The Highest Embrace

Going through the sentimental and physical intensities in a peak month, like this August has been, when the Hermanos Saíz Association is turning three decades, the echoes of the traditional pilgrimage to the highest point of Cuba staged by the artistic youth could not be overlooked

By: Yoelvis L. Moreno Fernández


2016-08-29 | 13:32:38 EST
FidelFidel Photo: Adriana Riera PérezZoom

August 28, 2016


With fearless rush, amid memorable days, a searing heat and its relaxed look, a mixture of sport apparel, swimsuit, rest days, Olympic Games on TV and temptation for the carnival, August is walking off the calendar. It gives us a wink and flees, causing that worrying feeling which makes us think about the passing of time.


But that cannot be relayed to us just like that, without going through the sentimental and physical intensities of a peak month, the young writers and artists of the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS), always interconnected by good ideas, in a year when the organization is turning three decades, and once more August has been the compass for a rediscovery through the highest point of Cuba.


First Stop Santiago de Cuba


No other city could serve better as the introduction to the climb, before so many footprints and evocation of Fidel among the people with an always suggestive Moncada which is a symbolic haunt for many generations.


On the streets of the city the visitors are offered a testimony of a once-rebel city. This can be seen by walking around museums like that dedicated to Frank País García or the one to underground struggle in the historic Loma del Intendente , or in the house where Antonio Maceo was born, or the Vilma Espín Guillois memorial, places visited by us.


The first eight kilometers until Aguada de Joaquín allowed to behold an amazing flora. Photo: Rubiel García González


As a foretaste of what was to come we climbed the Loma del Cimarrón, an altitude with syncretic accent, after we all made a procession of faith to the sanctuary of “el Cobre” where we prayed to the Virgen de la Caridad, Patron´s Saint of Cuba for love.


But Martí was first and foremost for all of us. He was the inspiration giving way to other inspirations. That´s why we went to meet with him in the Santa Ifigenia cementery.


The inhabitants of the hill shared with the young troop, and danced alongside Adrián Berazaín and the joyful  rhythm of the theme Estoy buscando una jevita nueva  (I´m looking for a new girl). Photo: Liesther Amador González.

We could say that climbing the Turquino was a tour around Marti´s history, from the dimension and relevance everyone was able to give to these moments full of memories about the most universal of Cubans.


We were honored to be in Remanganagua; and in the cemetery of that small village, which gives the feeling of being trapped in oblivion, we put our heads on the foot of the sculpture, which perpetuates the first burial of the Apostle.


After this we were fueled by the eagerness for reaching the top and find the bust of Martí at the highest point of Cuba, 1 974 above the sea level.


Bayamo, Bartolomé Masó, Providencia, Santo Domingo. We were ready to go, the time to climb had come, and before setting out we camped at the Ramón Paz Borroto scouting schoolchildren center in the wee hours of day 12, the first institution of its kind in the country inaugurated by Fidel three decades and a half ago, which much to our sorrow has been neglected and closed for over a year.


We were awaken by Damaris at four in the morning, who alongside photographer Rubén Aja and writer Yanser Fraga, would stay in the rearguard guaranteeing the shipment of goods in mules and taking care of the supplies we left at the camp.


Cimarrón erectus


Those who have climbed the Turquino from Santiago are credited with having conquered the altitude through its most complex route, where you are climbing all the time roughly 11 kilometers, and that distance is to be covered in a single day.


But from Granma the tour is easier, with a tendency to nature, although not without physical effort, since you are moving through uphill and downhill along extremely humid passages, wooden staircases and ductile banisters, tripping on roots and cliffs if the drizzle catches you by surprise.


As expert with over ten years scouting the area Oilé Álvarez Álvarez say the first eight kilometers of the tour until Aguada de Joaquín, are an invitation to  enjoy the diversity of flora and fauna, since many endangered species like la sabina, el tocororo, la cartacuba can be observed, as well as some types of woodpeckers.


While a small group tried to get first, the majority keeps the pace, holding some fatigue in the legs, or paralyzing cramps. But restless Labrada encouraged us to move on.


«Cimarrón erectus» shouts the leader. And hold on to your hat for what is to come: a virtually endless uphill. Then you should eat a candy drink some water or soda, and pluck up courage to go on.


Fortunately kilometers were left behind, and in the rustic parks with wooden seats allow to take a breather, the people take oxygen and release tensions on their own.


When at last we reached Aguada de Joaquín the longest journey was overcome, although not the hardest one. There we recharge our batteries, took an evening rest and we put on coats before five o´clock in the afternoon.


Beyond the known point


Loma de Joaquín was our first climb on day 13. The most experienced suggested that it was better not to see that 800 meters of altitude, which was named after one of the two inhabitants of the area, who helped Swedish naturalist Erik Leonard Ekman, considered one of the researchers who has contributed most to the botanic knowledge of the island, in his journey to Pico Turquino in the early 20th century.


With cell phone torches, a hand lamp, and some other light, the first sign was noticed until it was gradually clearer and the walk became more fluent. The most complicated stretch was the Paso de los monos due to the slippery ground. But the journey was more entertaining, when we started to sweat even before daybreak.


When the last members of the group arrived in the summit, where the bust by Jilma Madeira is erected, it was still early and we were sure we would be the first to sing happy birthday on Fidel´s anniversary from the highest point of his Island-Revolution.


After the speech by AHS president Rubiel García González about the significance of being there that day, the collective embrace crowned the moment. The singer songwriter played «por encima de lo conocido» (Beyond the known point) and the emblematic photo which immortalizes every climb was taken, many images also reflect our visit the next morning to the Comandancia de la Plata, where Fidel set up his guerrilla base, from where the rebel army fought the tyranny´s offensive in 1958 and went down the hill to complete their missions.


What days to appeal for enthusiasm! How to ignore the sentimental humidity of our raining trip around sunset to La Platica, that community surrounded by the hills, which sheltered that young troop in the evening of August 13. A cultural show was dedicated to Fidel by the artists, consisting in games, drama and music.


August is wearing off and we also expect the heat to let up a little with these relentless sun rays which are unbearable sometimes. But the embrace remain in an intense August of young drive with experience to tell and become infected with, and to keep up creating, since that´s art: an endless pact of foundation.


Translated by ESTI        

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