I’ve only been truly scared once during my travels. Thankfully Martin from Germany was there to save the day.
I was nearing the end of my amazing three weeks in Cuba. I’d booked a couple nights in Santa Marta just outside of Varadero, the popular seaside resort town. I thought I’d treat myself to a full day of lazing on the beach before heading back to Havana to say my goodbyes. Unfortunately, the weather did not quite cooperate.
It began storming the night I arrived, and I awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and drizzle. The hostess at my homestay assured me the rain would let up soon, so I suited up in warm layers and headed across the bridge toward the seemingly endless expanse of walkable beach.
As promised, the rain had eased by the time I arrived, replaced by wind so strong I could hardly walk. A nightmare, you might think…but I love the wind. The rain had scared the sun-worshippers away, and I had the entire beach nearly all to myself. It was actually pretty perfect.
I walked for hours, occasionally stopping to look for seashells, or pausing to close my eyes and spread my wings when the wind would gust.
I noticed him pretty early on. Very tall blonde dude, definite backpacker, possibly near my age range. Hmm…cute. He passed me first, then stopped to take pictures. Inevitably my slow meandering caught up with him and I took the lead. And soon after, his long legs won out and he passed me yet again. This happened several times before he finally disappeared into the distance.
Eventually I ducked into town for lunch — and instantly spotted him coming out of a shop across the street. Ha! Of course he would be there. It was starting to get weird. I wondered if I should introduce myself, since we so obviously seemed to be on the same path that day. But I am shy and couldn’t work up the courage.
After lunch, I headed back to the beach for the slow wander home. I was kicking myself a little, thinking I should’ve at least said hi, when who should walk past me but Tall Blonde Dude. Same path, indeed! It was comical by this point, and I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. A firm believer in fate, I decided I had to say something to him. And I had a chance at sunset, when he stopped to take pictures of the brilliant orange sun furiously fighting its way through the clouds. But all I could manage was a shy smile as I walked by. Within minutes he was ahead of me on the beach, and my opportunity was gone.
The light was fading quickly, and I still had some distance to cover. But I could just barely make out the tiny figure of Tall Blonde Dude up ahead in the distance, and I felt oddly comforted.
By the time I got to the bridge leading to Santa Marta, it was pitch black and had begun to rain; I was still twenty minutes from home. I looked around quickly, as the pedestrian walkway on the bridge is very narrow and a bit precarious. No one in sight. Cinching up the hood on my rain jacket, I unfurled my umbrella, useless against the wind, and hurried my pace. About halfway across the bridge, I heard footsteps behind me. I kept my head down and walked as fast as I could, huddled into myself to keep warm. It was seriously pouring at this point.
“Buenas noches,” a male voice called from behind me in a rather forceful tone. I wasn’t sure if it was intended for me, and I didn’t turn around to check. Had it been daylight, or dry for that matter, I might’ve answered. But walking alone at night and being approached from behind, I didn’t feel comfortable. Especially when a second ago the street had been empty. This felt wrong. I kept my head down and tried to move over to allow him to pass. He didn’t.
“Buenas noches!” An angrier tone, even closer this time. I’m sure the stranger thought I was being rude, but I was beginning to feel scared. I stayed silent and increased my pace.
Once I arrived at the other side of the bridge, I rushed toward a streetlight, then quickly turned around to confront whoever was behind me. I collapsed my umbrella and clutched it in my hand, ready to use as a weapon. No way was I going to be blindly attacked from behind! The man walked up to me, got right in my face and shouted in fury, “Buenas noches!” before passing me. But instead of moving on, he stopped ahead on the sidewalk and turned to face me, waiting.
I finally answered him in a similar tone. “Buenas noches!” He just stood there, staring at me and seething. Everyone I had met in Cuba up until this point had been so friendly; I had no idea why he was so angry, but I knew I still had several blocks before I was home, and I was terrified to walk past this man.
“Qué? Qué quieres? Véte!” What? What do you want? Go away! I told him angrily in Spanish. No way was I going to let him see my fear. But he started walking toward me. I quickly glanced at the cars rushing past in the street, gauging the traffic and wondering wildly if I could get someone to stop and help if it came to that.
“Hello,” I suddenly heard behind me. I turned and nearly collapsed with relief. Tall Blonde Dude was walking up behind me, a miracle vision in the night rain. “I think I saw you before on the beach, yes?” he asked in accented English.
“Yes!” I cried. I had never been happier to see someone in my entire life. I quickly glanced to the spot the angry stranger had been standing a moment before, and saw his shadow retreating in the distance.
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much!” I effused. I explained what had just happened.
“Yes, I noticed him talking to you and wasn’t quite sure what was going on.”
“I’m pretty sure you just saved my life,” I declared, relieved beyond measure.
We introduced ourselves and chatted on the rainy walk into town. It turns out Martin from Germany was staying quite near me, and so he walked me home. When we reached my road, I started to shake his hand and say goodbye, expressing my thanks yet again.
He had the oddest look on his face, as if just struck by some great realization. He clutched at my hand, unwilling to let go, and stared at me in a mixture of wonder and astonishment. We were both completely drenched, grinning at each other like fools in the rain.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked hurriedly.
“I leave for Havana in the morning.”
“Oh.” He was disappointed. “Well, how can I see you again?”
I turned my face up toward the sky and laughed into the rain. Oh fate, you are hilarious. This poor guy was captivated because he mistook our constantly crossed paths as a sign of an inevitable love connection. I admit I’d made the same mistake, and only moments before had realized the true meaning for our meeting. Yes, the universe had definitely intervened…but not for some grand romantic scene. I was suddenly certain Martin had appeared in my life that day so he could be there for me when I desperately needed someone. He quite possibly, maybe, saved my life.
And so, while it wasn’t exactly the Hollywood movie ending we deserved, it was perfect all the same. It was enough.
“Maybe I’ll run into you in Havana.” I gave Martin’s hand one final squeeze before letting go, then turned and walked away, leaving him to stare after me in the rain.