Cuban paradise

Varadero Beach

Varadero Beach

Varadero was so beautiful then … Sand like superfine sugar, white and barely granular; the water aquamarine, warm and shallow, gentle waves lapping at the shoreline … I’ve heard that now large hotels built by Europeans lord it over the pristine sand.

The drive from Havana to Varadero was tedious for a child whose only concern was how much longer til I can go in the water? I’d probably appreciate the ride a lot more now — 80+ miles along a coast road sheltered by palms and bombarded by the outrageous colors of exotic flowers between glimpses of the sea.

When we finally arrived, I was ready with my bathing suit. My parents couldn’t hold me back from the beach.

Relatives I hadn’t met had given us the use of their house, an early example for me of expansive Cuban generosity. The house was right on the beach, and I was in heaven, because the sand and the water were always available, and the coconut palms offered shade when the sun was too fierce.

One beautiful morning, I remember, I woke up early and my parents were sound asleep. I must have been somewhere between five and eight years old. That morning the quiet was pervasive, interrupted only by occasional birdsong. The day was brand new, asking to be explored and enjoyed. Putting on my bathing suit, as I did first thing every day at the beach, I heeded the siren call of the water and the sand. There was barely a breeze, and the sun was still lovingly warm, not yet torridly hot. I played a while on the sand, but then I couldn’t resist — first my toes, then my ankles, little by little I ventured into the beckoning water.

Back at the house, my parents were waking up. When they didn’t see or even hear me, I now can only imagine their panic. At some point, they looked out toward the beach and beyond, into the sea. An only child, I was used to playing by myself and was having a fine old time splashing in the warm water. I couldn’t understand why they were making such a fuss.

Photo by Philip Gabrielsen

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