01/04/2011/5:04 pm, Bayamo, Cuba
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.
31/03/2011/5:02 pm, Santiago de Cuba
We rolled down over La Farola - the magnificent highway built in 1964, that links Baracoa with the rest of the country. The views were spectacular and we stopped whenever we could for pictures. Often we found vendors peddling the famous cucuruchus - cones of palm frond filled with grated coconut mixed with honey and sugar (and very delicious - the ones we bought had a slightly smoky flavour to them) or cocoa powder or coffee or bananas. We bought some of everything - for pesos - as we took our pictures. It reminded us a bit of the Hope - Princeton highway in British Columbia - except the vistas had palm trees! We wondered where the children in these remote areas go to school (given Cuba's extraordinary literacy rate of well over 90% they must go somewhere) and were told later that every little area has a teacher - they might have to walk a ways, but there will be school!
It was interesting, although not particularly attractive to pass by Guantanamo - that infamous place that has become a familiar name to all of us. There is no sign of the US base from the road, and the town itself appeared unremarkable. We saw more Cuban military vehicles and personnel in this area, but no sign of Americans. There are Control Points all along the roads, but there never seems to be much action there - a group of policemen wandering about, but rarely a vehicle stopped and no show of power - i.e. machine guns on shoulders. We stopped to pluck tamarind pods from one of the trees growing along the road, and Jackie laughed to see our faces as we tasted the sour fruit. I like it in sauces and juice, but not straight from the pod!
By late morning, we drove into Santiago de Cuba (Cuba's second largest city, pop 444,000) and immediately found ourselves in a maze of busy streets and signs and honking horns. As we headed toward the centre of the old historic area, they became narrower and busier with tall buildings on every side. The important thing is to just keep cool - Jackie did that admirably as she drove us around - and know that somehow, the street signs will start matching up with the map! Eventually, we got to Hartmann Street at Jose A Saco in the historical area, and found a parking spot. From there we thought we would scout out the area, and find some lunch.
We were barely out of the car doors before a well dressed young man offered to take us to a Casa Particular. John stayed with the car while Jackie, Jim and I followed him to one house where they had no room. Around another corner and up another street, he knocked on a window and we were told there was one room available here with another nearby. We took a look and then went to see the other one, but decided that we would prefer to stay in the same house so we said no. The fellow was hard to shake, and as we made our way back to the car, saying we wanted to have lunch before looking some more, yet another hustler told us to follow him. We did for a bit but it became clear that we were being led farther away from the main area so we turned back and said we would find our own place. They both kept motioning us on but we ignored them and eventually they gave up. We have discovered that these folks are paid a "finders fee" by the owners of the casas and I must say, they work hard for their money! This was the only place that we found them particularly annoying and persistent.
After a fairly bland lunch of pizza and spaghetti at a CUC restaurant (that was, thank goodness, air conditioned) we set off on foot to check out some of the nearby Casa Particulares that were listed in our guide book. At the first one, we struck gold. Lourdes de la Caridad Gomez Beaton, at #454 Felix Pena, had two rooms. It is a grand old Santiago house that took our breaths away - not because it is majestic or elegant, but because what is behind that big wooden door that opens directly on the street is such a contrast to what is outside. From a dusty shabby street with folks lounging in doorways, we walked through the door, climbed the stairs to the second level and found a high ceilinged living room with a balcony over the street. From there we walked back through the dining room with an open kitchen just on the other side to a leafy green courtyard area - a plastic roof a couple of stories higher would keep the rain out; vines draping down the walls and big potted plants added to the greenery and serenity. A couple of chairs flanked a patio table and it didn't seem like we could be up a level and back a couple of rooms from that busy street. Our two bedrooms, both with ensuite baths opened off this area. Stairs led up to another level open to the sky, where the big stone washing sink stood in a corner and clotheslines stretched from wall to wall, and the family dog slept behind his little gate. Yet another set of stairs went up to the very top of the house, and the view from there was 360 degrees. And what a view. The building next door was in ruins; a big cathedral stood a couple of blocks over and I knew I'd be taking pictures of the steeple; the buildings all around were a hodge podge of old and very old, crumbling and being stuck back together. There were lines of laundry everywhere and rooms added on and up as families grew. As much as I try, I can't even begin to describe how it looked. It was like no place I have ever been before. Intensely populated, crumbling (and yet I knew from the house we had just walked through that there must be many other places just like it among the buildings I was looking at) humming with life.
Lourdes was a lovely warm, motherly woman and she got us settled in while her husband took the guys to the car park where we could leave the car safely for 2 CUC per day. Unlike every other place we stayed, there was not an extended family living here, although there probably was at one time. Most homes have one or two rooms to rent while Lourdes had four. We have found that when families open rooms to paying guests, they are able to hire some help and Lourdes has a couple of women helping her in the kitchen and with laundry.
We headed out to explore, first to Parque Cespedes - the centre of activity here and named after Carlos Maneul de Cespedes who issued the Grito de Yara declaring Cuban independence in 1868. Each of the wonderful old buildings around the square has a story: the Ayuntamiento where we saw the balcony from which Fidel Castro announced the Revolution's victory on January 2, 1959; the intricate lattice windows on the Casa de Diego Velazquez - the oldest house still standing (1522) and the former residence of the island's first governor; the Museo de Ambiente Historico Cubano, originally a trading house and gold foundry - now a museum. We didn't go into any of these - it was enough to walk the streets with our gazes upwards.
There is a lively Afro-Caribbean culture here, along with the Spanish one, and as my guidebook says, since Santiago is closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than to Havana, the influences tend to come as much from the east as from the west. We saw that in the people on the streets, the prevalent sound of drums from private residences and the music houses. 1950's cars serving as taxis were lined up by the cathedral and their drivers offered to take us anywhere we'd like to go. We declined and continued on foot. Several shops had displays of the usual souvenir things - mugs and hats and T-shirts - always Che Guevera memorabilia, carvings and paintings. Vendors lined the streets with similar offerings - but nothing any better than in Baracoa.
We then made our way across the square to the Hotel Casa Grande (1914) and settled ourselves on its wide luxurious terrace cafe for another session of mohito sampling. These were good - nice and tart with lots of fresh mint and we felt quite grand ourselves as we sat here where Graham Greene used to sit in the 50's, writing and drinking and relaxing. The breeze wafted through, the long bar at the end was dark polished wood, and the waiters were dressed in sharp black and white. It seemed still like a place out of the 50's and was the perfect spot to people watch and settle into the flow of the city. (We saw pictures a week later when it wasn't so peaceful. In the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana, Tom found a picture of a bloody battle taking place on this very same terrace - chairs and tables in disarray, soldiers leaning over the railings, rifles a plenty.) The elevators didn't work so we walked up to the terrace on the 5th floor to look over the city. Beautiful - but no better than our own rooftop view at Lourdes' casa. Down at ground level once more, we went around the corner and up the steps into the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion (completed in 1922 and the most recent of a series of cathedrals that have stood here since 1520). It is truly beautiful, but every time we stopped, we were approached by people looking for money. We had been warned by Tina that there is more begging here, and we certainly saw more of it. We left rather quickly, and made our way gradually back to our casa for a rest before dinner.
Lourdes put on a lavish dinner with shrimp (big ones) or chicken accompanied by plantains, rice, a salad platter of not only cabbage, tomato and cucumber, but also green beans and beets. I wished I knew more Spanish because while we could make ourselves understood for the basic things, real conversation was impossible. John managed the best of any of us so he acted as our interpreter much of the time.
Jim and I took another evening stroll - up to Parques Cespedes, looking for outdoor music, and then along the street to Plaza de Dolores - a lovely shady spot with an outdoor restaurant that promised to have the best mohitos in town. I can't imagine now why we passed up the opportunity to test that claim, but we did! Motorcycles with chrome gleaming were lined up all along the sidewalk - just like we see near the ferry terminal in Halifax. A group of folks had guitars but they were just chatting so we continued our walk. We never, at any time, had any worries about safety. We walked through the historic area after dark on both nights we were here without any kind of apprehension - saying Hola to people we met and receiving the same in return.
We packed Wednesday just about as full as we could! After a hearty breakfast, the four of set off on foot to follow a suggested walking tour in the Lonely Planet guidebook. At our first stop, the Balcon de Velazquez looking out over the Tivoli area, we were approached by a young man who started telling us about the area - in very good English. He was knowledgeable, informative and didn't start trying to hustle us. But we liked what we saw, so after a little huddle, we four decided to ask him if for 4 CUC, he would take a couple of hours to show us around and talk with us. (Interesting that we asked him instead of the other way around!) He was delighted and so were we. We walked through Tivoli, hearing about the life of a young Cuban from his point of view. He was very frank as he shared the frustrations of not being able to choose where to live, of being paid very little, of the lack of freedom. In his words, "Yes, we all have excellent education and health care, and we have rations for food, but we _ are _ not _ free." The literacy rate in Cuba is well over 90% - in fact UNICEF declares that the total adult literacy rate in Cuba is 100%. They have doctors in over 100 countries. The under 5 mortality rate in 2009 ranked sixth lowest in the world and the neonatal mortality rate in the same year was third lowest in the world. The poor are not as poor as in many of the Central American countries, and I would be surprised if anyone was starving in Cuba. But the other side of that is that few people have "enough". They rely on income from relatives living abroad, from buying and selling anything they can get their hands on, from the tourist industry.
He told us "Marriage is out of fashion now" and young couples move in with his parents or her parents - whoever has room. An official comes to determine whether or not there really is room, (sleeping on the sofa is not enough) and does the same if a person wants to move to a different house or a different city. These same officials keep a watch on each neighbourhood, and they know who is there.
We went to the waterfront area, at his suggestion, took a horse drawn wagon ride to the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia - the imposing cemetery where many important Cuban figures are buried and where the highlight is Jose Marti's beautifully designed mausoleum. We watched the changing of the guard there, and strolled by Emilio Bacardi's tomb and with a nod from our guide saw where some renovations are being made to perhaps accommodate an elderly and ailing current political person when the need arises.
After a taste of rum at the little shop that is part of the Rum factory, a lunch stop at a paladar and the opportunity to buy some rum at a good price, we said our goodbyes to our guide and paid him a little more than we had agreed on earlier. Once again, we made the decision before he had to ask. Sometimes it works to be spontaneous and flexible. It sure did here. While we enabled him to increase his income, he gave us an insider's and unofficial view of Cuban life.
Jackie, Jim and I visited the Casa de la Trova, one of the music houses that exist in every Cuban town to hear some lively music and view beautiful dancing. I just do not know how these folks can move their bodies the way they do. I'm sure they must have extra joints! There is no tightness in their hips - that's for sure. I think of all the times we try to open ours in yoga postures - that is no issue here!! One particular older Cuban gentleman in dark pants, creamy shirt, suspenders and straw hat barely moved on soft feet as he led a beautiful black Cuban woman through the intricate steps of a dance. She twirled and dipped and swayed, and it was a sight to behold. I danced at the back of the room with a fellow who told me he was a dance instructor at the school next door. He said I had good rhythm, but I'm pretty sure he told that to dozens of women every day!
We wandered through busy streets and quiet ones; we bought soft ice cream from a street vendor, and slices of sweet layer cake with guava filling, and nut brittle. We took a look in the restaurant that exists now in the gorgeous old Bacardi mansion. (The Bacardi family left before the Revolution and this is one of the few countries in the world where you won't find Bacardi rum!) Every block or two, there was someone selling something. It all looked clean and indeed none of us developed any stomach trouble - except from over-eating!
In the evening, we all trooped off to the Casa de las Tradiciones - an alternative to the Casa de la Trova. The music was good and the people watching most interesting although I suspect it heated up more as the evening got later. We got a bit of a weird feeling from some of the middle aged white men who were surrounded by troops of beautiful young women. That is also part of Cuba. On the way home, Jim and I followed the sound of drums to a building where we were motioned in. Unfortunately the drumming and dancing were just coming to an end. It was distinctly AfroCuban and I wondered if it might not be part of the Santeria religious culture. Once again, I longed for the Spanish words to ask because while everyone was friendly, conversation was just not happening.
It was time to retrieve the car on Thursday morning and move on to our next destination, Bayamo. We said goodbye to Lourdes and her husband and promised we'd be back! There is so much more to see and do here than we had time for - museums and music and fortresses; closer looks at the architecture; the ballet, the Tropicana show, the galleries. We kept consoling ourselves that this was our introduction - our first taste. We had limited time and we made good use of what we had. There is no question that we will return here.
27/03/2011/1:02 pm, Baracoa, Cuba
We packed our bags with clothes, cameras, and snacks along with give-aways (children's clothes, pens, markers, crayons, paper, razors and soap) and headed off in our air conditioned little Hyundai. Ali had told us that Baracoa was his favourite city and that the northern road was scenic. Tina told us that road was "not so good" but that we should definitely go to Baracoa along with Santiago de Cuba.
We have this to say: Definitely go to Baracoa - but definitely do NOT take that northern road! It was so full of pot holes that it was pure misery for the last 30 or 40 miles. It wound through the mountains and we saw tiny rural houses and farms tucked away in valleys and on hillsides - that was nice. (Really - it was very nice and very picturesque - I'm just grumpy from the bumps!) We drove past the big ugly mine at Moa - not so nice - and finally emerged into the city of Baracoa (population 42,000). It is Cuba's oldest city, founded in 1511. According to the Lonely Planet Guide it was, for many years, somewhat of a Cuban Siberia where rebellious revolutionaries were sent, and in the early 19th century, French planters arrived from Haiti to start farming the same crops that are found there today - coconut, cocoa and coffee. Until the wonderful new highway, La Farola, was completed in 1964, the area was pretty much isolated allowing it to develop its unique culture and traditions.
As we drove into the city about 4 pm, we found ourselves suddenly in the midst of narrow little streets filled with horse, bike and foot traffic. We were on the lookout for a Casa Particular - the private houses with rooms to let - like the Bed and Breakfasts we are familiar with in other countries. They can be identified by the blue, upside down anchor signs which mean they are government approved and meet certain standards. (Air conditioning, private or shared bath, at least one double bed per room, clean!) As we drove, a man and little boy on a bike kept waving at us and following us around corners. Jackie, at the wheel, ignored him for a bit, but then as we were stopped at a corner, we decided to see what he had to say. He offered to lead us to a casa, and since he looked "respectable" and we had no particular place in mind, we said OK. We could always refuse it if we didn't like it. Well it turned out just fine! He led us to his brother's casa at #3 Frank Paix at the corner of Ava Malecon - the road along the water. It was airy, clean, 2 blocks from the centre of the city and cost 20 CUC's per room. (We were to learn later that sometimes it works to follow people who want to lead us to casas and sometimes it doesn't. This time it worked!) The people there had very little English, but our friend, John, spoke pretty decent traveller's Spanish so we were quite comfortable. Without him, we'd have had to resort to the dictionary much more often.
We arranged to have dinner there that night and after depositing our bags and handing over our passports, we headed out to explore. (We discovered that all the casas particulares require our passports for their records - they are given back once the hosts fill in the forms and we sign them.)
As became our pattern - we followed the music. Up a couple of streets and around a corner, we discovered an outdoor patio with music and dancing. We quickly responded to the waving hand of a waiter and found seats. With beers and mohitos in hand, we listened and watched - for about two minutes. Then the invitations came to get up and join in the dancing - so of course we did! What fun we had. The locals were good natured and encouraging and managed not to laugh at our ignorance of steps and our inability to move like they did. When the music stopped, we sat and talked in very broken Spanish and English with several of the patrons - with laughter and smiles filling in the gaps where the words just did not connect.
The Baracoan cuisine includes dishes cooked in coconut milk - and that's what we enjoyed that night. Jim and I had fish and John and Jackie had lobster. The meal started with a chicken noodle soup and the main course included a platter of cabbage, tomato and cucumber along with bowls of rice. (About 5 or 6 CUC's per person) Again, we were operating on information we had heard from others - the most authentic food is generally available from the Casas. It was all delicious, and with full stomachs, we headed for bed.
Next morning, we were up bright and early. I went for a walk along the waterfront and saw trucks full of people heading into the city. We saw lots of these trucks - like cattle trucks - closed sides with an open space running all along the top. There were as many of these as there were real buses - both in the small towns and in the cities. A garbage truck rumbled along the street too. I had wondered about the piles of garbage at the street corners - it turned out that folks just dumped their buckets of garbage and the garbage cleaners came by and shoveled it up into the truck. I guess it saved on bags! And of course, there is not nearly so much garbage in Cuba because there is not nearly so much over packaging or disposables.
Breakfast (3 CUC each) was fruit - banana, papaya, pineapple - bread, juice, perfectly fried eggs and wonderful thick sweetened coffee. Hot milk was available if we wanted it. We discovered that was a pretty typical breakfast. The fruit varied and the kind of bread, sometimes there was cheese or even sliced meat, and sometimes the price was 4 CUC but that was the food we started our day with. It can be hard to understand that it is different here. We don't place an order. The hosts offer what they can, and we learned much later that it costs them a considerable amount to put that food on the table. (More about that later)
We spent the day roaming around town. The little triangular "square" or plaza in the centre of town was a good starting place. The cathedral on one side was undergoing renovations so we couldn't get in, but we were happy to see that something was being done. It surely needed repairs. We checked out the library where there was a good selection of books - fiction, social issues, history, local interest, the expected books on the party and the leadership figures. There was even a poster on the wall reminding people to practice safe sex! An art gallery we hoped to see was closed, but we spent time perusing the carvings and paintings at the market area. We each bought a nice carving from a man whose work was clearly a cut above that on the other tables. We never did find anything we liked as much in any other city. I wish now that I had bought some of the beautiful wooden spoons and salad servers there. They were beautiful and well priced.
Jim and I had a laugh when we gave a gel pen to a fellow who asked for something. The cap was quite difficult to remove, and he kept coming after us to question how it worked. Jim would open it, close it and give it back to him and he'd go off. Pretty soon he appeared again. Finally, we showed him how to grip it firmly and pull, got him to try it and then he was satisfied. Meanwhile his buddies were all laughing too. I would never have thought that something as simple as a pen would be so gratefully received, but I learned to carry a stock of them in my purse. (We came prepared with a good stock that Jim brought back from Canada on one of his trips.)
We watched a fellow selling little candies from a big bag on his lap - he'd spoon them out into the hands of his buyers. A young woman selling sugar had a set of scales set up on the verandah in front of a store. People would give her their bags or containers, she would weigh them and then ladle the sugar from her big bag to the container on the scales. Other folks had tables set up and were selling whatever they had extra.
Jim got a haircut here! A barber standing in the doorway of a very attractive barber shop motioned him in. Since he really did need a haircut, he sat down in his chair and proceeded with the full deal - haircut, shave and facial massage. It was a good, short cut and our friends said it took 10 years off him from the shaggy, grizzly look he had been sporting. And the cost? The extravagant sum of 5 CUC.
We went to our first Etecsa centre - where we could use computers. We needed to present our passports again - no Cubans are allowed to use the computers - and pay 6 CUC for an hour's worth of time. The cards could be saved to use again if we didn't use the whole hour. The connection was sometimes slow, and we couldn't connect with some sites, but it was at least a chance to make a quick check of emails. Interestingly, I tried to get on my PayPal account but it told me I was in a suspect place and would not be able to get into the account. (When I got back to Florida, I was irritated to find that they restricted my account and I had to supply photo ID and a faxed proof of my address in order to get it restored. Geesh!)
At lunch time, we went to a paladar listed in the guidebook - the Paladar El Colonial - where we shared a plate of chicken, rice and salad - all delicious and costing 4 CUC. By the time we sat on a bench in the shade for a bit, wandered the streets some more, chatted with some students at the medical school up the street, the end of the afternoon was approaching and we had time for just 2 touristy visits - the first to the Museo Archeologico in las Cuevas del Paraiso - the caves high on a ridge on the edge of the city that once were Taino burial chambers. (The Taino were pre Columbian people, pretty much wiped out by the Spanish although there is some speculation that there are Indians still living in the Sierra Maestra, and of course it is likely that there is Indian blood in many mixed race people of the area.) It was quite an adventure, climbing up to the top level of the caves! No lawsuit-conscious officials had anything to do with that place! We saw skeletons and bones, pieces of pottery, 3000 year old petroglyphs and then climbed ladders made of sticks wired together to the viewpoint at the very top. It was worth the climb, but I had to breath deeply and look no farther than my feet for some of it.
We ended the day with beers from the little stand beside the Cruz de la Parra, the cross said to have been erected by Christopher Columbus in 1492 - it once was at the cathedral and is now located way down at the end of the road along the water. The cross has been carbon dated to the late 1400's, but it appears to have been made of indigenous Cuban wood, and therefor was not carried here from Europe as legend has it.
Back at our casa, we watched the young man who is renovating the top floor into a restaurant as he made nails for his project. Yes - that's right - he was making nails. From a long piece of what looked like copper, he chopped two inch pieces with his machete, and then proceeded to shape them into nails by hammering one end to a point and flattening the other end. It's a hard way to get construction materials.
We enjoyed another fine dinner and then Jim and I went for an evening stroll along the seawall, watching boys playing basketball in an open air court, and the many local folks out for strolls of their own. We saw that a couple of carnival rides had been set up near our corner, but it didn't dawn on us that it would be a noisy evening until the very loud music started at dusk and continued until midnight. Unfortunately the morning started early too as a car with a well functioning stereo parked at the end of the street and woke up the whole neighbourhood.
We could easily have stayed here another day or two but Santiago was calling us, and we loaded ourselves into the car, said good bye to our hosts and headed off, meeting dozens and dozens of folks headed toward the centre of town for work and school. Once again, the main transportation was bicycle, horse and foot, with a few truckloads thrown in too. It was really worth the 8:30 departure to see the Baracoa version of the Ottawa Queensway at rush hour!