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Not Just Tourists

By: Angela Kilby, Kanata, Canada
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant

Watch out! That water looks deep and the mud so thick your tires may get stuck! Maybe we should get out and walk from here? ”Our confident experienced Cuban minibus driver laughed as he added in English, that he had driven on worse roads. Holding on for dear life, hoping that we would not slide off the road down the precipice at the right hand side, we rocked from side to side through the mud. Finally, we were able to continue up the track that was called the road, to the clinic.

We were a group of fourteen tourists on holiday in Cuba, with a quest. We had signed up with the organization 'Not Just Tourists', which had provided us with five suitcases of medical supplies to deliver to Raphael Frieres Clinico No. 32. The airline had agreed to carry the bags free of charge and the paperwork completed with the Cuban government. The bags were filled by the organization, although it was necessary for us to repack them personally. We were told that they would be easy to deliver by horse and buggy, just a short ride from the hotel! We have a different story to tell.

Travelling as a group of twenty-eight, mainly seniors, from Ottawa, the airline misplaced twenty-six bags from our flight. Five of them were the medical bags! After two days of sharing clothes and purchasing what would fit, at the sparsely supplied Cuban stores, the bags thankfully arrived, having flown back to Ottawa, then Toronto to Holguin. By some miracle, everything was intact.

Unfortunately, there was not a telephone number for the clinic.

The bags were to be delivered to Dr. Hidalgo Daz, personally, receiving his signature on the government documents. When we found out from the hotel desk clerk that the hospital was 35 kilometres away, we arranged for two minicabs to take the fourteen members of our group to deliver the bags. Arriving at the attractive town of Raphael Frieres with neat little houses surrounding a now defunct sugar factory, we proceeded to the regional hospital, where we discovered that Dr. Gomez operated a countryside clinic ten kilometres away, in the hills.

The drive was spectacular, through banana groves and areas of mixed farming with neatly cut cactus hedges edging the gardens of the palm leaf roofed farm houses. Oxen were ploughing the fields while handsome straw-hatted horsemen were riding or herding their cattle. Tall, Royal palm trees dotted the landscape with rocky escarpments surrounding the valley. The occasional white egret completed this idyllic bucolic scene. We continued up the rough hilly road to the Doctor' s Clinic.

The sparsely furnished clinic was on the ground floor with living quarters at the side and above. We were greeted by the male nurse' s wife who accepted our suitcases of supplies on behalf of her husband. Apparently, he was in charge as the Doctor had returned to medical school. Marielle, the male nurse' s wife, kissed and hugged me, then proudly showed me her sparsely furnished apartment. Her pride and joy was a large refrigerator that was powered by gasoline.

We also took toys, school supplies and clothing that we had brought for them from Canada.

Across the road was the village store, where the residents could collect their food rations. The wooden shelves behind the counter held only about 10 items, a far cry from General stores in Canada. We did purchase six sombreros for 50 cents each, before returning to the mini bus for the trip back to the resort and the huge buffet of food that was waiting for us. What a morning of contrasts!

On our second visit, four days later, we were treated like old friends and told that we would be welcome to stay in their picturesque village next time we came to Cuba!

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