Road Trip Part 3, Bayamo
01 April 2011 | Bayamo, Cuba
Beth - 90's
As we left Santiago, we came to El Cobre - the site of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Cobre - Cuba’s most sacred pilgrimage site. As we neared the church, we passed numerous stands and vendors selling candles and yellow flowers and miniatures of La Virgen (“Cachita”). Legend has it (and the Lonely Planet guidebook reports it) that the 40 cm statue was found floating in the Bahia de Nipe in the early 1600’s. The storm tossed fishermen who found her survived and brought her back to El Cobre where she became a venerated figure, and the church became a pilgrimage site where visitors leave offerings of thanks for her favours. We didn’t go in - nor did we buy anything - but we found a couple of spots for good photos. It is a beautiful sight - the lovely church nestled under the mountains. This area has had a working copper mine from pre-Columbian times until 2000. Now there are lots of young men looking for work.
We had decided to break up our trip home by visiting Bayamo for a day so we had a relatively short drive. While it was not our favourite place, it was worth an overnight stop. Bayamo is much smaller (144,000) with a quieter, peaceful feeling to it. We stayed at a modest little Casa Particular a few blocks from the main square, Parques Cespedes. Each square in each city has its own unique feel and this one was different again. It was long and wide with a smooth floor (I am remembering marble but that might be wrong) and mostly empty. A statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, hero of the first war of independence, and the bust of Perucho Figueredo, composer of the Cuban national anthem, face each other. The edges were lined with trees and benches, while the centre was blistering hot. I watched one boy roller blading on the smooth floor while his buddies laughed and chased him. (I saw only one other set of roller blades - in Havana). We ate cheaply here - at a street side peso place. A yogurt drink, 2 sodas and a beer, 4 pretty yucky fish sticks and 4 fried egg sandwiches cost us around 70 pesos - about $4. for the four of us. Across the streets were the grand old buildings - not as elaborate as in the larger cities, and not as old. During the war against the Spanish in 1868, local lawyer/revolutionary, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes liberated his home town briefly. A short time later, however, as the Spanish troops neared the city and reoccupation looked likely, the townspeople set their town on fire rather than see it fall back into the hands of the enemy.
Jackie spotted a salon on the pedestrian street (Calle General Garcia) as we walked along and the two of us decided to have manicures in the air conditioned space while the guys went to an Etecsa centre to check e-mail. We thought the price was 3 CUC - an inexpensive way to get our hands prettied up and relax for an hour. It turned out, the price was 3 pesos!! (12 cents instead of $3.00 - again, one really must keep asking “Convertibles (CUC’s) or National pesos?”) The bowl of soaking water didn’t get changed from person to person. The manicurist clipped the cuticles but did no filing - except when I asked her to do a little shaping, and there was not much choice of colour, and the bottles were all different brands. We each picked shades of pink, but the lady put one coat of that on, then another coat of a pink of her choosing and finished it off with a topcoat of sparkles! We certainly had our 3 pesos worth of experience!
With our hands all sparkly, we visited the school of art down the street. There must be quite a significant art culture here - the light posts along Calle General Garcia are funky and interesting, and when we peeked in at the school’s gallery, a teacher invited us in to see the pottery studio, a storeroom of finished works and a metal sculpture workshop. On our way back, we stopped by the Casa de la Trova to see if any one was making music, and they weren’t but a band member quickly assembled the rest of his group and they performed a one hour show just for us. We danced (with instructions from an encouraging, English speaking instructor) and Jackie and I received flowers as part of a love song sung by two of the musicians - with frequent questions, “Is OK?” to our husbands. We bought a CD that turned out to be quite good for 8 CUC, drank mohitos and beer, and had a thoroughly good time.
After dinner, Jim and I wandered back down town where we listened to some beautiful music - singer, keyboard and drums - from a group practicing in the back of another gallery. We had somehow missed this gallery earlier, and we were glad to see it now. The works were wooden, depicting scenes of Cuban history, and Cubans engaged in every day activities - washing clothes, hauling wood, rolling dough. They were beautiful, but my favourite was a self “portrait” - the artist carving a block of wood that mirrored the actual carving. I wish I had written down his name!
I think it would be nice to be here on a Saturday, if we came back. That is when they hold the weekly Fiesta de la Cubania; the street organs that we read about in our book might be found then, and perhaps there would be more chess players on the square (also mentioned in our book). Or perhaps our feeling of let-down had more to do with just having come from the big bustling old city of Santiago, and this was a simpler, smaller town.
While this was not our favourite stop, it was still interesting - the street we stayed on was a little neighbourhood street where folks sat outside in the evenings. Children played up and down the street - we watched a couple of boys playing “baseball” with a small ball and a stick as bat. Women hung washing from lines on the rooftops and men filled water jugs from little pumps on the sidewalks outside the front door. A cart went by early in the morning with bread and rolls for the householders. No milk deliveries - milk seems to be in short supply. In this and the other cities, we saw men pushing carts of vegetables, calling out their wares. In the larger cities with tall buildings, a basket would be let down from a balcony two or three floors up. The vendor removed the money, put in the vegetables or bread and the basket was pulled back up.
Oscar and Manuela served a full breakfast (4 CUC each) and after admiring the resident grandson and learning that here again, 3 generations live in the same house, Jim retrieved the car from the fenced back yard (with a great big pig being fattened up at the back) and we set off toward Puerto de Vita and home.
As always, the signage varies from non-existent to good and we continually asked directions from folks on the roadside. In fact, after buenos dias, hola, como estas? (how are you?), por favor and gracias, donde es...? (where is ...?) became one of the first phrases we used with regularity! It is a good idea to learn the words for left, right and straight ahead too.