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Just back from a week camping on a remote beach as part of the Cuban sea turtle monitoring project, I’ve got nothing to complain about. That’s a lie – lend me your ear and I’ll complain long and hard about the heinous mosquito and sand flea bites blanketing my body (the giant beach roach in my hair was also fodder for a gripe or three).
We saw it all on that white sand beach flanked by woods and cliffs under a fat, full moon: sharks, iguanas, deer, a croc cruising an inland lake, fat jutia perfect for the spit (see note 1), wild pigs and cows, translucent frogs, snakes, bats, and birds too numerous to mention. What we didn’t see, unfortunately, were turtles; seems this is a slow year in Guanahacabibes, the wild peninsula at Cuba’s western extreme. Instead we had to live vicariously through the project’s director and her tales of seasons past when scores of green and loggerhead turtles rumbled up on the beaches here to bury their eggs in the sand. Despite the no-shows, I relish being able to make dreams of mine like this come true here.
You may remember a while back I wrote about Things I Love about Cuba and Things I Miss about the USA. Today, as I try not to melt down in another unbearably hot summer afternoon here in Havana, I thought it time to get some stuff of my chest – things particular to this place that take some getting used to (and others that I’ll probably never quite groove to).
– Weekly public health inspections of your home, combined with obligatory in-home fumigations (see note 2)
– A daily newspaper only 6 pages long (and even fewer diverging opinions!)
– Incessant, sometimes inflammatory, gossip
– Being a big (or at least medium) fish in a small pond (see note 3)
– Really fat ladies in Lycra, rivaled by rolls of back fat
– Lack of public bathrooms at beaches leading to (you guessed it!) water-borne turds
– Good-natured shouting – anytime, anywhere
– Going regularly without toilet paper (see note 4)
– Smoking in hospitals
– Men and women of all ages speaking openly about menstrual cycles, maxi pads, Tampax, and flow
– Reggaeton and other intolerable music (see note 5)
– Amoebas in the water and the occasional bout with giardia
– Electric showers that surprise you with a nasty shock every once in a while (in other latitudes these showerhead-mounted apparatus are known as ‘widow makers’)
– THE HEAT
1. The jutia is what can safely be called Cuba’s RUS (rodent of unusual size – these suckers can reach up to 15 pounds!). They’re cute, but make good eating; at least one upscale private restaurant in Havana serves up a nice jutia in almond sauce.
2. Although these can be a royal nuisance, they are largely what helps keep dengue at bay here.
3. Being a native New Yorker, I’m infinitely more comfortable with the small fish, big pond arrangement.
4. I’ve become quite used to this actually thanks to three experience-honed strategies: carry a few spare squares; water rinse; and snatches of above mentioned 6-page newspaper.
5. Reggaeton – love it or hate it