Excerpt from Rebels on the Mountain by Jack Durish
Two men, one a US Army Ranger reconnoitering the situation in Cuba, and the other, one of Fidel's lieutenants, meet in the midst of Castro's revolution and become friends. Here we find the Fidelistas arriving in Cuba after an arduous cruise from Mexico, where they trained, on board the motor yacht Granma... --- Daybreak found the Granma plowing a furrow across a glassy sea. The surface reflected the grey underbelly of the lowering overcast. Juan had mistaken shadows for land several times and was afraid to make another false report when Norberto approached and nodded, “That's land, asere – mate. Alegría del Pio – Rejoicing of the Pious.”
“About fifteen miles to the west.”
Norberto turned the helm to change course for the rendezvous point when lookouts sighted a helicopter approaching from the northeast. It was headed straight for them.
“Land there,” Fidel ordered, pointing to the nearest land. “We've been spotted.”
Norberto pushed the throttles to their limit to coax a little more power out of the tired old engines, and the Granma showed a little more bone in its teeth as it headed for the coast. The rebels grabbed their weapons and personal gear, and leaped over the side leaving valuable supplies behind when the overloaded vessel ran aground more than a hundred yards off shore. They formed into a single file in waters reaching up to their chests. Tripping and staggering without seeing where they were walking, they struggled toward the island.
Juan and the others glanced up frequently to keep an eye on the helicopter hovering over them as they pushed on with every last ounce of energy they had left. The water felt as thick as gelatin resisting every step. Their feet slipped in the sandy bottom, and toes were stubbed on scattered rocks. The few packs that they managed to salvage from the Granma began to slip away from fingers that refused to bear any burden any farther. The drifting baggage floated tantalizingly out of reach of anyone who ventured that they might have the strength to salvage it.
Fidel left the Granma last, but overtook the line of exhausted men and encouraged them to strive for the sanctuary ahead as he passed them. Their haven proved to be a desolate swamp where white and black mangrove trees wove their branches together shading the fugitives from observation. Fidel reached the sheltering boughs first and stood like a goal post for his men. He ordered the point men, Camilo Cienfuegos and his brother Raúl, to lead a search of dry land while he encouraged the others to follow.
Something large just below the surface of the water squeezed between Juan and Fidel, and pushed the two men off their feet. Juan's mind was stoked by fear, but Fidel was laughing when they broke the surface. “It was just a manatee,” he said.
Juan turned to see a huge fan-like fin stir the water's surface and an embarrassed grin spread across his face. Fidel clapped him on the shoulder. “Let's catch up with the others,” he said
The men climbed onto platforms of tangled roots and tiny silt islands at the bases of the mangrove trees when Camilo and Raúl called a halt. Ché worked his way down the line advising the men to remove their shoes and socks, and dry their feet. Leeches hung from everyone's legs, and Ché issued a warning not to pull them off. “They'll fall off in about twenty minutes after they've eaten their fill,” he advised. “Their teeth will break off, and you'll be infected if you try to pull them off.”
Juan looked around but couldn't see Norberto. He wandered back to the edge of the swamp where he found the pilot staring at the Granma. “It's a fine boat,” Norberto said.
Juan regarded the man with an unspoken question in his eyes, and Norberto smiled. “She got us here,” he added.
The two men watched until the ebb tide carried the Granma to sea. “What will become of her?” Juan wondered aloud.