That night, at the local bar and salsa dance, word spread and enthusiasm grew for the new caves. The next morning I was thrilled to find I would be accompanied by Tom, Anibal, Renier, Devin (a lively, light-hearted forest service worker from Canada who had the propensity to drop his drawers for the camera whenever given the chance), Turbo, and Russo (they call him “the Russian” for his face and body are wide, strong, and fair-skinned; and he has the strength of an ox as was soon discovered).
Due to the rain and resulting humidity, the cave with Green Machine and La Venganza was soaked, completely unclimbable. I thought we would have to return. But Devin found a passageway and having crawled the length of it discovered it opened into another set of open-air caves, dry and wonderfully climbable. He returned on the outside, along the base of the wall only to require a two person crew to remove all of the stickers from his curly black hair.
Russo borrowed a machete from a local farmer and in less than an hour accomplished more clearing than I had in a day. He is an unstoppable machine, a monster with a machete, and as I learned, scuba gear and machine gun. Anibal made it clear that Russo was his right-hand man on all caving and climbing expeditions because he always got the job done.
Russo was one of those people who always smiles and always has a good story. He is friendly, but something tells you that should there be a war, you’d want him on your side. While in the Cuban military he trained as the equivalent of our Navy Seals. He was once dropped from a helicopter several miles from shore, at night, into the ocean. He swam for 18 hours straight with a full compliment of provisions on his back and kickboard to his front. This guy does not stop.
Another time he was dropped from a helicopter to test a new sport-chute (a parachute that maintains an air-foil as it glides). He landed in a farmer’s field only to be greeted by surprised and highly reactionary farmers armed with machetes. Because of his light skin (Cuba has a rich diversity of ethnic backgrounds) and the fact that he dropped from the sky from an unseen plane in full military camouflage, they assumed he was part of an American invasion. They ran at him while he was collecting his chute and yelled, “Get the American! Kill him!” Russo could not believe what was happening and turned, yelling back, “What? I am Cuban!” They continued to run at him, waving machetes and yelling.
He released himself from his chute, faced them and yelled, “No! Listen to me–I’m Cuban!” But they didn’t believe him. He turned and ran, thinking, What are these people doing? Wait, what am I doing? I have a machine gun! He turned again, still running, waved his gun and yelled, “You people are crazy! I have a machine gun and you have only machetes! What are you doing?!” No matter, they kept running at him, yelling “Kill the American!” Russo thought, These Cubans are c-r-a-z-y! No one will ever invade this country! Eventually, he was able to convince them he was in fact Cuban and walk to the rendezvous point without further concern for the farmers’ army.