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Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

Precious Freedom (1)

May 14, 2009 |

By Irina Echarry

The peninsula of Guanahacabibes, a natural reserve in the western-most province of the country, would change my life completely. Photo: Caridad

The peninsula of Guanahacabibes, a natural reserve in the western-most province of the country, would change my life completely. Photo: Caridad

When I spied the solitary beach I couldn’t resist the urge to shout: “Free at last!”

Perhaps it was the nearness of the sea, the sea shells lying scattered on the hot sand. Or the presence of those wild cows running near the waves, dodging the stones in a race that seemed almost neurotic. Or the kilometers of distance that separated us from other beaches.

I had reached the peninsula of Guanahacabibes, a natural reserve in the western-most province of the country that would change my life completely. A solitary, magnetic landscape, that is worthy of serving as the set for some film.

I was there with a group of six people, prepared to aid the marine turtles that visit our southern coasts from May through September in search of an adequate site to lay their eggs. We all ended up becoming good friends, although we barely knew each other when we arrived at the site.

We were hauling tents, lanterns, long-sleeved shirts, cans of food and a great deal of ecological good will and determination to avoid damaging the beaches.

The idea of being in a place where human beings had not been able to leave their material traces was tempting. Photo: Caridad

During the day we dedicated ourselves to hiking, making camp, swimming in the sea, inventing a way to cook with firewood (at times we had to gather the firewood from far away) and relaxing a little.

I was able to walk for hours along the water’s edge and still see the same landscape, still hear the sound of the sea that at times brought voices from other places and other times caressed my ears as if whispering stories of ancient mariners.

At night came the work with the turtles. When there weren’t any, I would distance myself from the others, and lie down on one of the large rocks on the beach, my eyes fixed on the starry sky. I would imagine that at any moment one of the stars would come to look for me.

I was able to walk for hours along the water’s edge and still see the same landscape. Photo: Caridad

I was able to walk for hours along the water’s edge and still see the same landscape. Photo: Caridad

The firmament opened its curtains, so I could see all of the constellations. I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for those people who only know artificial lights. The moon owned the beach, illuminating our work or our nightly rest. But during the day the sun took power over us, as if wanting to fry our heads. The close contact with such untouched nature made me think about how vain life in the city is, and how frantic and monotonous it becomes.

I knew that I had to take advantage of this opportunity, since not just anybody can enter these virgin beaches.

And to think that I hadn’t wanted to go to that party where I met Viera, the guy that talked to me about the Marine Turtle Conservation Project.

That’s how things go: we never know where our destiny lies. Or maybe it’s just the opposite: Could it be that everything is written and that’s why I went to that party although I had no desire to? I don’t know. But I keep that experience deep in my heart. I spent good moments and some unpleasant ones. I lived. The risks didn’t matter – I had a mission to accomplish, with a noble objective.

Guanahacabibes came to me when I had nearly lost my dreams. The city was asphyxiating me. I was in need of a change, an injection of life, as people’s aggressiveness cut me to the quick and I was beginning to believe that everything was garbage. I wanted to feel free.

The contact with nature saved me from a great depression…and inspired other sensations.

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What's your opinion?

  • Ed Brinson

    since not just anybody can enter these virgin beaches.

    Just for my own education, who is allowed to enter the virgin beaches??

  • Liset

    Irina,
    Tengo dos amigos que me invitaron a ir estando alla, Martica y Joel, quizas los conozcas, aunque ellos ultimamente no han podido ir.
    Que monga fui, tenia que trabajar y no abri un huequito merecido. Aqui he estado mas en contacto con la naturaleza que alla y siento lo mismo: cuan rara me resulta la civilizacion cuando estoy en lugares asi. Estas son experiencias magicas, que mucha gente no sabe apreciar.
    Disfrutalas!

  • hello
    I’ll be in Cuba in September for 20 days. I read your article. And since I’m building my trip, I really want to stay another week in the Guanahacabibes. I understand that access to the region is now very difficult? And the hotels are very expensive …
    However I would love to visit, see Igan, birds and turtles?
    Is this a dream?
    Alain