Daymé Arocena, singer, composer, jazz and rumba musician, always sings dressed in white and barefoot, dedicating herself to the public with great energy. Author of two records, Nueva Era (with which the world discovered her) and Cubafonía (with which Cuba discovered her), she, who is a woman of the sea, for the time being recommends the freshwater of a river.
Daymé Arocena didn’t know where she was. It was night and to top it off there was a power cut. But she was sure of one thing: she was passing through a part of the center of Cuba, some mountain town. It was cold, dark and there was a sound: water falling loudly.
Daymé, her boyfriend Pablo and the driver of the taxi had spent three hours going up and down hills in a screeching almendrón. It was tortuous but fun. It was a surprise. That’s why Daymé didn’t know anything. It was her 26th birthday on that February 4 and all that was Pablo’s gift.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea that El Nicho existed,” says Daymé. “It’s not a place like Varadero that, although you’ve never gone there, we at least know it exists.”
That night they were received by Mary, a lady who told them that before she used to live in Cienfuegos, with her already rather grown up children. But she fell in love with El Gordo, went to live there, in the middle of the Escmbray – Cuba’s third most important mountain range -, and together they opened the first known paladar in El Nicho.
With the light of a kerosene lamp, Mary cooks them fish, an entire tray of rice and beans and plantain chips. “Those farmers cook super well,” Daymé says. “The best thing is to eat with them.”
“Tomorrow get up very early,” Mary recommends them.
At five thirty in the morning the roosters started singing and the couple woke up with that chorus. Mary prepared them hot milk and a small cheese sandwich for breakfast. The sun had just risen when they got to the cascades.
“Since we got to El Nicho so early, for us it was two in the morning. I remember that when I saw the first cascade, which is the one at the entrance, I said: oh my god, how beautiful! But actually when my heart burst was when I saw all those cascades at the same time. I felt I was seeing Oshún (a Yoruba deity of the rivers) in front of me. That’s when I felt the strength to climb to the end, to where the river is born, because I felt that place’s energy,” says Daymé.
El Nicho probably has the country’s coldest waters. Even in August you feel how it stabs your skin, and then it’s preferable to stay very still on a rock splashing the water with your feet and refreshing your face once in a while.
The waters are born in an underwater cave and they run downhill until they get to the Hanabanilla reservoir. They are so blue and so transparent that one of the pools – sort of natural swimming pools – was named Poceta de Cristal (Glass Pool).
That pool gives way to the large cascade, and later to the Poceta de los Enamorados (Lovers Pool), the first and smallest of all. Since Pablo and Daymé were barely able to go swimming in February, they stayed still, feeling the humidity and the coolness of that place.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea of the sound of the water falling in the form of a cascade, and one feels it like a fuuuuu…,” says Daymé and she whistles very low. “It’s a strange sensation, of relief and cleanliness.” Daymé fell so much in love with those sounds that she took out her Tascam and started recording. “A clean sound, because we were alone. I did it with the intention of using them in my music, but I haven’t gone back to them. I could use them in the intro of the record I’m making now,” she says as if retaking the idea. “Now that I’m talking of that, I can go back to those recordings, since the intro is going to be as if I were under the water. It’s an effect we have tried, that gives you the sensation of being in the water, where everything is heard faraway and strange. Because this is a very spiritual record. It’s not going to have big bands or collaborations. It’s only my trio and I. Cubafonía was a record that was really fantastic and big, So the intention is to break away from that, to make the other side, what we are without that super band, without those producers, without that amount of musicians. Essentially what we are. It’s an experimental record, with more jazz, dark and intense.”
After spending the day touring El Nicho, Pablo and Daymé returned to El Gordo’s house. Although Mary’s husband passed away a few years ago, everyone continues calling it that way: El Gordo’s house, where Mary still receives visitors with a plate of Cuban food. They ate there, they said goodbye and they returned to the taxi.
“To be honest, all that was one of the things I appreciate having lived, to know of the wonders there are in the country and about those no one mentions. To know about the people who live there. I didn’t know what a sierra was, or being among the mountains. I believe that if one wants to connect with the land, I’m sure it’s necessary to have that experience.”
On the way back the driver stopped to give a friend a ride. When the man got in the front seat of the almendrón he looked at the couple, turned to the driver and asked him:
“Hey, isn’t that the singer, the one who’s on TV?”
The driver looked in the rear-view mirror, doubted, and again looked and in the end answered:
“No buddy, that’s not her.”
The friend also looked again and insisted:
“Hey, I think it’s her.”
Daymé and Pablo said nothing. They were in the back listening, half laughing, thinking about the people of that place, so funny, who remained with the brutal doubt of whether it was her, or not, Daymé Arocena who was returning from El Nicho.