We spent the day in an orange grove, eating fruit and resting. We marched at night again, towards Loma Larga. We are headed for civilisation. I hope.
We got to a town called Sostenos Vargas and we had to stop. Che was vomiting (he said it was Bengino’s cooking) and everyone was really tired from all the walking. Some peasants sold us a pig which we killed. The rest of them ran away from us. ‘Maybe they are frightened of our smell,’ Pombo said. ‘Nonsense,’ Che replied. ‘We bathed only a couple of weeks ago.’ I expect we do smell rank to normal people but we’ve been months without changing clothes and Che’s ‘bath’ was taken in a river. We have more things to worry about than smelling bad. As Inti said ‘they’ll kill us whatever we smell like.’
Julio and Coco were given some eggs by some women in the village and we ate them raw. We took it as a good sign that at least not all the peasants are against us. They were invited to sleep at the women’s house but of course they just brought the eggs back to us.
People are going ahead of us telling everyone which was we are coming. That is really bad news. He reached a place called Pujio today and they were expecting us. They said that a soldier had been there earlier, but no one had told about us. He had simply come, they said, to arrest a peasant who owed money. I look in their eyes and I see fear, so I don’t know what to believe.
We are walking slowly. The mules are difficult to manage. Moro is still weak. Che’s asthma is never far away. There is no medicine so we are doing everything we can to take it easy and not provoke a full attack. I don’t know what would happen if he has one here. We are near La Higuera and Che made it known that if we see him we will apprehend him. We are going into La Higuera and from there Camba has been told he must try and get to Santa Cruz and get word out and get us some extra recruits. And some asthma medicine!
Today we got to Picacho and everyone was very friendly. It wasn’t to last. We pushed on to La Higuera. It was like a ghost town. No men and just a few women dotted about. I went with Coco to the telegraph operator’s house. There is a telephone there and we got a message from a few days ago which was from the subprefect of the Valle Grande region asking the Mayor of La Higuera if he had seen us – and to tell him if they do. Only the operator’s wife was there. She swore than no one had informed on us but I don’t believe her.
We were about to leave town, early in the afternoon, when shots came from the ridge above town. We’d left a group behind and it sounded like they’d fallen into an ambush. We positioned ourselves in the village to defend ourselves and wait for our men to come. Soon Beningo, Ancieto and Pablito came. Benigno and Pablito were both wounded. Ancieto told us that Julio, Coco and Miguel had all been killed. Camba had run away.
Inti told us what happened. He said that Miguel was killed instantly. The bullet that went through Benigno’s shoulder had then killed Coco. Pablito’s foot was dislocated in his attempt to retreat. Inti was really upset by Coco’s death. He told me of a conversation they had had just after Ricardo’s death. Coco had told Inti that he didn’t want to see Inti killed. He said ‘I think that if anyone dies first, it will be me.’ There were tears in Inti’s eyes as he told me this, but he did not cry. ‘It is not in my nature to cry’ Jejenito he said as he brushed his eyes. ‘You will never see me cry.’
We got out of the village as quickly as we could, those who were left. Without Miguel we’ve lost one of our best scouts. I was at the back of the group with Che and Moro who were moving slower than the rest and we got taken under fire but managed to escape. When we caught up with the rest of the group, Leon had disappeared – Inti said he’d turned coward like Camba and run. I hope the soldiers find him not us, he deserves no better. We set the mules loose in the hope that they will run in any direction and prove a distraction to the soldiers.
After resting in the darkest hours we set off again before it was lightWe had to climb up a hill. There is virtually no cover here and planes are flying overhead. Then we spotted a road. Ancieto was sent off to explore and he came back to report that there was a house with a lot of soldiers in it nearby. There are soldiers everywhere. You can see their guns glinting in the sun. From time to time they start firing machine guns. They may have pinpointed Leon or Camba because you can hear them shouting ‘he’s over there’ before they fire. But they may just be firing randomly because they want to prove themselves. At any rate, they’ve not found us yet.
We don’t have any water and very low on food. And low on good men. I’ve not even had time to think of how much of a loss Coco, Miguel and Julio are, but looking around me I see a real shortage of men with guts. Maybe that’s not fair. Still some of us are staying strong but there is a sense of fear as well.
Soldiers passed right in front of us more than once. I don’t know how we survived today. Someone fired a shot when they were very close to us and they took up positions against us. We are down in a ravine and there is not much cover. Somehow we managed to hide from them. I don’t want another day like this one in my life. Of course it is raining. I hate this place.
I stayed with Che while Inti led a scouting party to the nearest village. There had been reports that Che had been shot and killed on the radio, but later they admitted this wasn’t true. They don’t seem to know who they have killed. Only we know. It is pretty clear now that Joaquin’s group have been wiped out. Certainly the discussion we had made it clear that we are no longer looking for them. We have to protect ourselves first. We have a lot of trouble in the group. Chino has lost his glasses and Che said he would look after him. I feel a bit jealous that Che was looking after him so closely which I know is wrong. Che has no favourites and I have no right to be considered such. I should try to help Chino too.
Soldiers were around the village all day going up and down the hill road with donkeys carrying supplies. So we can’t get out by that route as they may well have an ambush. We are sitting ducks at the moment. We have to find a way out and tomorrow more men will be sent to find one. I keep asking to be sent but Pombo and Che keep telling me no. They say it’s because I have a poor sense of direction, or because I am needed to carry the radio. I don’t believe them. I don’t really want to go towards the soldiers but I don’t like sitting here waiting to meet my fate. At least I am near Che. Though that of course may be the most dangerous spot in the country as he reminds me every so often with a smile. I try to be brave and respond ‘There is nowhere else I would rather be.’ I have to admit that today that felt like a lie. I would rather be back in my bed in Cuba. Today for the first time I really wished I had stayed home. I hope the feeling will pass. I don’t want to die a coward. I don’t see how I will come out of this alive.
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