Scare fails to knock us off course

I REGRET to say that I cannot tell my readers much about Irish bird activity this week other than what I can see in my garden or from the windows of the car parked alongside the bay.

I cannot, for instance, walk to the lonely cove where the ravens nest each year, although it is only 10 minutes from home.

The reason is a torn achilles tendon sustained while legging it after a thief through the midnight streets of Havana, Cuba. Most folk in their right mind wouldn’t have done this but what is one’s right mind?, I ask.

The robbery happened in seconds. As my wife was opening the door to our city-centre lodgings there was suddenly a big youth between us, all dressed in white, including a white baseball cap.

In a second, he had torn her bag from her shoulder and thrown her to the ground and I was off after him, zero to 60 in 10 seconds, faster than I’ve run since I was 18.

“Ladrón, ladrón!” (“Robber, robber!”) I shouted as I hared through the empty, half-lit streets of late-night Havana — not that it did any good or that I had any hope of catching him. Just as well I didn’t, of course.

It was our own fault. We’d been almost three weeks in the quiet town of Baracoa where one could walk the dimly-lit streets at night with no fear. We forgot that we were back in a big city — I wouldn’t feel too safe in a dark Dublin side-street at midnight, would you?

Crime against tourists is almost unknown in Cuba, due to the swift and summary punishments exacted upon any Cuban caught messing with a visitor and to the fact that Fidel shipped out most of the local criminals to Florida where the governor, George W Bush’s brother, Jeb, receives 80% of the Cuban vote.

Meanwhile, after three blocks of adrenalin-induced sprinting, I suddenly think “What the hell am I doing? Go back and find your wife!” I found her already following me, bleeding and very shaken. We made our way back to the house.

Her arm and hand were bruised and lacerated. We put antiseptic and plaster on the wounds. We slept very little that night but next morning were already recovering. We didn’t go to the police because it would have taken all day.

Happily, before the robbery, Marie had left her passport, visa paper and credit card in our room. However, earlier, she’d drawn cash to pay two night’s room and board, taxi to the airport and airport taxes to leave Cuba, so about €150 went down the drain.

Given that, in Cuba, a doctor earns €20 a month, the kid had made off with the equivalent of seven month’s doctors’ wages. Had he been caught, he’d have gone to jail for 10 to 20 years. Had I caught him, I’d probably be in hospital still. But… no bones broken, although the damaged arm remains painful and I’ll be your hopalong correspondent for a while.

Sobering as this tale is, let it not deter my readers from visiting Cuba. In five decades of wandering through Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Japan, SE Asia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Mexico etc., I have never been successfully robbed. In Spain, I’ve caught pickpockets in the act four times, in Istanbul once and, again, once, at a bus stop in India, I saw an arm sticking out of my shoulder-bag and grabbed it but then released the guy before the people around me, many of them pickpocket victims, tore him apart.

In Havana, we simply forgot that we were back in big city land. In the cities, better not to carry shoulder bags or, indeed, any bags, at night.

Back home and from the car window, I saw a red tide washing into west Cork’s Dunmanus Bay, so viscous and vivid that one thought of James Clarence Mangan’s great line, “Oh, the Erne shall run red with redundance of blood”. It was, of course, not blood but algae, toxic to other water life but soon, happily. to break up.

We’re off on the road again shortly, this time visiting family in the Czech Republic and Spain.

So far, so good.

The Havana runaround put a limp in my stride but not a stop to my gallop. Neither did it knock a feather out of Marie, only left them briefly disarrayed.


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