“I offer guided tours around Santiago de Cuba and Havana”. If I were you, seeing such an announcement would immediately ask the guy “Well, who are you?”, will you not? Let me answer.
My name is Stoicho Kiosev and I am not Cuban – by birth, by nationality. But by destiny – yes. I was a child when my father used to tell me stories, to show me pictures, even to try to persuade me that our town looked like it was a Cuban one. The life was following its logical way – I was lucky to graduate the English Language School in our town, then “Philosophy” in the University of Sofia, got my PhD, came back and was having wonderful time and wonderful students in different schools of my town. But, may be because of my father’s infatuation about Cuba, may be because of some unknown adventurous ancestor, the dream of traveling around the world, of visiting strange and exotic countries, of sharing extraordinary experience with people from other worlds and cultures was always, always within reach. Until one day… One day I had to make my choice. My children were nearing the age of University students, to support three students with a teacher’s salary was impossible and I grabbed the first chance. Joined a ship as a Store Utility, the lowest position, the lowest salary but… I didn’t regret it for a second. Lord was very, very good to me. I was able to support my children, I was visiting places that wouldn’t have seen even in my dreams, on board we had crew from 24 different countries. What more? But there was more, much more to come.
One day the charterer of our ship changed and the new one started world cruises with Japanese passengers. Can you imagine, WORLD CRUISES. Seventeen times I was around the world, seventeen times on different routes. It was 81 countries, 132 cities and towns, can I mention them? Of course, not. I will just tell you that I was buying old silver coins in Shanghai, changing whisky for furs at the market of Bergen, buying sapphires an gross in Sri Lanca, got acquainted with the owner of a small mine for emeralds in Columbia, I have a silver opium pipe from Singapore, a bull-horn one from Danang, a sword from the sword of a swordfish from Punta Arenas, a beautiful ebony chita from Mombasa, the mariachi in Acapulco and San Salvador have performed for my friends and me, in Sankt Peterburg I tried all the strange drinks in the small bar (rjumachnaja) at the Baltic Rail Station and then a brass orchestra of seven veterans performed “Marsh Slavjanki” for me. I have seen tango danced alive on the square of San Telmo, Buenos Aires, took part in the carnival of Copacabana, saw the final match between “Flamenco” and “Botafogo” at Maracana, I have tasted sashimi in front of the small shops in Harumi (the birthing place of the famous sushi), Tokyo, mahi-mahi at the Sunday market in Thaiti, cooked frog in Kilung, Taiwan, calamares gigantes in Valparaiso, Chile, crocodile meat in the crocodile farm near Mombasa, single malt in the smallest brewery in Scotland – Oban. I bathed in the cold waters of Seaward, Alaska, less than a mile from the nearest glacier, in Ushuaia too, in the wild ocean waters of Easter Islands and in a hot geyser near Rejkijavik, fished in Spitsbergen, Stornoway, Antarktida and Greenland, but…
Cuba, Cuba was never to come… Until one day, once in all of them seventeen cruises around the world, we were to step in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba. I knew it, I knew that it will turn out to be something beautiful, something absolutely extraordinary. And there were so many omens on the way from Las Palmas. Even an enormous marlin appeared early one morning to remind me about “The Old Man and the Sea”. And the omens didn’t let me down. It was charming, luxurious, rich – beautiful old terraces with real “Mohito”, “Daiquiri”, Ron Anejo and Monte Christo cigars, absolutely perfect street musicians. The people were mild and friendly, in a small bookshop three old hands were playing and singing the boleros and guarachas that make Cuban music such a magic and somehow, very naturally, this grew in a fiesta that gradually included the people from the neighbor shops, the passing tourists, there was singing, there was dancing, there were promises for eternal friendships, “My house is your house” and all this with a bottle of rum and several cigars, that is all. Can you imagine something better? I couldn’t.
But sometimes life is surpassing even the bravest dreams. After the bookshop fiesta, not knowing where we go but happy to go there we passed around an old time bar in a Baroque-style building. I am saying this now, at that moment I almost didn’t have eyes, everything had turned into ears, yes, really, it was an angels’ song coming from the windows of the bar. We immediately got ourselves sticked to the window and then the eyes came back – four beautiful, absolutely beautiful ladies, in four different colors – from coal black to milk white (with just a touchhhh of cocoa) were sitting around a table, sipping their beers, relaxing after the concert they had given to our Japanese passengers and singing, just like that. It was the destiny. Then for four years we kept on exchanging letters with my beautiful Mayi, the ship never again neared Cuba, but I knew it, I was sure, my love will wait for me and one day I will come to Cuba, marry her and we will live together. So it happened. Already four years.
So, I am not Cuban, but I am a devoted lover of Cuba, a great admirer of the Cuban music, a president of the fan-club of “Vocal Vidas”, the a capelo quartet of my Mayi, still crazy (“after all these years” – do you remember Simon and Garfunkel) about their music, eager to learn more and more about the history, culture and mentality of Cuba, to try more of the really rich Cuban cocktails, rums, cigars, the elegant Cuban fruits and… to share my experience.
In a few words – I am Bulgarian, sixty years old, my English is good, my Russian is not bad, I manage Spanish and I think myself well-trained to keep my eyes (years, nostrils, etc) open to enjoy life because in fact it is so short, isn’t it? And you can contact me using the “Contact Us” button.