Here in Madrid, Spain, I reunited with Dalia, a friend I have not seen since 2004 in the little mountain town of Vinales, Cuba.

Between the two of us, we recalled so many splendid moments in those distant days, when the call of the limestone climbing was all that mattered. I would sharpen a machete each morning and march through farmers’ fields, cutting pathways to caves and boulders. The Cubanos on their way to work, standing in the back of a Russian dump truck or crammed too tight in an old bus, would pass and yell to me, wondering why this American was carrying a machete and where he could be going.

Each weekend my Cuban friends would follow me to those hollow domes, to be the first to climb the new problems I had set. Do you remember “La vangenza de Ana Maria”? A mossy, slippery, nearly green wall at the back of the cave. Ana Maria, the smallest of us all, was the first to make it to the top without falling.

When the sun had set, we filled the plastic containers my host family daily provided for my lunch with rocks and sand, marching down the middle of the road by moonlight. We danced and sang to the rhythm of shakers and shoes against pavement.

Once we were camped at a home not registered as a casa particular and a neighbour called the police, a typical event in a totalitarian state. Anibal’s aunt would be fined, jailed, or worse–if caught with Americans in her home. Taralee and I jumped in the back of a dump truck and sped off to a designated intersection marked by a large tree, an hour down the road. We were reunited later that day and Anibal’s aunt was unscathed.

Posterboy Anibal, Russo, Renier, Dalia and Elaine, El Turbo and Anna Maria, the German Tom and Canadian Devin. What an eclectic crew, like none before and none to come again. Dalia confirmed this evening, as we walked to catch her bus, “You came at a special time Kai. Those days were very unique. Nearly everyone we knew left Cuba and Vinales was never the same.”

Those moments came to life for me again, like something out of a story book.

Thank you Dalia, for conversation and story time.