Breckenridge artists tattoo Gitmo troops
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – A couple of local tattoo artists recently packed their needles for a trip to Cuba, where they inked more than 100 U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
Guapo Mirabel, 37, and Mike “Mijo” Villegas, 21, said they’d never worked so hard in two weeks as the mostly 16-hour-per-day shifts of tattooing.
“It was a marathon,” Mirabel said of the trip that began May 29. “(We went) there to boost, motivate and bring a little piece of home back to those guys.”
The community of about 7,000 includes active military with Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard, according to jtfgtmo.southcom.mil. There’s also a prison with about 230 terror suspects and foreign fighters.
Mirabel and Villegas, of Godspeed Tattoo in Breckenridge, joined Tyler and Rich Green, of Worcester, Mass., at the base where each tattooed more than 50 troops.
“It was really nice to hang out with those guys, because they’re kind of stuck there,” Mirabel said, adding that he was surprised at requests for “big stuff, but we aim to please.”
Mirabel’s two largest pieces that trip each took roughly seven hours. One was a knee to hip piece on a woman that included a tiger and a dragon. He also applied a half-sleeve of a cherry blossom and oni (Japanese folkloric creature) to a man.
Villegas said he inked several roses on a woman. Other tattoos inked on the trip included flags, anchors, lettering and religious symbols.
“It was packed up like every day,” he said. “They really appreciated us being down there.”
There was little offered for entertainment at the base.
“They have money but don’t have anything to spend it on,” Villegas said.
He and Mirabel broke about five springs on their machines – ordinarily a one-time per year occurrence – in the course of the trip.
“We killed our machines,” Mirabel said, adding that weather and humidity were the likely culprit. “Maybe we were working extra hard.”
The local artists learned of the trip to Cuba from Tyler Green, with Port of Worcester Tattoos, who has been there about five times. He worked as a guest artist in Summit County last winter.
The typical day began about 9 a.m. and ended after midnight – as late as 2 a.m. on some nights.
The only time off was a half-day they spent riding a pontoon on the ocean and jumping off a pier.
Accommodations included a two-story, two-bedroom condominium.
“They served some weird food,” Villegas said, adding that McDonald’s offered rice and chicken wings, and Subway had rice bowls – likely because of influence from local Cuban, Jamaican and Filipino cultures.
Mirabel said that though their hosts gave them a small tour of the base, the prison was off limits.
“We got to see the prison at a distance from afar,” he said. “I’d rather see it from outside than the inside.”
Villegas said there were crabs, iguanas, toads and banana rats, which are “like a guinea pig, the same size as a cat.”
Mirabel said life was “very strict” for the soldiers.
“I definitely respect the troops after seeing what those guys go through,” he said.
They both agree they had a good time.
“If they invite us back, I’d like to do it again,” Villegas said.
Mirabel and Villegas have been at Godspeed – at 100 N. Main St. – since it opened earlier this year. They formerly worked at the Purple Lotus in Frisco, Mirabel for nine years and Villegas for two years.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or
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