The Pearl of the Antilles Through a Boy’s Eyes – Cuba in 1941 (Pt. 1)

27 Nov


This is my first contribution to the Cuba blog and as such I knew that I had to set a precedence of excellence. The only problem is that my own writing abilities are, well…a little short of excellent. So I recruited the help of a ringer, my father and former Cuban resident, Robert Neff. What resulted was a beautiful account of pre-communist Cuba entitled The Pearl of the Antilles Through a Boy. Robert really knocked it out of the park with this one. The short narrative paints a beautiful picture of Cuba and definitely heightened my expectations for the trip.

So with out further adieu here is part one of The Pearl of the Antilles Through a Boy’s Eyes.

The loudspeakers on our boat announced to passengers that they could see El Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos de Morro, the famous Morro Castle, five miles ahead on the port side. You could hear the impact of a hundred tropical drinks being deposited onto as many teak tables, as passengers scraped out of their deck chairs and crowded toward the forward railings. I took my Coca Cola with me and joined the spontaneous movement, not entirely certain why there would be a castle in the middle of the brilliant, blue Caribbean. There weren’t many other kids on the boat, and since I was only ten years old I was afraid I’d see only the backs of a lot of seersucker suits anyhow. But, as kids can do, I wormed and pushed my way through the four-deep viewers until I was pressed against the metal railing – and there it was! The Morro Castle, guarding Havana Bay.

Our ship’s engines were audibly throttled back and the white bow wave disappeared as we slowed to pass the castle and enter the harbor. The old fortress looked just like the drawing of it on our dinner menus, with round-topped guard stations atop the long tan walls and a tall, graceful white lighthouse contrasting with the duller granite. It looked like the kind of place where a kid could find lots to explore, and I hoped that would be part of my activity in Cuba.

Only a few minutes later I began hearing voices which I knew weren’t coming from adults on  the deck. They were the happy shouts of kids, and many of the people pressing against the port railing were suddenly scampering to the starboard side, which was the direction of the din. Again I insinuated myself to the front row and could see that we had become part of active harbor traffic, passing through water peppered with young swimmers. Many of the boys in the water were waving to their new audience and yelling “Throw monies! Throw monies!” They were soon rewarded with a shower of dimes and quarters which flashed in the sunlight and then disappeared into the blue water. Bare brown butts and white heels were everywhere as the boys dove behind the falling coins, headed downward.

The first boy to resurface shrugged his shoulders and extended empty hands upward as if his dive had been a failure – but then he flashed a huge smile and showed a shiny quarter on his extended tongue. “Throw more monies, Yankee! More monies!” I was pretty certain that no coins got lost on the white seabed – those kids were good swimmers and could stay submerged for a long time. They had another show which was even more amazing. They would get in front of moving boats in the harbor and somehow position themselves with a foot on each side of the prow, being propelled through the water on their backs, creating their own bow waves. Up ahead I could see the wharves, and behind them the buildings of Havana. We were in Cuba!


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