Dance on an Empty Highway: Part 2

At each stop on this trip, the state of the washrooms deteriorates at an inversely proportionate rate as the scenery grows more spectacular.

“What’s wrong?”

Claudia has suddenly sat up at the edge of the bed.

“I have to go to the bathroom and I’m too scared to go out there by myself.”

That makes two of us.

(read the first part here)

It’s the middle of the night and we’re bunking together at the house of a Cuban family who unexpectedly found themselves with a carload of stranded people on their doorstep.

Claudia and I have a room at the front of the house. We can choose a robust and noisy fan blowing air over us or open shutters at the mercy of mosquitoes and diesel fumes from trucks rumbling past the house. Neither is conducive to sleep.

We are marooned here due to car problems. The massive car succumbed to something clanking and noisy.

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. – Cesare Pavare

We should be at the El Escambray mountains by now, but Raul doesn’t want to take a chance with the car, and since he is friends with the people here, we end up tumbling into their hospitable arms, who show no sign of surprise at the intrusion of all these people into their home past midnight.

Raul and another fellow leave to see what they can do to fix the car – Cubans have become masters at creative repairs, while Claudia and I are shown around the house.
There is a modern bathroom next to the room Claudia and I will be sharing, but the plumbing isn’t connected because there are no plumbing supplies available during this “special period” (the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Outhouse in the Back of Beyond

“I’ll show you where the toilet is.” Claudia and I grab some tissues from our back packs and follow the man of the house past the living room, the kitchen, out to the porch, across some wood planks set across the muddy yard, through what looks to be a tool shed, out the other side and up a small embankment.

Two outhouses.

Actually, one is the outhouse and the other is the shower/washing-up room.

“Don’t worry, it’s safe.”

Why would we need to worry about using an outhouse?

Cubans’ usual reaction is an apology for not having the conveniences they know we’re used to in Canada.

“If that really bothered us, I wouldn’t have come back and Claudia wouldn’t have come with me,” our response to the apologies.

Not to mention that I’ve had to use toilet facilities that made me wish for an ordinary outhouse.

But – worry?

The man of the house stands next to the toilet outhouse. We hear exceptionally loud snorting from what must be an overgrown hog. Or rhino.

“It’s okay, he won’t hurt you.”

Hurt us? If there’s a chance that whatever it is can hurt us, shouldn’t it be attached to something much, much further away?

Inside the toilet outhouse I find myself in almost total darkness. A larger opening at the top for light and air would have been nice. I try not to think about the spiders and other forms of insect life that could be slithering around, nor about that Whatever-It-Is we need protection from outside.

Toilet Visit – 3 a.m.

Of course, that night it happens. I haven’t been able to sleep. And now I have to go to the bathroom.

I’d rather sit in front of Mr. Poder Popular begging for gas coupons than hike to the toilet in the dark, through the mud and past that pig.

Then Claudia announces she too has to go.

We inch our way through the living room, kitchen and porch. Cuba’s lack of electricity is an astronomer’s dream-come-true; you really feel like you can reach up and touch the stars gleaming overhead. But for two Canadians stumbling their way to an outhouse, the pitch black night was unnerving.

Starry night sky

At least the rain had stopped a bit earlier.

We’re almost at the tool shed and I slip on one of the wet boards and into the mud. My sandal gets sucked off my foot and so I reach down and wrench it out with a glugging, slurping sound. The hog grunts.

Great. I woke the thing up.

We each stand guard for the other, and I don’t know which is worse, standing outside with my back pressed against the outhouse wall (and what exactly am I supposed to do if the beast gets loose?), or inside worrying about creeping insects crawling where they have no business going.

We finish with all body parts intact and inch our way back to the house. By the time we’re back inside I’m in an adrenaline-rush-state of totally awake.

From Exhaustion to the Sublime

And then it’s 6:00 a.m., fifteen seconds after we went to bed.

I’m so tired my head feels like it has a 10-lb. bag of flour strapped to it.

There’s a rap on the door.

“Time to get up, Rolando will take us to the mountains.”

Cheerful voices can be so annoying after nights of no sleep.

Some dry bread with pieces of meat is our breakfast, along with a shot of Cuban coffee. The car will stay here for repairs while Rolando, our “cousin” who works for the State transporting goods, uses the government-supplied truck to get us to the foot of the mountain.Public transportation, Cuban style, 1991

From there we’ll walk. We hoist ourselves onto the back of the converted military vehicle. Two wood benches run along its length. We lurch and bounce over and around potholes and I decide it’s safer on my spinal column to stand up and hold the wooden rail surrounding the benches.

Soon we turn onto the highway and El Escambray is front of us.

The sun is just coming up over the mountain top and lights up the valley we’re driving through. We pass old houses and creaky wooden bridges. We barrel past tobacco fields towards the red-purple mountains.

I couldn’t take photos because of clenching the sides of the truck. But fatigue vanishes for a few wonderful minutes.

(find the next part here)

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