On day two in Cuba, my traveling companion Marcos and I stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Havana Viejo for some fried chicken and some orange soda. A lovely young lady sat down next to me and asked if I’d buy her an orange soda too.
“Sure,” I said, although the request seemed a bit forward.
Before my chicken was at the table, she wanted to sell me sex. I graciously declined and she left. Marcos had already moved on to a table with two Cuban men and one woman, but I wasn’t lonely for long. Another jinitera came over trying to sell her body and it turned out that what I thought was a typical outdoor fried chicken joint doubled as a brothel. I declined her offer and ordered her a beer instead. We joined my traveling companion Marcos and his new friends at the other table, where we formulated a new plot that involved grabbing our packs and splitting Havana for the beach.
Rather than head for Valero -- a beautiful beach so frequented by Europeans that the Euro is actually used as currency there, as the dollar once was all over the island -- we went to Guanabo, where Cubans go to vacation. Marcos and I agreed that we’d split the $40 cab fare from Havana to Guanabo with his new buddies and maybe even look into sharing a room once we got there.
In Cuba, the dollar has been banned. Aside from the Euro’s use in Valero, Cuba’s economy runs on two currencies, the national money, which is worth nearly nothing, and CUCs, a set of bills designed for tourists to use, which is much more valuable. When exchanging dollars for CUCs, however, the government charges a huge tax in retaliation of America’s embargoes on the island so Euros are a better option for Americans down there. Marcos and I exchanged enough money for our cab ride and what we anticipated room and board and rum would cost on the beach, then flagged down a cab and crammed in with one passenger too many, with one of us squatting below the seats to hide from the police.
All along the highway were giant billboards, propaganda that Fidel had thrown up informing his loyal citizenry that George Bush is the real terrorist and that Cuba will survive any attack that America launches. It was fun pondering the politics with our new Cuban friends. Everyone was buzzed and merry on the ride there, but once we arrived, our two new Cubano compadres said they had no money and expected us to foot the bill, which Marcos didn’t take to kindly. Eventually Marcos got what appeared to be $20 out of the guys so we could just all part ways, but they slipped him the national money which was worth a grand total of about a quarter.
Lecion numero dos: The money exchange trick, the oldest trick in the Lonely Planet that’s always evolving.
The following day, we had to change rooms and Marcos and I parted ways for most of the day, which I spent walking along the white sand beaches, buying beers here and there for new Cuban friends, soaking up culture and sun. The following day was spent much the same, and into the night we switched to rum and met some more beautiful Cuban people.
As the night wore down, Marcos and I were just thankful to be exactly where we were. We made some new Cuban friends and were walking down the street, talking, when a 5’4” beast built from 175 pounds of pure muscle came swinging out of nowhere and landed one on Marcos’ head, nearly knocking to the ground.
In each country I visit, I bring flip-flops for daylight and sneakers for the evening. I never wear my flops at night, just in case shit goes down. But I tossed this rule aside in Cuba because everyone was so friendly and violence, unlike in most of the rest of the world, is extremely rare. So when Marcos started fighting back and I tried to intervene, it was tough keeping my flops on my feet.
I didn’t know why this guy was after Marcos, who also said he didn’t know why he was attacked. We later concluded it probably was due to a girl that we were talking to. I got in between the two of them, but Marcos is no bitch, and he wanted to get his licks in, but the risk seemed to outweigh the benefit. Jail was something I could do without seeing on this trip.
But we’ll never know why Marcos was assaulted because his attacker, in addition to having arms the size of my legs, was a mute.
Once I was in between the two, Marcos stumbled back a bit and the mute went after him again. I stepped in his way and the mute took a swing at me. I practice peace, and haven’t thrown a punch in 12 years. But I fought enough as a kid to recognize my only advantage over the mute was height. I knew he’d throw an upper-cut, so I dipped and threw a left punch into his gut and a right in his face, aiming for his nose with the hopes of popping him so hard that he’d tear up and wouldn’t be able to see. But I hit him just below the eye and in the process, became the new target of his silent aggression.
With Marcos was dazed in the background, and with reach as my only advantage, I squared up against the mute and tried to keep him at arm’s length because if he had gotten within six inches of me, it would have been over. As long as I kept the fight on our feet, I stood a chance.
“Marcos, Marcos, get it together, help me out here bro,” I shouted as I stumbled backwards in my fucking flip-flops, watching the eyes of the mute for clues to his next moves, dodging his punches and waiting for another opportunity at a clean shot.
Marcos snapped out of the daze and grabbed the mute from behind, throwing him on the ground. I jumped on top of them and tried to pull him off but couldn’t. Suddenly three or four of the mute’s friends came running and I turned to face them, thinking our odds just got a helluva lot worse. But his friends ran by me and with a lot of work, pulled the mute off of Marcos.
I picked my friend up off of the ground. He was disoriented, with golf ball growing on his head. Slowly, I tried to bring him back to reality when the mute charged again.
I turned and squared up, side-by-side with one of the best friends I’ve ever known to face the silent fury once again. But I was invisible in the mute’s raging eyes, he was focused on Marcos, who knows some jiu-jitsu and who proceeded to grapple the mute to the ground.
If I would’ve had shoes on, I would’ve kicked the mute square in the nose and put an end to the whole fucking nightmare. Goddamn flip-flops. Marcos was on his back, he had the mute in a headlock and I could see my friend calculating his next move.
So I straddled them and, with all of my force, began unloading punches to the mute’s kidneys with the hopes of tiring him. I hit him 15 or 20 times.
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Again the mute’s friends came and together we pulled him off of Marcos. Next, the cops rolled up in a 1980s-model Russian sedan. They threw the mute in back, and he thrashed so violently that the car looked to have hydraulics.
Assaulting a tourist is a major offense in Cuba and for his crime, we were told by police, the mute would do about ten years in a Cuban prison.
Better he than us. -- Luke Turf
Westword staff writer Luke Turf traveled to Cuba for a week and encountered pimps, prostitutes and an irate mute with a nasty uppercut, to name a few. This is his tale.