“To walk the countryside in Cuba, I was sure, would be to share the paths and highways with average citizens of all ages walking to work, to their fields, or between their villages. I would learn the realities of the country firsthand.”
–Richard Fleming, in Walking to Guantánamo
Title: Walking to Guantánamo // Author: Richard Fleming // Publisher: Commons // 2008 // 351 p.
A good travel book always gets me in the mood for my own wanderings. Leading up to my recent vacation (and on the plane), I was reading Richard Fleming’s Walking to Guantánamo, a nonfiction book about the author’s quest to cross Cuba the long way, on foot. Fleming takes the simple approach to his journey: “Other than to make my way to the western city of Pinar del Río, put on my backpack, and walk the thousand or so miles it would take to reach Guantánamo Bay, I really didn’t have much of a plan.” Maybe it’s Fleming’s lack of planning that allows so many wonderful experiences to permeate his journey. He explores the richness of a culture that dabbles in Santería and Voudou; he birdwatches at the Bay of Pigs; he witnesses a spoken-word poetry competition, he and dances along with the stream of music that seems to flow from every Cuban household. Fleming cheats early and cheats often on his plan to walk across Cuba—but his hilarious forays onto tractors, donkey carts, trains, and finally a bike are what make him an honest and endearing guide.
I met Fleming at McMurdo Station, Antarctica a few summers ago while he was working as a sound recordist for an artists and writers’ group. He let me read one of his early chapters while I was working the night shift on a communications gig. I knew then that this book would prove to be the adventurous and colorful account that it turned out to be. Beyond being entertaining and funny and keen to explore Cuban culture, Fleming refuses to ignore the dark undercurrent that flows through a nation riddled with political pain. In doing so, he reveals a complex and realistic picture of this place.
Walkers, adventurers, lovers of music and culture: this book is for you.