EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE: Different isn’t always better

WE stared towards the mountains through which Che Guevara and his revolutionaries had scrambled on their way to eventually tumbling Cuba’s military dictatorship on New Year’s Eve 1958.

The view over the Sierra Maestra made you shudder. The effort, the determination required to navigate the hostile terrain, survive attack after attack and eventually make their way to the presidential palace in Havana must have been phenomenal.

Our guide Maxwell Cespedes had told the story with emotion and passion. He blamed America for Cuba’s seemingly permanent perilous position, but he still wanted to travel, to go there and experience the so-called land of the free.

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We moved on to Guantanamo and its bay, made famous by its US naval base and detention camp, an area of deep concern to Max and his driver Abill. Not so much though that their period of intense contemplation was able to survive the sight of a young woman walking past.

This brought about whistles from both and a whispered conversation between herself and Max, which appeared to end abruptly.

I questioned him as to what he had said to her — “I said if she wanted a lover in Guantanamo who was not from Guantanamo then I would be willing.”

“Ah, nice. What did she say?”

“She said **** off.”

A drive to El Cobre featured plenty more whistling and honking of the mini-bus horn at any woman under the age of around 105, with a change of mood when we reached the basilica where an apparition of the Virgin Mary supposedly guided some struggling fishermen to safety in the 17th century.

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True or not, it proved a good enough story for Ernest Hemingway to thank the woman for providing the inspiration that led to him winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 for his novel The Old Man and the Sea. Equally, he could have thanked the purveyors of the mojitos and daiquiris he knocked back while living in Havana.

The basilica was impressive enough and had quite an effect on old Maxwell who, on entering, dropped to his knees and began to sob uncontrollably. This went on for quite some time, not taking hold of Abill, who remained outside smoking and smirking, in quite the same way.

I asked Max what had made him cry and what he had been praying for. “For my family, my wife and children to be safe and to live a happy life.” While he hooked up with someone else, perhaps?

He was a good bloke though; funny, intelligent, aware of his and his country’s place in the world, careful not to say too much — despite our five days with Max and Abill, they wouldn’t have a drink with us or sit with us at mealtimes, not because they didn’t like us, but because they weren’t allowed to mix with tourists aside from work. Or at least that’s what they said.

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Their needs, on the surface at least, appeared simple — when we left we asked if they would like anything sending from England. Abill said some music (“romantic ballados”) and Max a joke book — food, drink, a place to sleep.

Within Max though, there was definitely a desire for something more. An educated man, restricted by his country or at least the situation it was in, he wanted what we had.

I understood that. What we have is not necessarily better, it’s just different and sometimes you have to experience what others have in order to appreciate what you’ve got.

Maybe that explains some of his behaviour.

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