Drive down 5th Ave in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, and when you reach the road to Pabexpo on 146th Street, turn left and just ask the locals to guide you to Miguel Ginarte’s Finca. Don’t worry, you won’t get lost; everybody knows where the finca is and how to get there.
Look for the dirt road that takes you to the entrance. On one side, you’ll see a paddock; on the other, a long line of carriages like the ones used in colonial days. Park your car and walk up to the door of the modest wooden building. When we arrived, a sheep lying next to the entrance lifts his head and stares at us.
Ask any of the people who are coming and going for Miguel Ginarte. If it’s morning, they’ll probably tell you that he’s having breakfast (the only meal of the day he doesn’t skip). They’ll take you to the living room where you will walk past an assortment of prizes, diplomas, and acknowledgements.
While you wait, take time out to observe the decor. The living room, like the rest of the house, looks more like a museum and warehouse than a dwelling. Family pictures vie for space with pictures of important Cuban political and entertainment figures. Antique clocks, sewing machines, a wide collection of ties, kerosene lamps, saddles, hats and even an antique washbowl with running water clutter the room. But let me give you some information on the man before you meet with him.
Miguel Ginarte was born in the eastern part of Cuba, the son of Dora Ginarte and Adriano Ricardo González. When his mother was in labor, his dad took his mom on horseback to see the doctor and on horseback they brought him home after his birth. That’s his explanation for his love of horses and why he is able to communicate with these animals so easily. So much so that he is dubbed “The Horse Whisperer.” As a kid, he would ride any horse that crossed his way, even the ones that would only allow their owners to come near them. In his teens, he would bet 100 pesos that he could break in even the wildest horses. And he always won. He is now 73 years old and continues to be an exceptional horseman. Every day, he rides his magnificent white Arabian horse around the ranch that fills his entire existence.
Speaking of the ranch, this is not your old every day, run-of-the-mill rancho. The branches of many trees hold old vehicle bodies, which Ginarte has placed there with the help of a crane. You’ll also find safes, carriage wheels, typewriters, furniture, earthenware, and anything that you can name. Miguel and his people rescue these objects, restore them and keep them for use in a film or TV show. The ranch is attached to the Department of Scenography of Cuban Television and provides animals, plants, and vehicles for shows. I recall at least three “telenovelas” set in the countryside, which have been shot there.
But perhaps, the most outstanding part of the finca and Ginarte is that it has become a sort of “rehabilitation” center for teenagers with behavioral issues. Under Ginarte’s guidance, these kids become hardworking men, who will take on any chore on the ranch and act as extras and even stuntmen for film and television. One story that has become a legend with the workers of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television is the time that Ginarte needed to bring some horses from the province of Camagüey: a couple of his kids brought them cross-country on a journey that lasted 18 days.
His work with these kids did not always have the blessing of the powers that be. In the beginning, they were nicknamed Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. However, hard work, discipline and bucketfuls of love proved that he was on the right track. Miguel Ginarte and his kids clean the beach and help firemen after hurricanes.
I bet you’re thinking that you already know this person who you’ll be meeting in a while. But you’re still in for a few surprises. Listen to his anecdotes from his time in the Rebel Army, or when he fought in Ethiopia. But under his stern glance, there is a bottomless well of tenderness.
Go and join him and his kids one afternoon in cleaning the grounds. And after you have experienced the hospitality of these people; and you have talked with the neighbors of Las Canteras (who want to change the name of their neighborhood to Miguel Ginarte Community); and you have ridden a horse that Miguel himself has chosen for you, then spread the news:
There is a small ranch in Havana that is run by a man who was born in Dos Ríos, the place where Cuba’s Apostle of Independence and National Hero, José Martí, died. And this man and this ranch have the ability to restore the faith in human betterment, even to diehard skeptics.
Miguel’s doors are always open to friends.