Corazon de Cuba
Atenas de Cuba People-to-People Program
|Dispatch 2 - Playa Giron
|The next morning it was time to leave our lodging at
the Morales home. We piled
our bikes, luggage and bodies into the back of a big Romanian flatbed
truck driven by Pedro’s assistant Alfredo.
We headed east for 160 kilometers into the Cuban heartland, a broad
flat plain that stretches for several hundred miles toward the
geographical center of the island. Stopping
at a small town called Australia, we unloaded the bikes and prepared to
ride south across the Zapata swamp to Playa Giron, about 40 miles distant,
the site of the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Buying a soda, I chatted with the counterman at the open-air
roadside dollar snack bar. He
claimed that Fidel swam at least a kilometer a day, and jogged daily as
well. It seemed an improbable
feat for a busy and aging 73-year old head of state.
Another Cuban told me later the counterman “sounded not like a
communist, just a Fidelista.” We
departed and rode the flats through farmland and forested swamp, stopping
at a crocodile farm and arriving at a fresh water swimming hole along the
southern, Caribbean coast of Cuba.
night at Playa Giron, we were scattered among several private homes.
As we talked about the Bay of Pigs battle with Pedro.
I learned that President Kennedy was very uneasy with the
CIA-sponsored idea. He denied
promised air support to the invading Cuban expatriates as they tried to
establish a beachhead. Pedro
said that it wouldn’t have mattered what our military did.
Most Cubans would have fought for their island, out of nationalism
and for the safety of their families if nothing else.
“Maybe we would lose, but many Americans would have died and an
occupation would have been a nightmare for them.”
He believed that even today, a U.S. invasion would be fought
ferociously. I felt
fortunate that although our governments have been at war for 40 years, as
individuals we could calmly discuss politics like good neighbors.
A rooster and the pigs rousted us early the next
morning. We had a pleasant
breakfast and chat with our host. She
owns a private apartment and rents a room to travelers.
She had a large framed picture of Che in her living room.
We asked her what Che meant for her.
She said he was a valiant man, a foreigner who came to fight for
the liberty of her homeland. Her
house, like the other private homes we stayed in, had national hostel
symbols on the door, and were private businesses.
She told us she was taxed by the State, paying $260 dollars a
month. It didn’t seem like
a profitable venture, but one learns when it is best not to ask more
At the Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) museum we spent an
hour seeing this event from the Cuban government’s perspective.
We carefully went over a mapped chronology of the troop movements
during the several days of battle. A
lot of space at the museum was spent describing CIA sponsored air attacks
leading up to the invasion (or `La Victoria’).
They bombed airfields, strafed air defenses right in Havana, and
Cuban expatriate operatives torched a department store in the capital.
Here, for the first time in Cuban history, an attempt at foreign
sponsored intervention was turned back.
One thing that was repeated several times in the Museum’s exhibit
was that the mostly Cuban expatriate - mercenary attack force, when
captured, claimed to be “cocineros”, chefs.
The Cuban government played that transparent fiction for all it was
We left the swamp and rode into sugarcane country.
Flat, with fields on either side of us, and we rode in small groups
strung out along the highway. Passing
through a couple of small farming towns, we made a lot of heads turn.
We stopped for lunch at a small roadside dollar cafe
where the overwhelmed family served many ravenous cyclists beans and rice,
and made small pizzas as fast as they could.
After lunch we crossed another sizable swamp that appeared
connected to marine waters. The
road fill ran right through it, preventing water circulation.
Half the swamp was slowly being destroyed. Back in sugarcane fields again.
A harvester made a turn just as we past and shot sugarcane leaves
and debris across the road, just about hitting us.
We passed two men in horse-drawn cart stopped at a bridge.
Caught in a stiff headwind, we heard the clip-clop of hooves behind
us. Soon, they passed
us, waving and enjoying the sport. They
turned off the road a little ways up.
We arrived in the town of Rodas.
A group of young boys stared.
We began talking to them. Two
of them had baseball gloves. Who
is your favorite player?, We asked. “German
Mesa”, was the quick reply. It
was the second time I had heard that name.
Apparently a shortstop, and I never found out which team he played
for. Eventually one 10-year
old boy asks me where I am from. When
I told him, a few more friends come up to join the group.
I hear them mutter, “los Estados Unidos”, “donde? (where)
“los Estados Unidos.” They
confer in a circle. Soon,
their spokesman, the admirer of German Mesa, has a question.
“Is the United States pretty?”
I thought hard for a minute. Then
I answered “Yes, it’s very pretty ...well, like Cuba is.”
“But it’s not a paradise” I added (just in case they had
heard that it was).
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