Hurricane Irma began her assault on Cuba’s north coast on September 8th, with 260 kph winds. At that point, the Cuban hurricane watch had been evaluating Irma for some time and had triggered hurricane safety procedures. But these could not stop Irma’s steady and violent progress, as she churned over popular resorts such as Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and Varadero.
My friend Julian, who lives in Santa Clara, some 50 km inland from the northern coast, hunkered down with his family – his wife, 100-year-old mother, son and daughter-in-law – to wait out the storm. This was not their first hurricane. They had water and food, lanterns and flashlights, a gas cooker, a battery-powered radio… Here are excerpts from his emails, which started coming as soon as the storm had moved on.
11th Sept. There are some fallen trees in Santa Clara, but not too many. Fortunately, as a security measure in the days before the hurricane, the most dangerous branches near houses and power lines were cut. Last night, electricity was restored in some circuits… The power supply is a short-term problem and will be solved within days, but the destruction of agriculture will cause major difficulties.
13th Sept. Thank you so much for your messages. It is encouraging to know that we have friends who care about us. After 5 days of blackout, electricity returned early this morning. Water had come the day before. So, now we have the basic conditions for a civilized life. Everywhere people are working hard to repair the damage.
Saturday (Sept.9) was perhaps the longest day in our lives here in Santa Clara. Heavy rain and strong winds began around 3 a.m. and continued until Monday morning. As soon as this situation began, there was a power cut and a water cut that continued until yesterday and today. The lack of electricity was the worst consequence for most people … Fortunately, I had a very good transistor radio with rechargeable batteries that a German friend gave me that made it possible to listen to news about the situation all the time.
22nd Sept. At home I may say that our daily life is back to normal, though there are some people who must be having a harder time. Yes, both at the peso markets and CUC stores there is basic food to buy, though in some cases there are long lines. …It is encouraging to know that a number of Canadians have also come to Cuba to help with rebuilding and rewiring. The reconstruction and repair work is going on well: more than 90% of homes have electricity, and a high percentage also have tap water. The subsidized food is also almost normalized, though we are already feeling the shortage of vegetables, as almost all crops were lost. Elementary schools have begun classes, as well as most universities.
For me, Julian’s emails illustrate Cubans’ stoicism in dealing with major difficulties. I admire their courage and their concern for each other in the face of so many difficulties.
Santa Clara - A trip to the Northern Keys
I expected Santa Clara to be a boring place to stay for a week. Sure, it has Che Guevara’s mausoleum, but that’s something you can see in half a day. Then what?
Well, as it turned out, I couldn’t have chosen a better place. By using Ernesto, the taxi driver recommended by my BnB hosts, my friend and I went on daily excursions to the nearby Escambray mountains, to the Northern Keys, to the great Zapata Swamp (crocodiles), and to all kinds of picturesque places in between, like Trinidad, Remedios and the Bay of Pigs. At prices lower than what tickets for a Cuban bus tour would have cost, we had our own private chauffeur who suggested good places to stop for lunch, showed us the wonders of Cuban nature, told us lots about farm life in Cuba – and even took us back to his house for a coffee.
On our first excursion to the Northern Keys, I was blown away by the calm turquoise of the water and the whiteness of the sand. The place was totally unspoiled! As we drove along the narrow causeway over the tiny islands, an empty road that seemed to be afloat, all I wanted to do was get into that warm water. Ernesto took us to Las Brujas, where we had lunch at the only restaurant. After that he withdrew for a siesta while his passengers dealt with the beautiful beach, each in our own way. I wasted no time going in for a dip and then walking along the empty beach for a mile in each direction. My Cuban friend, Julian, dragged a sunbed into palm-shade and settled down to read a book and listen to the wavelets lapping the white sands. Didn’t even take his shoes off!
On the way back to Santa Clara, we stopped at a private home where Ernesto knew we could buy great tropical fruit: papayas, guavas, pineapple. The prices were low and the quality was fantastic. We filled two bags with fruit and started the one-hour drive back to the BnB, where supper was waiting.