Ever since I was a child, I loved to contemplate those mythical beings that stood by the mysterious waters of the coast like shadow-puppets following a plot that always ended with the capture of some fish. Those are my early memories of fishermen.
On an island such as ours, these images create a circular pattern and we constantly return to that deadly game established between the cleverness of fish and the perseverance of fishermen. A unique rhythm is set up in this game-like process. The suspense is worthy of meditation because “fishing time” generates its own peculiar qualities.
Let us talk first about Havana’s Malecon: the everyday outings with
our parents, our amorous adventures, talks with our friends. These have always been accompanied in some way by the presence of one or several fishermen. I’ve always been impressed particularly by the rustic aspect of the fishermen on the Punta, near the lighthouse, with all their home-made contraptions that are meant to bolster their luck.
As you cross Havana Bay towards Casablanca or Regla on the other shore, we find the same species, this time gazing at the spread of the city before them.
I like to say that these individuals are engaged in “domestic fishing”. Often we snap photos of these spots and these anonymous people become part of the composition, lending a philosophical touch to the pictures. Many of these individuals fish as a way to deal with solitude, frustrations and in order to feel like a hero when they feel the fishes’ mouths tugging at the hook and the fishing line tests their skills.
The pre-fishing ritual is also important: some prefer to go at it alone, others collect in groups and create a structure to take on the adventure. There is the search for the ideal bait, an essential element. I have seen some fishermen dig for worms in the moist earth, and others use smaller fish like sardines in their attempt to entice the appetites of their future victims.
Cuban fishermen come in all varieties: those with rods, those with nylon lines and others with their boats that allow them to leave the shore far behind them. Sometimes when we go to the beach we watch them at a distance, feeling a bit jealous that we cannot reach their locations. The same goes on in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other fresh water bodies.
Over the years I have managed to enjoy the magic emanating from some of the places that have become essential for understanding the peculiarities of fishing in Cuba. The first that comes to mind is Caibarien in Villa Clara province which is famous for the superb taste of its crabs. Then, east of Havana, at Santa Cruz de Norte, fishing activity is more organized. There is a so-called La casa del pescador where diners can go to enjoy fish and seafood dishes.
Cojimar, just outside the city, is definitely the most legendary of all these fishing spots: the beauty and ancient traditions of fishing were celebrated by the American writer Ernest Hemingway who used the town as the location for his famous novel “The Old Man and the Sea”. When I was a student, Cojimar was the ideal place to take girls on dates and these excursions wouldn’t be complete until we ran across some fisherman spinning his fishing tales.
Cuba’s south coast is also a real fishing paradise with towns that have been engaged in this activity for decades, turning fishing into an important feature of the local economy. But what is most alluring are the solitary fishermen, whether in Batabano or in the former Oriente Province where places such as Pilon, Niquero and Manzanillo provide the scenario for man and landscape to fuse together into one perfect poetic statement.