“It is the most beautiful land human eyes saw.”
— Christopher Columbus when first sighting Cuba near the present day town of Gibara. October 1492.
Gibara or La Villa Blanca—The White Town—rest on the windswept north shore of Cuba, half hours drive from the city of Holguin.
Short of the city proper we cross a dark river before traversing a tunnel carved through a stone mountain, On the mud bank a man cast his small net, looking for bait or a meal.
An early cold front has the wind up this morning, twenty knots, and low gray clouds fly past. Through the mist a small rowboat appears and six stout men—one with a bottle of rum—load up, then push the overloaded boat off the beach.
“They can’t be going fishing in that,” I remark to Alexander, my college professor/driver.
He shouts the question to the man retrieving an empty net.
“Not fishing,” the man replies. “It’s Sunday. They’re going to the cockfights, across the bay.
I’m on a mission for fish. A good friend’s abuela (grandmother) suffers from high cholesterol and on doctor’s orders shouldn’t eat meat. Scanning the fleet of small craft moored in the harbor, and then at the angry seas, I decide a trip offshore is not in the cards.
Gathered under a sculptured sailfish on the cliff overlooking the storm tossed bay, a group of landlocked fisherman watch our cars approach.
“We need to buy some fish,” Alexander calls out.
The request sends the men scurrying. Moments later they appear with an assortment of grouper, snapper, dolphin and even a few mullet, all hard frozen.
“We caught these yesterday, before the winds.” one man says. “The fishing was very strong before the weather.”
“There have been a lot of yellowfin tuna,” another adds. “But they go to the big hotels in Guadalavaca.”
Late fall is also big marlin, and wahoo time. Snapper and grouper—year round.
Off to the west, contrasting sharply with the ancient cannons and old fort remnants, six modern blade turbines whirl in the brisk wind, white against the gray clouds. One fisherman explains they generate electricity and were built by the Chinese.
I finally convince Alexander to drive his prized Hyundai down a sharp rocked road along the cliff for a closer look.
On the edge of the limestone shoreline the remains of a hulking freighter sits rusting and broken, thrown against the rocks by a hurricane some years back.
A weatherworn man emerges from a tin and stick shack, his skinny dog following close. When asked about the rusting mass of metal in the middle of his oceanfront view he explains. “The hurricane took my fishing boat, but left me this wreck,” he says. “I sell a piece of it from time to time to buy food. I miss fishing—but I eat.”
Capt. Phil Thompson is an outdoor writer and author of “97 Miles South” set in Cuba.