Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cuba Day One: Miami to Holguin to Santiago de Cuba




28 January 2017

We landed mid-day at Holguin airport. No pictures permitted at the airport. The airport was very busy, lots of officials, no soldiers. That was a bit of a surprise.

From the airport we loaded onto buses, met our Cuban guide, José and set off for lunch  at one of the local paladares in Holguin. You will read and hear a lot about the food in Cuba and anything written six months earlier is already out of date. It is true, as one friend of mine put it, that you do not go to Cuba for the food, but we had some very fine meals there.

From Holguin we travelled  about 150 km over the famed Sierra Maestra mountains to Santiago de Cuba. I found the roads of Cuba fascinating and more than once wishing that I could drive them. You see everything from modern Chinese coaches like ours to horse drawn carts. There is no real public transportation, anything that can carry people does. My first observation came at the hotel that evening, “The countryside we saw—not poverty, exactly. Houses were very basic but seemed adequate.”

Once we arrived in Santiago de Cuba, near the extreme east of the island and close to both the city of Guantanamo and its notorious US Army prison, we checked in to our hotel, which was nothing like what we had been led to expect. It was spacious, modern and up to date. The hotel is part of the Spanish Meliá chain and offers all the amenities that you would expect from an European resort hotel. It was the first of many surprises that Cuba would have for us. My observation “The rooms are big and spacious but kind of funkily furnished. Interesting mix, which could be used to sum up our experience so far.”

In fact, I would assert the following: no one, whether favorably or negatively inclined, can understand Cuba without actually being there, seeing and experiencing the place. It’s not exactly filled with contradictions, but idiosyncratic. . . I get ahead of myself here.

One final observation: I have always tended to view Cuba and the Cuban Revolution favorably, but that was probably my only prejudice. I really had no clear idea of what to expect. And that was a good thing, since I would be open to a variety of experiences that were not at all what I might have anticipated. As we would travel east to west Cuba would open to me like an onion, perhaps, peeling layers off to get to the core.

lunch at the first of many of the local, privately owned paladares

At the best of these the food was presented with care and here with whimsy
A typical street scene in Holguin

I tried not to shoot out of the bus window, it never works out well, but here was the birthplace of Fidel and Raul Castro

The lobby of our hotel, as I said, not what I expected

They even had a fountain pen waiting for me. Not to spoil, but apart from what I brought, this would be the only fountain pen I saw in Cuba
The view of Santiago de Cuba from our hotel window.
Sunday the 29th would be our first full day in Cuba and we would spend it in and around the city and its major sights.

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