Tomorrow we head back to the U.S., which means this is our last full day in Cuba (and I do mean full day!). Notwithstanding the many activities in our schedule, I have from time to time been enjoying short forays around the campus at Matanzas – and earlier, in Havana, too – to indulge my love of birding. Absent the help of a printed field guide for birds in Cuba, I am delighted to discover that many of the birds here are recognizable and quite similar to North American species with which I am familiar.
Each day in Matanzas I have enjoyed the song and antics of a Bahama Mockingbird – a “life bird” for me (that is, a bird I’ve never previously seen and therefore can add to my “life list” of cumulative bird species sightings).
This Mockingbird, an unmistakably close relation to the ones that are so common back home, reminds me of an embarrassing lesson I learned many years ago. In my earliest days as a birder, I carefully perused various Field Guides to the Birds of North America. I found it curious that the names of two common birds, Cardinals and Mockingbirds, both were preceded by the word “Northern.” When I saw that the range of these birds extended to the extreme southernmost parts of the United States, I scoffed at how ridiculous it seemed to call them “Northern Cardinals” and “Northern Mockingbirds.” Then I ran across a mention of the Bahama Mockingbird. Busted!
Perhaps I feel the sting more keenly because when I was younger I actually lived for extended periods in Mexico, Brazil, and in what was then known as the Panama Canal Zone. As a result of these experiences, I suppose I felt I had garnered a somewhat less parochial perspective about the world than many of my fellow Americans. Yet (this is difficult to admit) as a novice birder, no doubt influenced by the regional character of North American birding guides, my narrow perspective lacked meaningful reference to a world beyond the borders of my homeland.
This is perhaps a parable of sorts when it comes to the value of immersion experiences like this one. Much of what is gained here cannot be put into words. But as the term “immersion” suggests, our time here is much more than a simple visit. It is an opportunity to shift our perspective beyond the boundaries within which we usually center ourselves, an invitation to welcome a larger world into our world view.
Back to the birds for just a moment. There are two types of hummingbirds in Cuba – the Emerald Hummingbird (known locally as zunzún) and the Bee Hummingbird. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird alive and is found only in Cuba. Although I missed seeing that treasure, less than 15 minutes before our departure I was thrilled to capture fuzzy but readily identifiable images of a male Emerald Hummingbird – thanks in large part to the keen senses of our driver throughout this immersion, Augusto. Augusto also found and shared with me the location of a zunzún nest. Together we became fast friends tracking a variety of other birds, as well, which I am eager to share with fellow birders but unwilling to inflict on other innocent readers of this blog.
The journey from Matanzas Province brings us back to La Habana for a meeting of our group with the President of the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Reinerio Arce Valentín, followed by lunch at the Presbyterian Church. Reinerio is wise as well as learned, and leaves a deep impression.
Next is a visit with a distinguished Methodist pastor, Humberto Fuentes, who warmly welcomes us into his home. He is an enchanting storyteller, and his thoughtfulness is apparent as he shares his experiences and responds to our varied questions.
From the home of Pastor Fuentes we go to enjoy our final evening meal in Cuba at a restaurant where we meet with the new Decano (dean) of the Seminario Metodista in Cuba, Alfredo Rafael Gonzalez Carballosa, a 2006 alumnus of the Course of Study at Perkins School of Theology.
The long, rewarding day concludes with la ceremonia cañonazo, which has been celebrated at 9 p.m. each night for hundreds of years. It dates from the days when a single mighty blast from a massive cannon announced across the entire city the imminent closing of the gate to the city walls for the night. The elaborate ceremony features dozens of persons dressed in Spanish colonial uniforms marching with drums and torches in preparation for firing the massive armament. While it clearly is designed in some respects as a draw for tourists (who have the opportunity to avail themselves of souvenirs from dozens of street vendors), it also appears to attract many locals. Those who did not remember to cover their ears in time will testify to the intensity of the thunderous discharge precisely on the hour.
Back at the Hotel Saint John for one last night in Cuba, I cannot fall asleep. I do not want this trip to end. I will rise early with a few hours of sleep and a rush of excitement propelling me into our day of departure.