Happy Peasants


They put a few cans of meat in their backpacks, some candles and an old Zenit camera.  The couple went to Santiago de Cuba by train and entered the mountains early one Saturday morning.  They wanted to walk to Baracoa, camping out at night in the depths of the mountain, making love in cabins with the boldness that one has only at 16.  He figured that it would take them four days to get there by foot, arriving in the first village founded in Cuba on Tuesday.

After the first night they saw a peasant who led a line of mules.  The boy won the debate over whether or not they should approach him: “Let’s go and ask him for directions to the nearest cabin.”  She, the more prudent one, warned him that the mountains were not as they once were, that the country people shared little information with outsiders.  Nevertheless, they went up to the herder, who cried out, “What are you doing here?  You can’t be on these mountains without government permission.”

Already too late to fix their mistake, they had to go with the man to the closest town, where they would regret having asked a question.  The principal of a one-room schoolhouse told them that they would have to stay calm until the police arrived, and he insisted in finding out what had given them the idea to enter the Sierra Maestra Mountains.  She spoke of Zen, cosmic energy and Tai Chi exercises that connected her with nature.  Neither the herder nor the policeman believed her.

That night the regional manager arrived, and the couple had to repeat their story – that they had only wanted to go on a hike, to camp together among the trees and get to Baracoa.  They were taken back to the police station in Santiago and were forced to take a bus back to Havana.  During the long journey back, they could not stop thinking about the inhabitants of a lost nation who had alerted the police. “Arrest them.  They are going on a strange walk.  Who would want to hike these mountains?”

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