So that was the end of Cuba. It was fascinating, and it was murder. A Communist
state mambo-ing in the middle of the Carribean. Food shortages in the lush tropics.
Revolutionary slogans shouting defiance, and everyone wants to marry me because my passport
is as purple as my sun-burnt head. I´ve tried to describe some of the things I´ve seen
but I won´t draw any conclusions. After all, what do I know? One of my landladies, hearing that I was
from Northern Ireland, said to me with a serious frown, "The England people chase you around shooting machine guns from helicopters. I have
seen this on TV. Is it true?" Not quite, I replied, not all the time. But I couldn´t explain. Can´t just sum up an entire
people, history and culture in a few choice phrases.
I was very happy to come back to Mexico. I deserved a rest. Some decent meals and relaxation. After all,
all this gratuitous holiday-making and life enhancing experience
is hard work.
The last few days in Cuba included a fifteen hour coach journey back to
Havana, and a three day gut-crunching diet of cheese pizzas and omelettes. I needed to retire to
a secure position for a few days where I could slowly rehabilitate my body, carefully reintroduce
food types I hadn´t seen for a while.
Needless to say, the first night back I stuffed myself to bursting with steak, fruit and fresh
vegetables, and spent the next day glued to the toilet, moaning and thinking of Jesus.
Spot the Barracuda
I´m staying in Playa del Carmen, a beach town in the Yucatan. I´m doing a series of dives in the reefs off
Cozumel, one of the world´s great scuba diving sites. It deserves the reputation. Yesterday, we descended 12 metres
to a drift dive, lounging motionless alongside the multi-coloured reef a couple of feet above the floor, and allowed
the current to sweep us along. A Spotted Eagle Ray wandered past like
an underwater UFO, uncaring. We drifted on. A grouper, mouth larger than my head, came up and inspected us
solemnly. We drifted on. A barracuda lay still in the current, jaws agape to show off his
needle sharp teeth. We drifted on, a little quicker.
There is intense competition for tourist dollars. In Cuba, there were perhaps four or five
places to access the internet in the whole country. There are twenty cybercafes in this little town alone. The competition
among dive shops is almost disastrous. I chose the shop that seemed the most strict, and therefore
safe, rather than the cheapest. As our boat was returning from our dive we came across one of the cheaper options.
A divemaster was floating alone in the middle of the ocean, having lost both the family he was guiding, and his boat.
We rescued him, circled around till we found the family (who, to their credit, were more concerned about him than themselves),
and finally located his boat, the captain of which was having a quiet siesta.
The town of Playa is itself largely geared towards tourists. The Mexican waiters vie for attention with cries of "Two beers for one!", or
"Ninety-seven percent off!"
As I shook my head yet again at one more outrageous good deal,
the shopkeeper shouted
to my retreating back, "But I need your money in my wallet!"
I´m staying in Mom´s Hotel, together with a small collection of Americans,
permanent residents in Playa, and a dozen British
soldiers, up for a lark from Belize. The soldiers fix helicopters for the Army.
I refrained from asking about machine gunning from the airs over
Northern Ireland, and instead wondered about the current level of loud shouting,
one thing which discouraged me from a military career. "Not too bad!", they screamed, adding
"You get used to it" in a yell.
The Americans include a couple of dive instructors,
who proceeded to instruct me on the various types of shark to be
found in these waters. "You got the Bull, but he´s only number four." Meaning the
fourth most dangerous in the world. I felt a fourth of my body grow numb with
anxiety. "But he´ll bump up to you before he attacks, and most of his attacks are
in 3-6 feet of water."
The next day found me standing two feet deep in the sea, staring out to the
menace of the deep. All around me children splashed and cavorted. "Those bloody swine"
I muttered, thinking of the Americans, but
couldn´t move towards the darkness ahead. Something brushed against my leg,
and I immediately yelped and leapt out of the water. A piece of seaweed.
Suddenly aware that pretty girls
might be watching, I ended my squeal with a manly "Hoohaa!" and
did a playful backwards bellyflop. Unfortunately
the sea chose to run backwards and I merely splatted
straight into the sand like a distressed
porpoise. "Swine", I would have added again, but fortunately this time the sea
ran in again, to cover my
shame, and my curses, with a thin gurgling sound.