By: Angela Kilby,
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!