The fisherman For those of you who don't know, the writer Earnest Hemingway loved Cuba. His award-winning book The Old Man and the Sea takes place there. Many years ago, our webmaster and editor John Mahoney told me he reads the book once a year because it's "good for the soul." I had read the book about Santiago the fisherman and his struggles and enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure what John had meant about the soul part.
For those of you who don't know, the writer Earnest Hemingway loved Cuba. His award-winning book The Old Man and the Sea takes place there. Many years ago, our webmaster and editor John Mahoney told me he reads the book once a year because it's "good for the soul." I had read the book about Santiago the fisherman and his struggles and enjoyed it, but I wasn't sure what John had meant about the soul part.
Ilio, Leo, Danny
Then, one day about halfway through my trip, I met Ilio. I had been talking to Danny, the resort's rep on the boat (who spoke English like Al Pacino in Scarface, "Everyding okay, meng?" when Ilio joined in.
He was one of the crewmembers on board two fishing trips I took. He spoke little English but I was able to cobble together enough Spanish that we could communicate pretty well. Our first hilarious conversation was Berlitz gone bonkers, trying to figure out if we had the same name, how it was spelled, and so on. In Spanglish.
Ilio was tall, dark, and handsome, like a Latin movie star. Although he said he was 54, he looked like a man in his early forties. Ilio is a fisherman, and he regaled us with stories about fishing, Cuba, Castro (who hid in the nearby hills during the revolution), and much more.
He is a simple man, but genuine, someone who loves what he does and his country. His life has not been easy, but he still had a great outlook. He smiled widest when he mentioned his son was a doctor - who wouldn't?
Ilio made me realize what John had meant about the soul thing. Catching the fish was not the point for Santiago in the end. The struggle and the experience were to be revered, appreciated, and remembered. Learning he could persevere was better for Santiago than catching the fish.
During lunch, I went below deck and asked if there was any more papaya. The chef laughed and said "You like papaya?"
I enthusiastically replied "Si, si!" and he gave me several slices, smiling. The other crew members giggled as I climbed the ladder to the top.
When I got back on deck I asked Ilio if I had mispronounced something because the guys had been laughing and explained what had happened. Ilio started laughing too and I asked him to explain.
He said that "papaya" was referred to as "frutta bomba" because "papaya"was the local term for a woman's privates.
"So when you asked for more papaya, you were asking for more of that…" he said, punctuated with a hearty laugh.
Ilio was a real joy to talk to, and we hit it off so well, he insistedI come to his home in the mountains for the New Year's celebration in a few days. Unfortunately, I would be going home before so had to take a pass, but I promised I would be back another time.
As we headed back to the resort over the rollicking Cuban waters, Ilio let me steer the ship - a real thrill, which made me think of all those great books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island. As we rounded the last island that signaled we were close to port, I gave the wheel back to Ilio and started to go below deck.
"Where are you going? Don't you want to steer the boat some more?" Ilio asked.
"I'm going back for more papaya and I thought I'd bring you some!"
Ilio's laughter echoed as the day ended, a day that had been good for the soul.
Copyright © 2006 Leo Gervais/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.06