Crash tragedy takes the gloss off a fabulous Cuban experience

WITHIN the past fortnight I ve flown a helicopter, piloted a speed boat, driven a 4x4 on terrain that would challenge a Chieftain tank, and ridden a horse along treacherous mountain trails. None of these pursuits is remotely normal for me. I dread helicop

WITHIN the past fortnight I've flown a helicopter, piloted a speed boat, driven a 4x4 on terrain that would challenge a Chieftain tank, and ridden a horse along treacherous mountain trails.

None of these pursuits is remotely normal for me. I dread helicopters and have a tendency towards drowning when confronted by more than three feet of water.

I expect the roads I drive on to be pothole-free.

In my childhood, I broke a collar bone by falling off my rocking horse.


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But the really strange thing is that in being entrusted with someone else's valuable property on these occasions, no-one waved a piece of paper for me to sign, or drew my attention to reams of rules and regulations (there didn't appear to be any) or asked me if I suffered from any ailment, known or imagined, that might impair my control, judgement, vision or sanity.

After surviving all this foolhardiness, I sat in a hotel bar surrounded by people smoking exuberant cigars, before accepting a lift in a vehicle that would have had our MOT inspectors rolling with laughter on their garage floors, like the tinhat aliens in the old Smash advert.

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Later, I drove 40 miles without seeing a single sign telling me what to do.

You'll have guessed by now that none of this took place in the UK, or indeed in any of the EU countries regulated by overbearing health and safety dictats. I was the best part of 5,000 miles away, in Cuba.

Where recreation and enjoyment are concerned, Cubans are trusted to look out for themselves. The island seems blissfully free of regulatory stress and coercion (unless you have the misfortune to be a guest of the Yanks at their Guantanamo Bay concentration camp).

And so this column was to be a smug rebuke for the H&S evangelists. A gentle poke at the sombre pen pushers in our society who refuse to believe that we are capable of doing anything remotely challenging, like swimming in ponds, walking our dogs or crossing the roads without creating an unacceptable risk to ourselves or others.

Then something awful happened. As I stepped off the plane at Gatwick, I heard how more than 100 Cubans had been horrifically killed or maimed when a train collided with an open truck, loaded with human cargo and unable to clear the tracks in time.

I had encountered a similar track earlier that very weekend. There was no barrier, no flashing lights, nothing obvious to suggest to an unwary driver that they might be crossing the path of a train.

I loved Cuba's joyful disregard for the H&S paraphernalia that invades our lives, but such freedoms come at a price. This was a price too high.

I don't feel smug now, just immensely sad that such an appalling and preventable tragedy should befall these wonderful, welcoming, cheerful and indefatigable island people.

Geoff Martin

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