What do you do with a hole in your shoe, or if the sole is flapping loose? When your heel comes off, do you throw the shoes away and go shopping for some new ones, or just put them to one side and use instead one of the many other pairs that are lurking in your closet?
Most Cubans do not have that luxury, so taken for granted by most inhabitants of wealthier countries, where even if you have a low income you can go to a factory outlet or bargain shoe warehouse, to at least make sure that you need not go barefooted. There are shoe shops in the island, but they are few, generally to be found in the city centres. And when the prices are compared to the average income of an average Cuban, they are clearly beyond the reach of most. A pair of shoes sold in the shops costs several months’ wages; and with the cost of living, including food, on the rise, only those with access to hard currency earnings, or remittances from outside, can really aspire to replace what they wear on their feet. Most people wear shoes that were brought to them by family and friends, visiting Cuba or returning from journeys to other countries. Continue reading →
Vladimir has always loved the sea, and felt it beckoning to him. You can often find him, as the sun is lowering in the afternoon sky, on the rough Alamar coast, dressed in his wet suit, goggles, snorkel and flippers, swimming up and down the rocky shore snaring octopuses or harpooning fish; or sat in the inflated inner tube of a lorry that at times serves as his boat, resting with his flask of coffee and obligatory packet of cigarettes, or trailing a nylon line and bated hook to tempt a fish into his clutches. Above all, he brings his untiring patience with him, sometimes continuing until dawn, if the catch has been slow to come. On occasions, if he considers the weather appropriate, or his marine instincts call to him, he will go out with his equipment in the mornings, to collect what he can find.
The ocean is the first sight that greets you when you arrive in Gibara. Not the wide open expanse, but the tiny fragment that lingers trapped by the curves of the coast. On the motionless bay the small boats drift, their masters still seeking to drag a precarious living out of the abandoned waters, once the route of Gibara’s wealth, now the symbol of the town’s stagnation. Continue reading →
Gibara sits on its bay, on the north coast of eastern Cuba, not far distant from the city of Holguin. Some say it was named after the jiba, a bush growing abundantly along the banks of the Rivers Cacoyuguin and Gibara, which flow out into Gibara Bay. Others believe it came from the guibara, a common shrub found along its coasts. But whatever the origins of its name, it was here that Christopher Columbus first set foot in Cuba, his ships finding shelter. Amazed by the richness of the vegetation, the proliferation of bird song and the framing of the hills, it was here that he exclaimed “this is the most beautiful land that human eyes have seen”. Continue reading →