Into the deep jungles of Cuba. The story of Ramon.

Yumuri, Cuba

At the mouth of the river, before we boarded the taxi boat to Yumuri Canyon, the steep banks separate sandy beaches from the whirling gray river. There, dressed only in a ragged short and not speaking a word of English, stands a man waiting. He is Ramon, our guide for the day trip just 30 km outside of Baracoa. We float quietly, drunk by midday torpor among the 150 m high gorge walls, for about half an hour, when to our surprise: Ramon was already waiting for us on the banks of the river. He came swimming up here with a machete held between his teeth  and nothing more.

After he updated us about the current situation of the local population in Yumuri - they can not buy clothes anywhere closer than in Baracoa, for which there is no means of transportation, Ramon helps us cross the river, barefoot on slippery sharp rocks while the water is rising way past our knees.

Many tourists have passed by, promising that they would return with clothes and bicycle parts, but neither has kept their promise.

Ramon does not complain. Ramon tells a story: About his Congolese grandmother, about the strangeness  of a marriage concept in Cuba, about the Taino population during the Spaniards invasion when they threw themselves into the river shouting: “Yo Muri!” ( "I died!") - About his two daughters, and being a guide, about every leaf on every tree that comes across our path.

From I don’t know where I suddenly see Ramon taking out four large nuts brimming with coconut juice, which he carries to our bathing place where we’ll clean the sweat away. On our way there, we cling to jungle vines, with Ramon as a star lead, his good vibes are contagious. He is laughing mouth wide open to his ears, he then tells the history of Indian natives from far off caribbean lands, after which we un-equally share the coconuts, one for us - two for him, he does not obey any courtesy rule of the fine polished guides association that throne the tourism industry in Cuba and which mistake opportunity for being a virtue. 

Ramon, Cuba

He cuts dead branches that block the narrow path, grabs our big DSLR camera to click a posing chameleon, collects other coconuts, which he strategically hides in places that only he knows, he disappears seeking a cigarette from another guide and returns with Mamey fruits, which he cleans for me, one by one, and then stops in front of a tree that he can not identify.

It has large yellow flowers that seem similar to the banana tree, but it's not … Using his sharp machete he cuts one flower - "I will take this one home to paint and gift it to my woman. It will make our room pretty.”
His eyes light up when he talks about his family. Ramon and his Maria are living together since 15 years but it never crossed their mind to get married. "What for? I love her and she loves me back. In Cuba it’s like that. No paper can bind two people who have already chosen to spend the rest of their lives together." Well, so what you do if one day you stop loving her? "I say goodbye and be on my way. But not from Maria, I will always love Maria!"

Ramon is 35 years old and his dream is to become a road side fruit vendor. That way he can make his own schedule and be fully independent. For the time being he does some guiding gigs, but his full time job is picking coconuts. On a 2 $ a day salary, Ramon depends on other guides, which are over booked, to offer him a chance to guide small groups into the Yumuri Canyon.
We swim, we click pictures, we laugh, we wonder and then we start all over again. Alehandro, the guy who booked Ramon for the day expects to be paid  35 dollars for the gasoline and suggestion. Ramon swims back into the village.


* This story is part of our first travel guide - Cuba for the Independent Traveler. A Visual Guide that you can find here.


** Images: Iulian Ursachi & Desiree Halaseh

*** Gear:  Nikon D810Nikon 16-35 mm f4Tamron AF-S SP 70-200mm f 2.8 Di VC USDSigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.