On a warm, late July day, Carroll Ware stepped out of the lobby of his Havana hotel and did something very few Americans have done in the last 60 years.

He walked around the city.

“I walked all over downtown Havana. I just went everyplace I wanted. The people were very cordial,” Ware, of Skowhegan, said. “Havana is a beautiful city.”

Since the early 1960s and the start of the United States embargoes of Cuba, the country has been that mystery spot not quite 100 miles from the Florida Keys. Over the last year, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States have started to thaw. That led Ware on an adventure he always wanted, but never expected.

As co-owner of Fins and Furs Adventures with his wife, Lila, Ware has traveled to North and South America guiding hunting and fishing expeditions. Cuba, however, was always closed. Ware dreamed of bonefishing off the island’s coast, but those dreams would always end the same way, with shrugged shoulders. It was better to focus on the trips he could take and leave the pipe dreams alone.

“There’s always been a mystique to it. It was always a fantasy,” Ware said. “Cuba was an untapped fishery.”

With the recent opening of Cuba, however, the dream became real. Working with his outfitting contacts in Miami and Argentina, Ware had his chance to fly fish in Cuba last month. He arrived in Havana on July 24. When it was time to head to Zapata National Park, on the south end of the island, Ware and his fellow fishermen left Havana at 4:30 in the morning for the two and a half hour drive to the port. During the drive, Ware saw the country the Cuban government is not including in any travel brochures.

Along the rutted, pock-marked roads, Ware saw people selling mangoes, or firewood, or vegetables. The old cars (old, not antique) were everywhere. Ware thought he saw a 1939 Ford pickup truck, another automobile fitted with a newer engine in an ancient body.

“Everybody is scrambling. A lot of it is sustenance living,” Ware said. “Everybody is just scratching and digging to make a living.”

After the cross country drive through the heart of Cuba, it was a 25-minute boat ride out to the Georgiana, the 110-foot yacht on which Ware stayed while he fished. The guides spoke varying levels of English, but Ware was able to communicate.

For four days, Ware fished tarpon, bonefish and permit. The warm water pushed the fish into the mangrove stands that dotted the landscape. Wildlfie was everywhere, Ware said. A caiman even approached the visitors.

“He came up, looked us over, and went about his business,” Ware said.

Everything was catch and release, Ware said. Ware caught a 10-pound bonefish, the biggest of the week. On the final day of fishing, he had six or seven shots at a permit, but they paid no attention to his fly.

“They’re not particularly leader shy. If somebody can cast 30 feet of fly line, they can catch a fish,” Ware said.

Ware had fished in Argentina and Chile, the Bahamas and Cayman Islands and Labrador. He is happy to cross Cuba off the bucket list.

“I’ve been to a lot of places and this was wonderful,” Ware, 70, said. “I figured I would run out of time and I just wouldn’t get to Cuba.”

Ware thinks Cuba is about to become the next big thing in outdoor travel. He plans to go back next year with Lila and knows they won’t be alone. He thinks about the effect the influx of tourists will have on the Cuban people he met. He doesn’t want to go back one day and see a nation full of fast food and minivans. At the same time, the surge of travel, particularly from Americans with money, can only help raise the quality of life for many.

“All this is going to happen fast, and I hope the Cuban people hang on to their identity. I’d hate to see that disappear under the guise of progress,” Ware said. “The Cuban people are very happy to see Americans coming. They know how important tourism is going to be when it really gets rolling.”

It appears the only ones who will not be happy to see the fly fishers come is the fish, and perhaps the caiman.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczyklMTM

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