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The Taino, Kiribi, and the Toa River

Thomas Kaokao ©Lynne Buchanan
Probably the most meaningful day of the trip to Cuba for me was our visit to the Toa Duana, a Taino Indian site, watching a dance performance at a Kiribi Indian Village, and taking a boat ride on the Tao, which I opted to go on alone with a guide while the rest of my traveling companions had lunch at Rancho Toa.  

The major reason this day was so memorable was the immediate and profound soul connection I experienced with Thomas Kaokao.  Thomas is a retired farmer and plays the gourd.  While he was accompanying the dancers, he and I connected with our hearts to the point that it brought tears to our eyes.  We made hand gestures and I knew without a doubt that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  Nothing quite like this has ever happened to me with this level of intensity before.  He was so open and the love that he radiated was so pure and boundless.  After the performance was over, I went to our guide and asked her to tell him that he has a beautiful soul.  He was telling her the same thing about me at exactly the same moment.  As our guide, Letitia, another amazingly beautiful human being, translated our words to each other, she kept saying how moving and emotional our encounter was.  Meeting Thomas changed my life in an instant.  He gave me back the hope for truly connecting with another human being which I have been losing.  I still feel the love he shared with me in my heart and I know I will carry it with me always.

Thatched Roof © Lynne Buchanan
I have long known that I have a deep connection with indigenous people.  The respect they have for nature, the love they pour into their artistry and even their chores always moves me.  They don't take things for granted as modern man seems to often do and they live from their hearts without the filters we often put in place to distance ourselves from each other.  Each action is meaningful and they live in the present because of their profound connection with nature and the elements.  When I began studying a thatched roof on one of the buildings intently, I was drawn to the beautiful and unique way it was woven, each section exhibiting a different and beautiful pattern.

Rowing on the Toa ©Lynne Buchanan

While the rest of the group enjoyed a pig roast,  I took a boat ride on the Toa to an island on the mouth of the river with a wonderful guide.  Though I don't speak Spanish and he had never been schooled in English, he had acquired the ability to converse–especially about the river–from having taken many visitors there.  The river was a bit muddy, from all the rain they had recently had, but I could tell that it was far cleaner and healthier than our rivers in Florida and he told me there was no pollution and that the estuary had an abundance of shrimp fish, birds, and other creatures.  The Cuban's don't have the money for chemicals, so all of their agriculture is organic.  They also can't afford fertilizers and they don't have an overpopulation problem that requires diverting lots of water and messing up the balance of fresh and salt water.  The biodiversity along the Toa and in Baracoa is amazing and I hope to return their soon to study the rivers and nature there in more depth.

Fishermen's Hut © Lynne Buchanan
There were several huts like these on the island we visited, where the fishermen took refuge from the sun or during adverse weather conditions.  The beach was covered with almonds too and my guide cracked many for me to eat, so I wouldn't go hungry.

Fisherman on the Toa ©Lynne Buchanan
As we were pulling away in the boat, we saw this fisherman appear on the beach.  He was pointing back to where he came from.  And seemed happy to see us.  Then he wandered off along the beach towards another hut and a different area to fish.

I left a piece of my heart with Thomas and along the Toa.  Cuba is at such an important crossroads.  Nature in that country is still thriving.  Every bookstore has books about the pristine environment, solar energy, and the like in the windows.  Yet, when the country opens up, they are in danger of losing biodiversity just as we have done in the Everglades.  This is definitely an incidence where we can learn from each other.  We can see what would exist if we did not pollute our waterways so much, and they can see what will happen if they don't put proper controls in place before the country opens up, which it will have to do if they are going to improve the economic situation.