuba. It was Cuba. It would not take long for me to realize that Varadero did not have a lot to do with Cuba, or at least not the Cuba I would discover and learn to love.

It was a pretty town, at least the center was, it had to be, after all it was a tourist attraction and everyone knows that tourists like pretty. So there I was wandering around town, there was a church, old buildings, a beach and I couldn't help notice a lot of very hot looking girls. After an hour or so I decided I needed a beer, maybe two, maybe three, probably four. I found myself a small place that looked good because there weren't any tourist in it.

“Cerveza por favor,” I smiled at the very cute girl asking me what I wanted. She had a quizzical look on her face. It was as if she was saying, 'what the fuck are you doing in this place,' and if that was what she was thinking I could see her point. The place was a dump, just wooden tables and chairs, a bar, no artwork, very run down. It was a few blocks from the center of town so I figured it was the real deal. If I had spoken the language I would have said, 'please baby I've had a beer in a lot of places twice as bad as this,' but I smiled, said nothing and waiting for her to bring me my beer, which seemed to take a lot of time considering I was the only customer there.

When she did finally did show up with the beer she had brought along another very pretty girl. They both smiled, introduced themselves with very Russian sounding names and started babbling on the way young girls do. I smiled back and shrugged my shoulders the way you do when you haven't got a clue what anyone was saying. They sat down and joined me. It wasn't like I had a choice but to be honest I was not opposed to enjoying the company of these very pretty young women. Momma didn't raise a fool.

So we sat there, enjoying each others company, drinking beer, laughing, joking and not having a clue what each other were saying, except the girls of course, when the waitress/barmaid ran her hand along my leg and up to my crotch. 'Quieres divertirte un poco?' I didn't know that meant do you want some fun at the time, but not being a stupid man I had an inkling this could end up with me enjoying myself a lot, or ending up dead. 'Si,' I answered back.

Smiling they stood up in unison and grabbed me by my hands pulled me off the chair and hustled me through the small bar into a back room. It started to seem to me that option number two, death, could be a real possibility.

I didn't have much time to browse around the small room but there was a bed in it. My hopes rose. I was pushed against the dirty wall by the bargirl's friend while the bar-girl dropped to her knees and fumbled with my belt. The friend removed her jeans and struck a very inviting pose against the wall.

Yup the Cuban people really are a mighty friendly people.

Now some people, men I mean, might have been racked by quilt, and I did feel a pang or two on the scooter ride back to the resort, but I looked at it this way. Accidents happen. When you have an adventurous streak that usually attracts a little trouble well hell shit just happens.

Over dinner, at the buffet, she started in. We were only six days into our two week vacation and I was already fed up with her crap. Four years of constant bullshit from the same woman could drive even a patient man insane.

The woman had been walking around the resort like she owned it for three days. She would change clothes four times a day, treat the staff like they were her slaves, and it was wearing thin.

I threw my napkin down, glowered at her and turned to go.

'Where are you going,' she demanded not realizing I had a purpose.

'I have things to do, places to be, and another room to book, have fun, see you on the plane.' I didn't leave her the time to argue, and two months later our shitty relationship would come to a close. The guys would miss her I suppose, but she wasn't their mother and all the boys had sensed things were going south for a long time now. My middle son actually asked me once, about a year ago, why I didn't dump her snotty ass.

So I had one week left of a two week vacation in the workers paradise of the world. I thought it could be good.

Now some of you may be thinking what did he do all by himself? Some of you may think to yourself, 'I would be bored after a day.' Most of you think, naw he wasn't bored he went straight back to the bar in town. You would be right.

It was one of the best weeks in my life. I met a lot of very interesting people, was taken from place to place and introduced around to the point that I would get into town around noon for a day of adventure and quite a few people around town would give me the thumbs up. I felt welcomed, and was learning a little about this extremely complicated 'paradise.'

Words like 'pinga and maricon' fell from my lips like I had invented them but a lot of what I was learning I didn't, couldn't understand. For example I wondered why I had to hide under a blanket when I was driven anywhere, 'gran problema si la policia te vio en mi auto,' I was told, 'why?' It was a reasonable question. 'Es Cuba,' was always the response.

It also seemed to me that whenever I wanted something it was always, 'no problema.' Of course it was no problem, until it became a problem, which nine out of ten times it did. But 'es Cuba,' was always the answer, and I accepted the explanation. I was getting a crash course on Cuba and it was really interesting. The most important thing I learned in that week was that as a tourist you were the one who paid for everything. That was alright by me because it was glaringly obvious that this place, these people, were dirt poor. Besides everything was dirt cheap.

I don't like to brag, and this is nothing to brag about, well maybe it is, I will let you be the judge of that, but by this time I had had sex with well over one thousand women. In my defense I did study theater and spent my early years as an actor, and in all modesty I was fairly handsome and lets face it if you couldn't get laid at least twice a day in the late sixties, seventies and early eighties, well then there was something seriously wrong with you. But these girls, these chicas were something else, they were from a different planet, a different dimension. I had so much fun, I can't even begin to explain it. But I will leave you with an example.

The last day I spent with them they announced with glee that they had a surprise for me. Since we were in bed you can imagine my excitement, after all who doesn't like surprises. Then in pranced one of the most beautiful black girls I had ever seen in my life. She was naked, I was happy.

'I hope you had fun,' she growled at me on the plane ride home.

'I did, thanks, I hope you did too.' I smiled to myself and proceeded to fall asleep. I was tired.

I decided that I needed to learn as much as I could about this extremely friendly island when I got home.


About the author

Rick Armstrong


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