Monday, February 27, 2017

Discovering Santiago de Cuba

A note on methodology. Most of the time when we travel and I blog I do so in approximately real time, usually the evening after the events under discussion. Right now I am doing so almost four weeks later and it is a different experience. Rather than processing the day’s events I am recalling them and it makes it a bit harder to edit and choose images. This entry will probably end up with more imagesand text than I usually allow myself, partly because of nostalgia and partly because at home I have a solid quick connection that makes it easy to upload stuff. Comments are especially welcome here and on facebook.

29 January 2017

Sunday was our first full day in Cuba and the first of several days in Santiago de Cuba. Apart from day tours in various places, this was our first experience touring with a group. It would be a new experience and I’ll have more to say about that later. But on that day I think that all of us were more absorbed with taking in the sights and sounds of Cuba.

A couple of years earlier we had spent some considerable time on native American lands in the southwestern US and had learned to look beyond apparent poverty to see the culture; and most of the folks on this tour were far more travelled than we were, so few people remarked the low level of material comforts, most of us were more interested in the environment and the people and their culture.

We began the day with a visit Santiago’s Plaza de la Revolucion. Most cities in Cuba have at least one such plaza commemorating the revolutions of 1868, 1898 and 1959. It is dedicated to Antonio Maceas a hero of 1898. It was dedicated by Fidel in 1991 and has hosted papal visits and rallies.

Teatro Heredia, a typical street scene at the modern outskirts of this  regional capital that is Cuba's second largest city.

Plaza de la Revolucion
An image of the modern city

From there we went to Santa Ifegenia cemetary, where Maceo is buried as well as José Marti and, now, Fidel Castro.
The Entry to one of the most important cemeteries in the nation

The honor guard at Martí's monument. They are specially chosen, mainly we were told, for height.

I was caught by this image of Christ surrounded by revolutionary flags, over the next two weeks I'd get used to it.

The grave of Maceo
Fidel's grave. His ashes lie beneath the rock
Lunch was at the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Casa Granda at the cneter of Santiago de Cuba, which afforded some great views. After lunch the program allowed us ample time to roam the streets on our own, discovering the architecture and cars that are equally part of the country’s heritage. And at lunch we had our first direct encounter with Cuban music, a very talented group that entertained us.

The first of many musical groups that we would hear. The fiddler may have been one of the best musicians we saw throughout the trip

The bar at Casa Granda
The city from the rooftop

The busy harbor from atop the rooftop restaurant

Another typical figure, this fellow chatted and serenaded until finally I gave him a CUC (about $1.28). Not a beggar, note his cleanliness and garb, but what were referred to as "street corner entrepreneurs."

My dad had 1956 and 1958 Plymouths, this one was from '57
Sharon at a typical backstreet. Off the main streets the buildings were in a pretty sad state.

 In the afternoon a visit to the oldest remaining structure in Cuba, the Diego Velásquez house museum, brought us into contact with another aspect that we would greatly appreciate in traveling with Road Scholar. Our museum guide was the director-curator of the house, a trained archeologist. Cubans, we would learn, love decorative arts and love to display the artifacts of the past in domestic settings.
A stock image of the building's exterior. I forgot to take a photo
The curator

Original portion of the house and to the left restorations

The entry into the 19th century portion of the building
In the afternoon we were treated to a highly informative lecture on the religions of eastern Cuba by a professor from one of the local universisies who was both an anthropologist and a Santeria priest. We learned that a) communist Cuba is not athiestic, b) the Cuban religion is nominally but not exclusively Catholic, c) that most of the other religions are African based, and d) that most Cubans believe in more than one formal religion, mixing and matching with the added veneration of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad (more on that later). It was our first direct exposure to the diversity and idiosyncracies that make up Cuba.
I would learn to take better pictures of the lectures

It was a long and very informative first day.

Rosa spent the day in the hotel room, where she was not neglected.

No comments: