yet Another Cuban City
04 April 2011 | Camaguey
Beth - 90's
With a few more days at our disposal before winds that would blow us westward, the crews of Madcap and Camelot decided not to let any grass grow under our feet.
Jackie liked the look of Camiguey, about 3 hours west of Puerto de Vita so off we went. It was a good choice and we had the opportunity to discover yet another distinctly flavoured Cuban city - the third largest at 325,000. We read that it had a labyrinthine layout to its streets, developed over two centuries of fighting off pirates. There aren’t pirates there today - well at least we didn’t run into any - but the winding streets and alleys (many of them one way) are still hugely confusing. We used the same technique as in Santiago. Keep going, keep cool and eventually a street will match the map and it will all become clear. Once again, Jackie did a masterful job. We parked near a casa particular that was listed in our guide book and looked interesting. Alas, there was no room, but the helpful man led us around a corner or two to an amigo who did have space. Only one unfortunately, so John and Jackie stayed there and Jim and I stayed in yet another casa around another corner. We were told that the city was pretty well full because many tourists had been relocated due to some sort of problems in another area. These were not quite as grand as the Santiago place, but were still most interesting, with inner courtyards that can’t be imagined from the street.
We had read that there was more danger from pickpockets here, but we saw no sign of it ourselves. What we did see was a more modern city, with considerably more restoration and renovation happening. It didn’t have the gorgeous old stone buildings with ornate carvings and railings, but it had a charm all its own. Calle Republica is a pedestrian street with shops of every kind. We stopped by a recreation facility and found a bowling alley, an arcade, and in the back, a swimming pool chock a block with children happily splashing away a Sunday afternoon. We chatted with a woman at the bowling alley - amazed to hear the voice from a Spanish looking woman - it was distinctly New Jersey! She was here visiting relatives. Farther along the street, we came across a huge ice cream shop - with lines too long to wait for. (We ate Nestle ice cream products all over Cuba!) The shops are full of products - a little out of date and not as expensive by North American standards, but very hip and very expensive for Cubans. Once again, we were reminded that many Cubans rely on money sent home from relatives abroad, and from CUC’s they manage to earn on the black market and from operating casa particulares and paladars (home based restaurants)
John and Jackie’s “Casa Mama” suggested Bodegon Don Cayetano for lunch and we were pleased with the food we ate in the attractive outdoor patio. Jackie and I had the chef special described in our book - steak in red wine and mushroom sauce, and it was delicious indeed.
In the evening, we dressed up and visited the Sala Fiesta El Colonial. We were expecting a cabaret style show, and it wasn’t quite like that, but we did see a show! The clientele was mostly African/Cuban (and the Spanish fellow we met earlier didn’t recommend going there - he said there is often trouble later in the evening.) We went anyway and didn’t see any sign of trouble although the sexual energy was almost palpable. Those drums were intoxicating and the scantily dressed young women wiggled those hips. We left about 10 and Jim and I drifted down to Parque Ignacio Agramonte to catch the last bit of beautiful music from a full orchestra on the steps of the Cathedral. While we enjoyed the music and rhythms of the Colonial, I couldn’t help thinking I’d be much happier to have my children in the orchestra here. Unfortunately they wrapped up shortly after we got there, and there didn’t seem to be music at the Casa de la Trova, so we sat on a marble bench for a while to watch the families - grandparents, parents and children - before making our way back to our casa.
Before leaving the next morning, we walked to Plaza del Carmen, a quiet little square where the tinajones (large clay pots once used for catching rainwater) are now used as planters, and where life sized statues of Camagueyanos seem to be going about their daily business.
It took us forever to find our way through the maze of one way streets - and more than once we ended up going the wrong way or driving on an alley meant for bikes - and we all breathed huge sighs of relief as we crossed the Rio Hatibonico and left the city behind us. Don’t let me influence you to avoid Camiquey though - it is well worth a visit - just be patient and persistent!