“We may as well be painted green and have TV antennae sticking out of our heads”, says Colin. He’s right. The population of Los Arroyos, Cuba has come to a stop to watch us stroll down the main street. In a town of four streets, where there are no hotels, no restaurants, and only one road out of town, a foreigner is rare. For five of them to arrive all on one day is an event unheard of before. To add even more excitment, we’ve arrived in a convoy of three sailboats, bringing the number of boats in the harbour of this fishing port, to six.
The spectacle began as we dinghied in this morning. A fisherman mending his ancient net came over to poke our inflatable and to marvel at an outboard motor that worked.
“Que bueno el motor,” he said as he examined the prop. As the only one of us with Spanish, I responded with “Si”. That’s the extent of my mechanical Spanish.
The next witnesses to the foreign invasion were the construction workers shoring up a decrepit Guardia Frontera outpost. Each town has an office with several Guardia Frontera, an old Russian ham radio and if they’re lucky, a pencil and paper. This is what guards the coastline of Cuba.
We smiled, petted their oxen, and asked for directions to the market. They don’t have one, but if we go to the next street over, the fifth house and ask for Maria, she might be willing to sell us some tomatoes. The news of our arrival rippled through town and all 200 of Los Arroyos’ people spilled onto their porches to watch The Parade.
Los Arroyos was like most Cuban small rural towns. Cuban architects have only one design so every house is the same. A small bungalow with a generous verandah, and two rocking chairs arranged on it. Each yard is eight feet deep and filled with a riot of coloured flowers. Right now these porches are crammed with smiling Cubans pointing at us.
The only traffic on the street is two men on horseback who also stop to stare at us. Within five minutes the town begins to thin out and we can see the rolling miles of tobacco fields that characterize this area.
We come to a stop under a flowering jacaranda tree and rested on a carpet of bright blue flowers. Coming towards us look like half of the town. This alien thing is seriously beginning to wear thin. A couple of kids, run up to us, babbling a mile a minute.
“Despacio muchachos por favor!” I beg. “Slower!”
“Helados, palaticas, quieren comer helados con nosotros?”
As I try to untangle the torrent of words the translation becomes unnecessary. A small bicycle wagon appears, the cover is thrown open and eager hands reach deep for the treats inside. With wide smiles, popsicles – palaticas – are handed to all.