By Hanny Rivera
The most common reaction when I told friends I was going to be spending the summer conducting ocean research in Bermuda was a wry smile followed by a cliché joke telling me not to get lost in the Bermuda triangle. Though, to be fair the warning was perhaps well warranted, as I did very recently find myself in the middle of the ocean, on a boat that was quite suddenly and inexplicably sinking. Luckily, the rescue response was as quick as the sudden onset of this mishap and the boat was towed safely back to shore. Apart from that rather disconcerting event, the rest of my stay in the Devil’s Islands (an old Spanish name for Bermuda) has been quite paradisaical. The people of Bermuda are extremely friendly, polite, and helpful. The island has a modest charm that is hard to resist. Brightly colored houses line the slopes along the jagged limestone coasts and mopeds zoom around the winding roads that run across this 20 square mile island. Walking around downtown Hamilton, the capital, I see a plethora of shops, marinas, and restaurants. The streets are clean, the roads in prime condition, and the buildings glean in the bright afternoon sun. As I take this all in, my mind wanders to the streets of an earlier island destination, Cuba.
One hears so many stories about life in Cuba that it becomes nearly impossible to discern what is true, what is in the past, and what is plain exaggeration. I found that certain things were exactly as they had been described, others much worse, and few a bit better. Unfortunately though, the reality was far from what I would ever wish it to be. Instead of the pure clean air one imagines when picturing palm trees and a refreshing ocean breeze, there was overwhelming smog from the reconstituted old cars that strut along the deeply contoured streets. The architectural beauty of Havana’s buildings lies crippled, eroded by time, and gravity becomes a new foe while walking beneath balconies and overhangs. What I find most disheartening however, is that most Cubans have for a large part resigned themselves their fate. In their mind the only route to a better life is overseas. The Bermudian national motto is “Where the fates carry us”; Cuba’s is “Patria o muerte” (Homeland or death), yet I can’t help but wonder why it seems as though it is Cubans that have decided to passively follow the winds of fate. As I struggle to understand why a country full of some of the most hard working and culturally rooted people I have ever met has watched their homeland slowly deteriorate, I can only hope the next gust of winds awakens some new passions.
Hanny was born to Cuban parents and moved to Miami, Fl at the age of two. She is currently a senior in college and studying marine biology and oceanography.