Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bitter Sweet

More Sunday, January 26th

In 1990 Cuba closed about half of their sugar mills, including the one in Caibarien, and turned it into a sugar mill museum.  
As we are walking onto the grounds, Abelardo says "They've removed the gates.  There used to be big iron gates across here.  With armed guards." This was his family's sugar mill, the Reforma Mill, taken away by the revolution.  It's where he grew up, playing in the mill and running thru the fields, riding the steam train.  An idyllic childhood, interrupted.  It is a very emotional return.  52 years ago the revolutionaries took away the mill, and his family's home, threw a few of their belongings in the back of a truck, and said "Get out." He was twelve.
As we walk thru the mill he tells us "These are the cane crushers - these are the cookers.  It was all powered by steam - those are the four boilers. For the first few days the boilers are powered by wood, then when you get enough cane crushed, the left-over fibers are the fuel.  It's self-sustaining, but it takes four days to power up, so you never want to turn it off.  One year we had run out of cane, and my grandfather had to make an emergency run on the steam train fifty miles away to get a load of cane.   He asked me if I wanted to go along, and of course I said yes.  I loved to ride on the steam train.

"The engineer was famous for having one hand on the throttle and the other wrapped around a bottle of rum.  

"It was touch and go whether we would be back in time to keep the mill running.  The engineer  asked my grandfather 'How important is it to get back?' and my grandfather said 'Vital', so the engineer loaded on the power, cranked up the steam, and we went flying thru the Remedios train station at seventy miles an hour, the engineer with one hand on the whistle and the other clutching the rum.  We weren't stopping for anything!  Much to the surprise of the passengers and the livestock at the Remedios train station."

He sees a swinging chair and says "That used to be in my house!"  It is a bittersweet moment.
We are so privileged to share this experience with them - and they are so gracious.  

A long whistle - the steam train is here!  We hop on - Wally and a few hardy souls in the front (where we have been warned it is hot and loud), the rest of us in open air-cars.  
The train belches and jerks, picking up speed.  It's loud, and when the wind isn't blowing, smoky.

We roll past shanties with laundry hanging out and a few chickens scratching around the yard.
I'm guessing this isn't the most desirable real estate.

A cowboy lopes along beside the train:
This could be a hundred years ago.

We pull up to lunch, and hot and sweaty, but grinning ear to ear, they pile out of the engine.
We did lots of other stuff this day - saw a palm climbing demonstration (they feed the palm nuts to the pigs) had lunch in a garden (Beans and Black, Delin calls it - every meal has black beans and rice).   But the bitter sweet sugar mill is etched in my memory.  What an experience, what a day.  

Tomorrow: Baseball! 

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