June 6, 2019

ROB O'NEAL/Paradise
Pancho III, carries on the family tradition at the Mirador de Mayabe in the province of Holguin in eastern Cuba.

ROB O'NEAL/Paradise Pancho III, carries on the family tradition at the Mirador de Mayabe in the province of Holguin in eastern Cuba.

Last week, I mentioned that as much as I enjoy finding things on my own, there is still at least one guide book close at hand whenever I’m off the tourist track, which is quite often. Of course, one must take with a grain of salt what is written, as things can change so quickly that guide books often feel more like an historical record than an accurate tool. But make no mistake, this is not the fault of the writer.

However, plenty of things in Cuba carry on, year after year, and one of them is the curious story of “Pancho The Beer-Drinkin’ Donkey.” As you can imagine, if an old organ factory got my attention, a beer-swilling burro was a “must-shoot” subject.

Legend has it (read: the internet) that in 1970, the Hernandez family restaurant was frequented in the evenings by a free-range donkey. Apparently, it didn’t take too many servings of free beer and pork products to encourage the retired beast of burden to become something of a mascot. Eventually, the Mirador de Mayabe Hotel was built nearby and the three elements came together. Some 50 years and three generations of donkey lineage later, Pancho III happily carries on the tradition. A more fortunate dynasty of donkeys there surely cannot be, as each day, he sidles up next to the barman and waits for suckers like me to drop a buck or so to watch, and shoot, the 1,100-pound creature slurp down a bottle or cup of Mayabe beer.

Honestly, my biggest takeaway from this cheap-thrill photo-op was a lesson learned in public behavior. Apparently, this donkey doesn’t just stand around all day drinking anything in sight, so a degree of timing is involved and with the sun sinking fast, we had to buy this four-legged dude a round, clickety-clack the Nikon and keep moving on to Cayo Saetia before nightfall. A few run-of-the-mill jerkies like me were just wrapping up with Pancho and he was still thirsty, but that’s when a couple little Cuban kids pushed their way in front of me. I can’t remember exactly what I said to my friends, but I certainly (and foolishly) assumed they spoke no English and it was a tad harsh. But hey, I had waited my turn and was on a photo mission, dammit! Besides, this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill donkey happy hour, this is my job.

Anyway, whatever it was I said, the kids’ dad very quickly called me on it with an accent that sounded like a mix of New York City and Miami. Whoops! “Oh, you speak English, huh?”

Thankfully, I was able to diffuse things quickly and snap a pic or two.

You know, the more I write about these places visited so long ago, the more I want to return and reshoot. It really is so nice to get away from the tour buses that ferry hundreds of “tourons” from museum to museum to lunch to dinner, day in and day out.

According to the internet, which, of course, means next to nothing, Pancho’s father, Pancho II (kinda sounds like a Papal moniker) imbibed 61,750 beers in his lifetime, finally keeling over on Nov. 10, 1992. I look forward to catching up with Pancho III, I wonder what he’d think of Budweiser?