02 RIDING TO GUISA
02 RIDING TO GUISA
By the fall of 1957, I had taken my last exams before college. While I had been in school Úbero had fallen to the rebels, distant cousin Calixto Sánchez and Frank País had died. Early that summer, I had arrived in Oriente from
On July 27, there is an attack to the far west at the foothill sugarcane factory “Central Estrada Palma. This was followed on the 31st by an attack on the army barracks one valley to the west at Bueycito. The fighting retreats to near the Turquino peaks to our far south west. The nearest action is at the Hombrito, on still hidden but near and hidden mountains to the southwest on August 29th.
Autumn approaches and with it the coffee season. The essentials of life must go on. My brother, Lionel, asked me to go to the town of
I was visiting Lionel in the high mountains in the war zone where the rebels, still mainly poorly armed escopeteros, who only occasionally were able to strike effectively, but almost always able to enforce their rules on the locals. To go to get supplies meant going down through the foot hills past La Casa de Los Generales where I usually stayed, on into the flat lands, where, like most of
Family oral history mentions that Fulgencio Batista and Grandfather Calixto Enamorado disliked each other. Grandfather’s record during the Cuban War of Independence protected him from direction action. However, Batista tried to force Grandfather, then Consul General of Cuba in
Grandfather had refused and resigned, but not before his daughter, Victoria, or Betina as we know her had been made pregnant by the vice-consul, who it was said, was a relative of Batista’s puppet president from 1936 to 1940 when Batista took over in his own name, was Féderico Laredo Brú. Brú strangely enough was the last of the Mambí to hold the title of President of Cuba, he also was at least in part responsible for turning away the German Jews of the
As the clouds of WWII were rising Betina went off to bear the child in
However, as difficult as these incidents may have been the conflict between Batista and Grandfather may have gone back to when their fathers when General José Maceo with whom Belisario served, was passed over for promotion and died in battle. Calixto García Iñiguez, Calixto Enamorado’s father, became commanding general for Camagüey and Oriente provinces, the main war theater, and remained so on to victory. However, more about this later...
It was quite a difficult ride. It is perhaps twenty miles of rough, often rocky path, and dirt road, from our coffee plantation on the heights of Los Números to the town. It took most of the morning riding down on Lionel’s surefooted slim roan mare.
The roan was a pacing horse, called so because it did not trot but strides fast at a gentle gait. The animal was very comfortable to ride. It carried a tightly cinched light-weight, utilitarian, McClelland
My body remembers. My thighs and back move as I am in thrall of my recall. In my memories I am still riding down that road:
“On the worst down slopes, I lean back sitting on the back of the quilted soft leather of the saddle’s seat. My feet push on the down and my legs are stretched out and set wide. I smell the saddle soap from the leather.”
“The flexible leather of the saddle’s skirt and the stirrup fenders press down on the “basto” saddle pad to closely embrace the back of the mare. With my weight, the rocking of the saddle and the pressure of the cinches, the grass fed mare releases droppings as she strides along. After the pungent smell of the dropping horse apples fades with distance, there is a pleasant scent of healthy horse sweat.”
“And so with the roan mare stepping carefully and I lean back rocking with her pace, we go down the long and steep mountain paths. We go through coffee plantations, tall bromeliad festooned remnants of rainforest tower above us.”
“At the bottom of the mountains, the mare splashes water high and foamy, as the mare and I ford in deep tree shade, the noisy rush of mountain and upper valley streams. The splashes rise in parabolas. The flying water scatters white light and ephemeral specular reflections of shade, tropical vegetation and sky and sun. Then the drops fall back on to the arroyo’s waters making chains of splatter circles that move swiftly down on with the racing current. The water wets the lower part of my trousers turning them darker.
The stream fords grow deeper as the arroyos become rivers. Now the waters move smoothly, slower, and more quietly, as the mare pushes them aside with her chest as we cross the
Even then, these crocodiles were for the most part, gone. Years before, when he was far younger, our Taíno Indian Mayoral, Juan Ramos and his sons, had dived in after the caimanes chasing them underwater to their caves where the animals hid in the fetid air of those refuges.
The caimanes were good eating, especially their fat tails. Never one to neglect a good meal, Juan Ramos, his women, and his offspring had eaten most of them. And yet the beasts were not quite gone since about a mile down-stream, for I had seen what seemed to be crocodile tracks.
The tracks had been a little further downstream from here. They had been made on the coarse sands along a little river beach, beneath the great cliff, that was the back eastern border of our lower foothill lands of Entre Ríos.
Quite some years before, a caimán had attacked a horse here. Luckily, it was the nasty little Cuban freshwater kind, the leaper Crocodilus rhombifer, not the much larger sea crocodile Crocodilus acutus which usually lives near the coast. The horse had been Uncle Rafael’s large mount, and he had simply broken free riding his horse’s heavy steel shod hoofs over the relatively small caimán. The mythical western version of a dragon is traditionally portrayed to resemble a crocodile. I am reminded of this event and of dead Uncle Rafael when ever I see the traditional images of Saint George, his horse ridding above the beast trampling it, and his lance spearing to kill “the” dragon.
Since crocodiles had not been seen at this ford for some years, only as children had we greatly feared them. Now grown the thought did not bother me, even when I crossed on foot. At this ford, my major thought was that my trousers and ankle high boots were getting really wet.
The voice of my memory goes on:
“The mare’s hoofed feet clop across the road over the rounded pebbles of the boulder field at the other side of the river. She climbs the tricky path up the step-like old lava rocks of the Barrenos. I cross the hill divide between the two river’s watersheds; the great cliff of Entre Ríos, product of a massive and geologically recent earthquake, is to my right. The mare’s hooves sound out loud as iron hits against bedrock. Then I ride down a smoother part of the lava road and cross pebbles to approach another ford the faster running, more shallow ford at Lajas on the
“Hooves make gentle chipping sounds, as the pebbles give way slightly. Then the mare splashes through the river, spilling, then dripping, water on the other side.”
“The mare moves faster. Dust rises, and tickles my throat. Hooves make little noise as we go along the soft dirt of the flat so called “
I cross the
Some miles in the distance beyond some hills and unseen is the battleground of Peralejo. This battlefield is to my back to the west. On
Dictator Batista would say that Belisario, his father, had been a sergeant in that great and final war of independence, the ”War of 1895.” However, Belisario’s rank is listed on the records as a mere soldier.
It is probable that Belisario Batista, who then served under José Maceo, was at the battle of Peralejo. If so, it seems clear that Belisario Batista was either not promoted in rank in this or any other battle, or demoted at some point during the war.
“I not yet knowing of Belisario, go east now and cross the
Further down, a little off this road and to the right, across a rocky field, are the great caverns of
“The mare’s hoofs again sound loud as we pass the sun dazzled white karst rock of the lower
“Going through cuts in the low rises, the road approaches the hills west of Guisa. On the northern side there is a long driveway that leads to the estate “Hoyo de Pipa,” the water hole of Mon
“Despite the bucolic scene the country I feel intimidated by the fear and turmoil of resistance to a dictatorship. After
“Alarmingly, ever turned to worse Batista’s intimidation of opposition became more and more aggressive and bloody. It was clear that Batista would leave only if he was forced out. Batista needs to kill to stay in power. However, Uncle Calixto Leonel has told me the rebels are communists. I do not quite believe him. Castro has denied this in newspaper accounts, but I am uncertain about that as well.”
However, I think: “In Guisa I must be most careful.”
Larry Daley Copyright@2001, revised 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006