Dad’s Cuban Walking Adventures

“Not all those who wander are lost”. J.R.R. Tolkien. My father takes that to a whole new level. My earliest recollection of him getting lost was while I was still a preschooler. He was walking in the back woods on my grandfather’s 100-acre woodlot in Prince Edward Island all day long. My mother was so worried that she called the police to start a search for him when he hadn’t returned by nightfall. Eventually he found his way out of the woods, by following a railroad if memory serves me right.

My father had a heart attack about a decade ago and took the recommendations to change his diet and exercise habits very seriously. Rain or snow, he faithfully took brisk morning walks every day, most days for 90 minutes or more. Going on vacation to visit my and my brother’s family in Cuba did not alter his walking routine in the least.

For almost the first half of our marriage my husband and I lived in the house he built above his great uncle’s home in Barrio Obrero, San Miguel del Padron, which is anything but a tourist municipality. In fact some sections of San Miguel are downright rough. Our home was only a few kilometers to Old Havana though, and very close to the train tracks. One of Dad’s first narrow escapes was when he was walking back to our place from Old Havana one day. He doesn’t speak Spanish, doesn’t use a cell phone, carry a map (or even our street address) or a watch. All he would have been able to tell someone was “Barrio Obrero”, and for him that must have been enough. He figured he’d follow the train tracks back home and he’d be able to find our place, no problem. Maybe it escaped his logic that the trains actually run frequently in Cuba because he was about halfway across a rather long rail bridge when he realized there was a train coming straight for him and there was nowhere else to go but backwards. His walk turned very quickly into an unexpected run, while the conductor of the train was having a great laugh watching him scramble. Sunburned and quite tired, he eventually wandered back home from what would be the first of his walking scrapes in Cuba.

The next time he got lost was on his international departure day. We should have known better than to let him out of the house to walk on such an important day, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. We dropped him off in the city in the morning and let him walk back home. Thinking he was taking a shortcut, he took the ¨anillo del puerto¨ (ring around the port), the road that goes all around the Havana Bay . But instead of taking what would have been the closest route (first exit) to Via Blanca he walked all the way to Regla and came out at the traffic lights at Via Blanca, at least a couple of kilometers from our place. And instead of turning right (at this point  a compass might have come in really handy) and heading back to our place by way of Via Blanca (the main road), he kept going straight and unwittingly ended up exploring most of Guanabacoa as well. By this point my husband and stepson had each taken off in their respective cars to begin searching for him. Right in the nick of time, without even 10 minutes to spare, he wandered up our street to be whisked off to the airport to fly back home. Pshew! Nothing like living on the edge.

About 6 years ago we built a new home and moved out of the city to a fairly rural area. Our house is on a hill adjacent to a military zone with 2 large radar towers. You can see them for miles around. A few years back Dad left the house just after 4 a.m. I know this because I´d left my cell phone on the counter for him to check the time when he left, and the last time was still displayed when I woke up several hours later. Two hours would usually be the max that he´d walk in the morning, so my husband and I were just a little worried that he hadn´t returned yet.  So we gave it about another ½ hour and then decided we’d better start checking around the village of Guanabo and went as far as the fishing port with no sign of him anywhere. We were really concerned but didn’t want to alert the authorities yet. He had left the house with no personal identification whatsoever, not such a big deal in Charlottetown PEI, but a big no-no in Cuba. We drove home again and asked the neighbors if they’d seen him, but no such luck. So we left again to try looking in another direction but shortly thereafter the neighbors called us to advise that he’d finally shown up. Once again, he thought he’d take one of his famous shortcuts to get back home. It was still dark out though, so his orientation was all off. He ended up walking through field after field and came out quite a distance south of our place in Campo Florido. All the neighbors had a good laugh at that episode and have never let him forget it.

Dad’s had a rough year health-wise but with a recent pacemaker operation is feeling more energetic than ever. He arrived in Cuba earlier this month and almost immediately began to take brief therapeutic morning walks. On his first day, my husband reminded him to take i.d. and I told him not to be climbing any hills. After only about 10 or 15 minutes my husband was having a cow and took off to look for him in his car. He found him at the bottom of the very steep hill by our place and drove him back home. After that he gradually increased his morning walking time and the other day he had breakfast at 08:30, but by 10:30 had not yet returned. I was starting to get worried as I walked to the back patio to speak to my husband, and on the way back there I heart a train whistle blow, something I’ve never heard in all the years I’ve been living in Mirador de Marbella. The first thing that crossed my mind was “Crap, Dad’s on the train tracks again”. About 10 minutes passed and my husband called out for me, saying that the police had arrived and were parked out front with several other officials. My heart immediately sunk, thinking there’d been an accident. I ran as fast as I could only to see my father being assisted out of the back seat of the police car.

He says he reached the top of the hill and decided to return home but was a little disoriented on how to get to our street coming from the other direction. He knew that we lived close to the radar towers so when he was close to them and could see the water to the north, he saw a horse & cart pull into a dirt road behind the radar towers and he followed it, thinking there’d be another road from there that would take him north to our street. Little did he know that he’d unwittingly wandered in the back way to the military zone. Apparently the gate was down because personnel were constantly going in and out that morning. As he got deeper into the military zone the officials were saying “Alto” (Halt), but of course he didn’t understand and he continued on his merry way until he was escorted off the property by the local police and immigration officials who had been contacted by the military to remove him. He’s darned lucky he doesn’t look dangerous or things could have gone in a whole different direction. Because my Dad traveled here on his U.S. passport, we had to accompany him down to the police station and we were there for several hours while they assembled their interrogation team of military, police, immigration and counter-intelligence to investigate what happened and find out more about his background. I really don’t think they considered him a threat at any time; in fact they were most accommodating and did their best to make him comfortable while they completed routine procedures. Sometime after 2 p.m. we were all released and allowed to return home. As I was opening the gate I turned around and noticed for the first time what he was wearing. You see, my Dad is so modest that he only brought 2 t-shirts, 1 shirt, 2 pairs of pants and 2 pairs of shorts for a 7-week stay in Cuba. And thankfully at least a week’s supply of boxers. But I had been complaining the night before to my brother that I was doing laundry more frequently than usual. He hauled out an old Obama shirt that he’d grown out of and gave it to my father for a spare. Wouldn’t you know that was the shirt he was wearing when he got caught in the Cuban military zone?! Of all the days NOT to wear his Canada shirt.

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2 thoughts on “Dad’s Cuban Walking Adventures

  1. Hey Kristen
    Not sure if you made it to the wharf rat rally in Sept or not.. I missed the rally as I was in Boca de Jaruco for the baptism of my god daughter (beautiful church in Santa Cruz de Norte).I was there again last week (Boca de Jaruco) . It is walking adventures(or in my case scooter adventures) like your dads that have resulted in many great experiences for me in small non tourist areas in Cuba. I have made many life long friends. Good for your Dad for experiencing Cuba the way he does. And good for you for shareing the stories. It is your and Conners blogs that keep me feeling the warmth of cuba while im sitting here trying to keep the house warm with wood stove at -35 wind chill. I think I will open a pack of Sazon Y Amor and put it on some Sobeys fish. It will be my Atlantic Canada Cuban fusion dinner to keep me connected.(But I,d definately rather a walking adventure like your dads).
    All the best
    Kevin

    • Thanks for the kind comments Kevin. No WRR for me last summer but I did enviously watch some of it on the live webcam while some of my friends from the organizing committee and vendor row waved hi to me from central Digby. Getting off the beaten path, with no particular agenda is surely the best way to get to know places. Misadventures thrown in and all! Take care, Kristen

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