THE WEATHER REPORTS WERE inauspicious. A norther had brought rain and plunging temperatures to the Gulf coast, and squall warnings had been posted from Tamaulipas to the Yucatán peninsula. Newspapers reported that the Cuban ambassador had come down from the capital to unveil a bust of José Martí in Veracruz—a "testimony of friendship toward Mexico" from Fulgencio Batista, he said. And Faustino Pérez, the Cuban medical doctor, had rented a room in a small hotel in Poza Rica. On the evening of November 24, 1956, he and other members of Fidel Castro's expeditionary force took second-class buses to Tuxpan. They arrived at the port at 11 P.M. and crossed the river in rented boats, tipping the owners generously with the hope that their activities would not be reported to the authorities. As they made their way through the darkened city, the constant drizzle soaked their clothes. At the dock where the Granma was anchored, they found Castro working furiously to prepare for their departure. From time to time he glanced at his wristwatch. Melba Hernández had arrived to receive her last-minute instructions. She wondered how many passengers the small vessel could take aboard. At least ninety, said Castro. She refused to believe him. A dozen would be too many. "I wouldn't deceive you," he insisted. "About ninety are going." He shook her hand. "It's time." They would not wait for the stragglers. There was a wild scramble as the Cubans climbed aboard, each afraid that he might be left behind—eighty-two in all, with their weapons, ammunition, and provisions, crowded onto the small deck.
Before he left Mexico City, Castro had arranged for three coded messages to alert the underground on the island. To the desk clerk in Havana he