We have just returned from our "Cuban cottage" at the Playa Costa Verde resort near Holguin, Cuba. It was our 14th visit to this area, and, as always, we enjoyed it. We reunited with several old friends, Cuban and Canadian, and did all the old and enjoyable things. But we also were able to do a couple of new things which I'd like to share with you.
Lou and I love Cuba, but we're under no illusions as to what it is like off the resort. But our education in this area was enhanced by a wonderful encounter with a cab driver named Mauro. Mauro drove us to the city of Holguin from our resort in a magnificently restored 1951 Chevrolet, a journey of about an hour. During this time, Mauro, a friendly and good humoured man who spoke excellent English, talked freely and candidly about life in Cuba for Cuban people. The following two anecdotes are his and I merely repeat them for your enlightenment.
First, Mauro asked us if we enjoyed cocktails at the resort, to which we enthusiastically responded "yes!" He asked us if we were familiar with the cocktail that featured rum, cola and lime juice. Of course we were, and we answered that it was the famous "Cuba Libre". Mauro asked us if we knew what Cuba Libre meant, and we said "Free Cuba." He then asked if we knew what Cubans called the same cocktail. We were mystified at this question. He said that Cubans, when ordering this drink, asked for the "Lie Cocktail", because the idea of a "Free Cuba", to Cubans, is a lie.
We fell silent and started to ponder this. While we were doing so, Mauro began to tell us another story. Settle back for this one, because it's a bit long, but it describes life in Cuba for the people who live there permanently. His story runs like this:
One day, a man died and went to heaven. He took his place among the clouds, and played his harp and sat peacefully, ready to begin his time in Eternity. Eventually, however, the man became bored and decided that he needed a change. He went to find God to ask for a favour. When he found God, he said, " I want to ask something of you, please, God." God asked what the favour was.
The man said, "I like it here in heaven, but I must admit that I'm a little bored. You know, the same thing every day for eternity. I was wondering if it would be possible to go to Hell, just for a little while, to see what it's like. I must admit, I'm a little curious and need a break."
God thought about it for a while and told the man that he would have to wait until the proper paper work was done before the request could be approved. The man thanked God and resumed his place among the clouds with his harp. Eventually, after some time had passed and the man's boredom approached apocalyptic levels, God came back to him with the good news that the man's request had been approved and he could go to Hell for a short visit.
The man flew down to the gates of Hell. Taking a deep breath, he tried to pry the gates open, but they would not budge. He tried and tried and, eventually, got the gates to open a little. He heard what he thought was music and this encouraged him to try harder. Finally, he pried the gates open wide enough for him to squeeze in. He stepped into Hell and, to his great surprise, found a wild party going on. Music, food, drinks, pretty girls, and wonderful scenery greeted him. He stepped in further and spent a wonderful, carefree and exciting time in Hell, having so much fun and happiness. Eventually, his temporary pass expired and he had to leave. He flew back up to heaven and resumed his seat with his harp among the clouds.
God came by one day and asked the man how he enjoyed his trip to Hell. The man told God how much he enjoyed it and asked if it would be possible for him to go back, but this time to stay. God once again frowned and said he'd have to do the necessary paper work before this new request could be approved. Much more time passed, with the man once again bored with his time in heaven. Finally, God came back with the good news that the man's second request had been approved, and that he could go back to Hell, this time for good.
Overjoyed, the man flew down to the familiar gates of Hell. He tried and tried to pry the gates apart, and they proved just as difficult as the first time, but he was motivated to put all his strength into it, so he could rejoin the party forever. Finally, he succeeded in moving the gates apart a little, but could hear no music. He pried even further, enough to see inside, but saw only darkness. His curiosity got the best of him, and, with a mighty push, opened the gates wide enough to enter. But he saw nothing but blackness, and heard no sound. He took some steps further inside to investigate.
After only a few steps, the man stumbled and fell into an endless pot of boiling water. He suffered greatly and screamed. When he opened his eyes, he saw the Devil himself, horned and cloven hoofed, grinning down at him, stabbing him with his pitchfork. The man struggled, but could not escape the Devil's grasp. Down deeper into the boiling pot he sank, doomed to drown and suffer forever. With his last effort the man looked up to the Devil.
"What happened to the party? Where is the music, the fun, the pretty girls? What has happened to me?"
The Devil grinned and said to him:
"First, you arrived as a tourist. Now, you live here!"
And, with that, the man sank to the bottom of the pot, to suffer and die forever!
We fell silent while Mauro laughed at his story. I looked at the lovely countryside as it sped past. Palm trees swayed, blue sky hung endlessly overhead, and we loved the ride in this vintage car. I said that this must be the most beautiful prison in the world. The salsa music blared louder on the radio and the warmth of the day mounted. Mauro nodded, and we drove on.