Day thirteen on this island and we are going places. Eastbound on Cuba’s main highway (the only place fifth gear is even remotely possible and the meter-wide potholes only appear every other kilometre), past Havana, along the white sands of the northern coast, enter – Varadero.
The tourist mecca of the entire island, enormous hotel complexes lining up the 20 kilometre beachfront and the most up-to-date infrastructure of the entire country (you gotta pick and chose what you decide to show the foreigners, right?). But living here is expensive (exploitation at its finest) so we continue elsewhere, namely – Cardenas.
These places are like night and day. You leave the large, clean, polished avenues of Varadero and enter the dusty neighbouring small town just fifteen minutes away. The buildings are the same colonial architecture as the rest of the country. But they are run down. Abandoned and shut off. Underfed horses scramble the streets. The dogs are happy, but damaged. The one across the street has only a limp as a forth leg. In a pile of garbage lies the foot of a vulture, a few steps ahead the rest of its severed carcass. I dodge it with my sandal-covered foot in the last second and scream out loud. Dead birds ain’t my strong suit.
This place is communism impersonated. We arrive late in the afternoon, too late to do anything purposeful but too early to call it a day, so we decide to take a walk to the water. Down a palm tree-covered alley, oil refineries on both sides and stretching out into the ocean ahead – a long pier. It’s getting dark, not because the sun is setting just yet but because an enormous black cloud is approaching. Better hurry. We make our way out on the pier, dodging the piles of trash on our way and past abandoned concrete buildings. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the wind catches on and the dark intensifies. The cloud has literally swallowed the entire area and arriving with it – the rain.
We run. Seek the first shelter we can find under the cracked concrete ceiling. Crushed stone beneath our feet, the rain is coming in horizontally and we hide behind what’s left of the walls. Thunder so loud you can’t hear your own thoughts and lighting crushing down around us with mere moments in between.
It’s monumental. Exciting and terrifying. In the midsts of the storm and completely helpless, unable to do anything but wait it out, however long in takes. In the meantime the dampness is settling onto our skin and the cold approaching our bones and we wonder what exactly is this place, really?
“Freedom or death”. It’s written on the walls behind me. Imprinted into the mind of every Cuban nationalist. And now it’s falling apart like these barracks themselves. The communism is dying. It always would, the system was too fragile at the start. But the idea will always remain.
Freedom or death. I wonder. Ask yourself this. If one were to take your freedom from you – would your life still be worth living? Or would your existence become unbearable? You’d be a slave to the world, unable to form your own decisions and opinions.
It sounds agonising to me. But then again. Do you really think this isn’t the case already?