Ronald Suárez Rivas

Ronald Suárez Rivas

Photo: Ronald Suárez.

The house of the spirits

"I only believe in what my eyes see and I do not tell lies, because I do not like to deceive people", warns Feliberto Cala Vidal before telling his story, in order to avoid suspicion. "I lived in that house for about a year with my wife, until one day I said: my old woman, I'm leaving, because I cannot continue here. I felt I was dying, that they did not want me, and if they did not accept me, I had to leave. "One night we were talking and I was very cold. I tried to move my arms and I could not do it. I tried to move my legs and I could not do it either. Then I saw a lantern moving through the air, glued to the wall. When it was about a meter high from the floor I said to my wife: turn on the light, and the lantern was suspended. Little by little it became dim, until it completely disappeared, and I began to get warm again. At his 67 years old, Feliberto has never been a man going around with stories of appearances. In fact, he had never noticed anything supernatural before moving...

A Cuban who corresponds with kings and heads of State

“Montevideo, May 11, 2006. It is with great pleasure that I greet you and thank you for your words, which I very deeply value and appreciate….” Thus, with the cordiality of friends, Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay, responded in his letter to a particular addressee: Ricardo González Blanco, a 53-year-old Cuban, from the Pinar del Río municipality of Sandino. A history graduate from the Rafael María de Mendive Higher Pedagogic Institute of Pinar del Río, Ricardo has gone through several jobs. In his life, he has been a secondary school teacher, his town’s filmmaker, methodologist in the house of culture, and even journalist at a local radio station. But in Sandino, above all those things, he is known as the man who corresponds with kings and heads of state. In a plastic file he takes care of as if it were a treasure, Ricardo collects the letters, coming from such distinguished places like the Palace of the Zarzuela of Madrid, the principality of Asturias, the Palace of Quemado of La Paz or that of Miraflores in Caracas. All of them are addressed to him, with a message of greeting and best wishes, in the name of figures who in...

Lobster fishing. Photo: Ronald Suárez.

Hamlets on the sea

One can see them in the middle of the sea, after several hours of navigation, and the first one does thing is to cross the fingers begging for not even a drop of rain or a storm. But it is known that storms in the Caribbean are as common as seagulls or boats. That is why, before putting the first foot in the dock, one already has the certainty that those who inhabit this sort of small hamlets on piles, in the lower insular platform, do not believe in swells or sharks, either. Lobster fishing. Photo: Ronald Suárez. They are called “collection centers” and have been there for over 40 years. They are indispensable facilities for lobster fishing, which ensure that these appetizing crustaceans with antennae arrive alive to the industry, and sometimes to restaurants and markets in Europe or Asia. In the docks and cages submerged in the water, the lobsters catchers deposit the catch of the day, waiting for "the sent ones", as the great ships in charge of their transfer to port are known. Thus the fishermen of La Coloma - the largest company of its type in Cuba...

Photo by Ronald Suárez

Scorpion injections

José Luis Casañas had already been stung on purpose by bees as a pain reliever. That’s why, when he heard that Cuban scientists were using scorpion venom to combat cancer, he also wanted to try it. “If it’s good for cancer it has to be good to cure other things,” he said to himself, and he went out in search of one of those terrifying arachnids under the stones of his home’s backyard. When he found the first, he surrounded it with his hands, placed it on his waist and squeezed it…. Ten years later, this farmer from the zone of Carabela, in the municipality of Los Palacios, trusts in the effectiveness of the therapy. “Some months ago my elbow was slogan. I couldn’t do any of this,” he says while bending up and down his right arm, “I couldn’t even comb myself or brush my teeth. So I put a scorpion to the elbow so it would sting me, and I was OK again.” “If the scorpion doesn’t feel attacked, it won’t sting,” says José Luis. Photo: Ronald Suárez. Since he doesn’t know when he will need it, José Luis always runs around with a...

Photo by Ronald Suárez

Pedro Ramos is visiting Cuba

Ted Williams makes a swing at the ball, but cannot find it. It is the third strike and while the best batter in history walks to the dig-out, the man who just dominated him, Pedro Ramos, amidst the excitement, asks the batboy to tell Ted to sign the ball for him. The fearsome Boston slugger, was pleased, but won’t forget the insult. The night is young and a couple of innings later he takes revenge with a homerun by a mile As he does a lap of the square, after passing third base, he shouts to the pitcher: "hey, Pedro, find that, I’ll sign it too." More than for his results, for fifteen long years in Major League Baseball, Pedro Ramos is remembered for one of the most mentioned anecdotes in the MLB. "I faced Ted Williams many times throughout my career, and had been unable to him strike him out. We two had good relations. He always told me: 'when we batsmen are getting old, you young pitchers try to pass straight by'. And I answered: 'you’re not old, nor am I going to throw a straight, because although I throw 98 miles, you will hit it. So I'm...

Photo by Eduardo González

Young Americans learn to fight ‘Cuban style’

Joshua, Samuel, Yo, Layo, Evan and Charles, are six young Americans who until recently barley knew that Cuba was an island close to the coast of their country. They only knew what their coach, Alberto, had told them: it was a quiet place where there were no shootings or gangs. With him they had learned to fight 'Cuban style', but had done so in the very heart of the city of Houston. "Some of them did not have training shoes, but instead they have a lot of heart. They are very brave," Joshua Nidever recalls of his previous visit to the island, when he came up against boys of his own age on the wrestling mats of Pinar del Río and Havana. Only he - with an Argentine mother - and Samuel McDaniel - son of a Cuban woman - have been before this visit and speak Spanish fluently But the rest of them, all between 15 and 20 years old, venture to say something in this language that is foreign to the majority of them. They have been getting to know the city of Pinar del Río for almost 20 days, training beneath the Cuban sun, on the tracks...

Cave in Pinar del Río / Photo: Ronald Suárez Rivas

Most Cuban caves await discovery

The province of Pinar del Rio, in the westernmost part of Cuba, is renowned for its caves. According to Hilario Carmenati, a man who has devoted almost 50 years of his life to explore the caves, only in Pinar del Rio there are thousands of caves which have not been explored yet. “For instance, so far only 41 cave painting sites have been discovered, but the total number could be twice that,” he said. Miguel Boligan agrees with Carmenati. Boligan is a meteorologist who has taken part in countless expeditions over the last 20 years with multidisciplinary teams doing research about underground caves, aboriginal sites, places that may have served as shelters for runaway slaves, extinct species, among others. “Speleology is not a typical science,” he said. “Normally the people who practice it don’t get any kind of compensation.” They even have to pay for their own climbing equipment, flashlights, and everything else they may need. But their passion for this activity has led them to make discoveries and has given them access to a world most humans have not seen. That only, they said, is very rewarding, and makes up for the dangers and the funding problems. At first...

Photo: Ronald Suarez Rivas

A haunted house in Pinar del Rio

That this house has stayed empty a long time in a country like Cuba, where the housing situation is a national problem, is proof that people honestly believe there's something wrong with it. They say it is cursed, that at nights you can hear voices and noises, that objects fall down or change place. The house is on a side of the motorway that joins Havana and Pinar del Río, just on kilometre 78, in the municipality of San Cristobal, and it has been abandoned for around 20 years. “People are certain that it stays empty because it is a haunted house,” says Gilberto Espinosa, a driver for the National Omnibus Company, who for nearly two decades has driven the Havana-Pinar route. "It's a good house, with masonry roof, but no one dares live in it,” adds Carlos Trujilo, a resident of Pinar del Río who travels frequently to Havana. As absurd as it may seem in the 21st century the legend of the abandoned house has grown with time, to the point that there are very few inhabitants of this section of Western Cuba that haven’t heard it. It’s more than just a simple traveller’s tale. Lázaro Abreu, a...

Photo: Ronald Suarez Rivas

The Cuban laboratory where mini cows are bred

Raul Hernandez is a farmer who for 16 years has been experimenting to create a breed of dairy cattle no taller than 60 cm. Miniature cows – or garden cows, as he calls them – are so small that you can keep one on your rooftop if you want, he tells me. “These are strong animals that feed on grass, and produce 5 to 7 liters of milk per day. They are small, and are therefore easy to handle and milk,” he says. Hernandez, who lives in the western province of Pinar del Rio, in the municipality of San Juan y Martinez, thinks he may be close to succeeding: according to his calculations, the seventh crossing, between Mayo (steer, height 78 cm) and Rosita or Canela (cows, height 80 cm) should produce the height he’s been looking for. Photo: Ronald Suarez Rivas Everything began in the mid 1970s, when he decided to adopt a semi-dwarf cow he found at La Guabina Farm. Soon after he found a mate for the cow. “Most farmers discard animals when they are too small. They are sent to the slaughterhouse, in order to preserve the quality of the herd,” says...

Cuban lobster is one of the most sought-after delicacies in the world.

Lobster Fishing: A Hard, Lonely Job

Amidst the shallow waters of Cuba’s southern coastline, lobster is just one more dish on the menu of fishing boats. At times the offer of lobster becomes so repetitive that some would rather exchange it for chicken or fish. Too much of one thing becomes tiresome, and this seafood delight is no exception. Only a few miles away, on dry land, the panorama is very different. Seizures and violations by the country’s authorities form part of a commitment to ensure that every last pound of lobster goes to the tourism sector or is exported, in order to generate revenue for the country’s economy. But out here, the hundreds of fishermen whose job it is to capture these delicious crustaceans are far removed from this reality. Lobster boats have a type of pool in their hull where the catch is deposited and stored. Their task is to retrieve lobsters from the seabed and ensure that they arrive to port safe and sound. They explain that rudimentary methods were used in the past but that practices have been modernized over the years. Rogelio Millar, captain of the Ferro 304, notes that in his grandfather’s time, no one would...

Zachrysia is a hermaphrodite and can self-reproduce. Photos: Ronald Suarez Rivas

Pinar del Rio’s New Exotic Dish

Till recently, it was yet another of the many endemic species of the Sierra de los Organos, in the countryside of Pinar del Rio, but soon Zachrysia guanensis could become one of the most exclusive dishes of Cuban cuisine. That, at least, is the intention of Manuel Correa, an enterprising man from Pinar del Rio who decided to put into practice what studies by researchers and scientists suggested long ago and no one had yet materialized: breeding this curious terrestrial mollusk. Correa tells us that the idea arose from a project undertaken by European experts and the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in 2006, a project that was later abandoned. Manuel Correa hopes his snails will become a delicacy. The aim, Correa explains, is to help in the conservation of the Zachrysia, a very fragile species that has suffered the impact of human activity and its natural predators in recent times. “There are trails where it has disappeared altogether owing to several factors, such as intensive animal breeding,” he says. For years, several scientific institutions have used the snail as a laboratory animal. The project aimed at protecting this...

Helpful sharks?

Time and time again movies have portrayed sharks as the bad guys, but those with a more acute knowledge of these misunderstood animals claim that sharks aren’t as evil as they are made out to be. Juan Lázaro Martínez, captain of the September 25th, a boat dedicated to tuna fishing in the waters surrounding Cuba’s western region, says to OnCuba that “several fishermen have fallen in amongst them and not one has been eaten.” The same thing happened to Juan Lázaro himself once: “When I was younger and got straight back out of the water, without a single scratch,” he says. Although they represent a danger, sharks are vital to tuna fishing. Photo: Ronald Suarez Despite their historically bad reputation, the man who has spent 40 years of his life sailing with sharks explains that their presence is vital to locating schools of tuna. Such is the case that another veteran fisherman, Vicente Rodríguez, believes that the animals act as a guide for the boats. “Wherever there’s fish there’s sharks.” So, after locating the schools and casting their lines, a crew member sets himself to the task of throwing the bloody fish guts from the catch...

In the Sierra del Infierno mountains in Pinar del Rio there are only two “acuatic” families left Foto: Ronald Suárez

Cuba’s Water Healers: The End of a Legend

The man in front of me doesn’t legally exist. You wouldn’t be able to find any record of his birth or any other episode in his life at the civil registry. But Emerito Rodriguez Mosegui is as real as the mountains where we are now conversing. If he’s never agreed to carry any official documents or be registered in any of them, that is because this is what his faith demands, a belief system that does not acknowledge the institutions created by men and reveres only God and water. Emerito is an “aquatic,” and, to date, he has helped sustain one of the most unique legends in Cuba. At 85, he’s never gone to a doctor or taken any medications. Like all who have embraced his beliefs, he claims he is capable of overcoming all health problems with water alone. Lucid and active, with a complete set of teeth (even though he’s never set foot at a dentist’s office), he appears to be the living proof of the effectiveness of this rare form of therapy. The only indication that something may not be entirely well in his organism is a white stain on his head and part of his chest,...

Photos by Ronald Suarez Rivas

Red Crabs at Risk During Annual Migration

Around this time every year, the Guanahacabibes Highway in Cuba’s westernmost Pinar del Rio, transforms into a smelly, slippery red platform as the remains of red crabs crushed by the wheels of cars and trucks start to accumulate. In addition to Guanahacabibes, red crabs also do this journey in other four areas in Cuba, including Isla de la Juventud and the Zapata Swamp. Hundreds of crabs leave their habitat, the forest, to reach the sea shore, where they mate. Signs have been installed in Guanahacabibes warning people on the need to protect this species The odyssey of the Gecarcinus ruricola, the Cuban red crab, does not end there. Once they are back in the holes of the rocks they inhabit in the bush, the females head out to the seashore again, where they spawn. When the eggs hatch, their offspring do the same journey back to the wilderness. The Guanahacabibes Highway and its increasing traffic –a result of the growth of the tourism industry— are becoming a problem in the life cycle of red crabs, which now have a harder time reaching the ocean shore. With their pincers up, as if defiantly...

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