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Published: October 25th 2019
In 2008 the old city center of Camaguey became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for very good reasons. As our bus entered and drove through twisty, narrow streets full of bici-taxis (human powered bicycle rickshaws), people, and some cars and motorcycles, very quickly I couldn't figure out any direction at all. These streets are like a labyrinth, a maze purposely built this way to confuse pirates and any other attackers, to try to keep the city center safe from marauders. Even with my usually good sense of direction, I needed a map to keep from getting lost. I didn't explore the old city center as much as I'd have liked to do, but one other woman and I walked the length of the longest pedestrian street (less than a mile long) both evenings we were there. The city is safe, but maybe not so safe for older Western-looking women; we were warned several times about purse-snatchers although apparently this is rare.
One evening after dinner, some in our group wanted to get ice cream for dessert. I wasn't hungry, and don't eat dairy anyway, but appreciated spending time with these interesting and very enjoyable ladies, so the four of us set out on the hunt. Since I'm the only one with a smattering of Spanish, after one lady in our group tried asking directions in English and received blank stares in return, I tried with my pidgin Tarzan-like Spanish. Voila! Usually it worked. While we were stopping to ask, a small street dog attached itself to us, barking loudly when a Cuban man came near us. Earlier that day a local guide had told us that street dogs could differentiate between tourists and Cubans, that they liked Americans because we fed them, and so they would protect us. I doubted if anyone believed him. Well, after the light bulb went off and I remembered what he had said, I realized he was telling the truth; here was our own little protector dog, doing a very fine job of trotting beside or in front of us, barking ferociously whenever we'd pass through groups of locals. This little guardian dog also ran after a local male bicyclist, probably thinking it was scaring him away. It was very touching to have this sentry dog with us, especially since we had nothing to feed it. S/he accompanied us as we wound our way through labyrinthine streets; sometimes we'd lose sight of him/her, but there s/he'd be again, somehow just in front of where we were heading. We walked for maybe half an hour searching for ice cream, getting lost in the maze of streets and then finding our way again; the whole time our little dog stayed near us. When we got back to our hotel we said good-bye and thanked him/her; this pup looked at us and then trotted off, I guessed to go and find another group of tourists to protect.
The next morning as I was walking to the bus I was surprised by this same little dog; s/he came running up to me, wagging his (or her) tail furiously, and jumping for joy. I was delighted to see him (or her) again too, but still had no food to offer. After the previous night I had not expected to see this pup again. Poor little one! S/he was still protecting us as we boarded the bus, barking even at one of the men in our group. Such a fine little soul, but we had nothing in return to give to this generous street dog, who offered exactly what s/he could to total strangers. There are lessons to be learned here, all from one small angel dog.
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