We Were In Cuba! – Part II, Cuba’s Countryside

Yep! That’s right, we were in Cuba… In early February. After getting back to Philadelphia, I did a post about our first three days of the tour in Havana, and wrote this post about the last three days of the trip, and then completely forgot to post it (there are even videos!). So, four months later, here is the wrap up of our trip where we traveled through the countryside and experienced several cities and racked up more amazing experiences.

In Part I, I focused on the first three days in Havana. On the morning of day four, we boarded our private bus and left Havana heading south to the Caribbean Coast. After about three hours of driving, we ended up in Playa Larga, a small village on the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) where we had lunch at paladar Tiki Bahia de Cochinos overlooking the bay near where the Bay of Pigs invasion occurred. After lunch, we then drove further down to the coast to Playa Giron, where we toured the Museo de la Intervención for the Cuban viewpoint on the Bay of Pigs invasion.

 

[Image: Museo de la Intervención in Playa Giron (on the Bay of Pigs) where we learned the Cuban viewpoint about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion from the US. ]

Learning the history of the failed invasion from a Cuban perspective was eye opening to say the least. This was just one of the things which shifted my understanding of things on this trip. Let’s just say that our government is so very far from benevolent (Shocking! I know!). After our visit to the museum, we then got back on the road and drove into the nearby town of Cienfuegos.

 

[Image: We spent the afternoon in Cienfuegos, a coastal town which we found to be quite lively.]

Cienfuegos (literally translates to “one hundred fires”) is a mid sized city of about 150k people (ranks 9th in the country) and was founded in 1819. It became a trade center in the sugar cane, tobacco, and coffee trade because of its location on the Bay of Cienfuegos. We toured the Tomas Terry Theatre (Teatro Thomas Terry) and the town square followed by about an hour of free-time to wander about the city.

 

[Image: You will find tributes to Che Guevara throughout Cuba. This one translates to “Gentleman without fault and without fear” (Cienfuegos).]

After our brief free-time we boarded the bus for the two and a half hour drive to our hotel in Remedios. It is only a 70 mile drive, but even though the roads are generally pretty good, driving through the countryside involves sharing the road with slow trucks, tour busses, horse drawn carts, and pedal powered pedicabs. The drive was a somewhat precarious test of ones nerves and patience. Major kudos to our driver for navigating the way.

 

[Image: From our hotel room, we could see the town square and Iglesia Parroquia Mayor San Juan Bautista de Remedios, a church built in 1692]

[Image: Hotel Barcelona located just off the main square was our home for the last couple of nights.]

We arrived in Remedios well into the evening, got checked into Hotel Barcelona, and were on our own for dinner. We ended up eating at the hotel where we were served a delicious dinner and drank a good amount of wine (thanks to one of our group members offering to buy all the wine for the evening).

 

[Image: About a mile outside of town was a former sugar cane mill, now a museum (Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado) where we learned of the slave labor used for the processing of sugar.]

[Image: While at the Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado, we watched a demonstration of crushing sugar cane into juice. Several in our group gave it a try, with rum of course.]

In the morning, we were off to Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado, a sugar cane mill to learn about how cane is processed into sugar. The mill was in operation from the end of the 19th century until 1999. Using steam engines, they extracted cane juice and refined it to the point of being brown sugar where it was then shipped elsewhere to be further refined. Alongside the mill was a rail yard filled with vintage locomotives, mostly from the Baldwin Locomotive Works which was based in Philadelphia!

 

[Image: Outside the Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado is a train yard which is in and of itself a museum of old trains. Here a tribute to Che “Ever onward to Victory” stands very prominent.]

[Image: The train yard at Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado. Most of the locomotives were manufactured by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in of all cities, Philadelphia!]

[Image: The front of a smaller locomotive built in 1924.]

Following the tour, the group rode back into Remedios on a train powered by a steam locomotive. Four of us were given the chance to ride in the cab of the steam locomotive. The locomotive was built in 1916 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in my Philadelphia. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me. It was hot as hell and honestly a bit scary. I mean, what could go wrong? Everything was potentially hot enough to burn you, forcing you to be very careful where you put your hands. Flames were escaping from the door to the burner, which when opened appeared to be the fires of hell. Steam was randomly leaking out of various areas of the boiler and pipes, and the only gauge that appeared to be functioning was the pressure gage. The pressure gauge read 150psi, which is what is needed to propel the train, but also enough to cause death should one of the pipes blow. At the same time, it was exhilarating as hell to ride in this monster of an iron horse from a different era and realize just how amazing humankind was to develop this technology for the time. I put together the following video from clips shot on my ride back into Remedios.

 

After riding back into Remedios on the train, we had a nice lunch at a local paladar, and then it was on to a tour of the Iglesia Parroquia Mayor San Juan Bautista de Remedios, a church built in 1692 on the remains of a 1570 church and considered to be the oldest church in Cuba (we also had a wonderful view of the church from our hotel room). In the afternoon we had a couple of hours of free-time and a group of us rented pedicabs for a 30 minute ride around town. Remedios being a small town of only 25,000, I think we saw the entire town on our ride.

 

By late afternoon we were exhausted, but managed to sneak in a nap before our final dinner at paladar La Estancia (which was okay, but not as good as other meals) followed by wine at the hotel. After a good nights sleep, it was our last day in Cuba, but with an early evening flight, it was to be a full day.

 

[Image: The courtyard at our hotel.]

[Image: Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum outside of Santa Clara.]

After breakfast, we loaded up the bus for a trip to Cuba’s fifth largest city, Santa Clara, about an hour away. On the drive to Santa Clara, we stopped at the Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum. This is where the remains of Che Guevara and twenty-nine of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during Guevara’s attempt to spur an armed uprising in Bolivia are entombed. The mausoleum was a somber place in which silence is required (as well as no photography). After a visit to the museum next door, we got to take in the monument outdoors. Then we were off to the town square of Santa Clara.

 

[Image: We were a bit surprised by the number of people who have smart phones. Cell service is spotty at best, internet is very unreliable and costs by the minute. Main Square, Santa Clara]

[Image: Locals in Santa Clara]

After a few minutes to take in the surroundings in the town square, we walked over to meet with local seniors who are part of a community project, Abuelos de Fiesta (Celebration of Grandparents) where we learned about the history of how a lady’s fan was used during a dance as a tool to communicate to their dance partner without alerting the chaperone to their intentions. After our time at the senior center, we were off to paladar SaboreArte for our final lunch before heading to Abel Santamaría Airport – Santa Clara to begin our long journey back to Miami and then home.

 

[Image: JetBlue and American are the only two US airlines serving the small Abel Santamaría Airport outside of Santa Clara (Side note, I worked for one, but flew the other).]

[Image: Our plane to take back to Miami shortly after it landed and passengers began to disembark.]

Before my final thoughts, I will leave you with a few more shots which didn’t quite fit into my story, but I felt are worth sharing anyway.

 

[Image: While in Playa Giron, we stopped for a beverage at a local store. This is typical of what you may find on store shelves. Of course there is a lot of rum to be had.]

[Image: ATM’s are generally a rare site in Cuba. You see them from time to time, but because of the embargo, Americans cannot use them. This one was in Cienfuegos.]

[Image: The locomotive we rode back into Remedios was built in 1916.]

[Image: Locals set up shop inside their homes to serve their neighbors needs. (Remedios)]

[Image: We were forbidden to take photos at the large cigar factory in Havana, but the folks at this small one in Remedios didn’t seem to mind us taking a few snapshots from an open window on the street.]

[Image: Locals in Santa Clara.]

[Image: It is quite common to see these motorized three wheeled wagons hauling entire family’s around.]

[Image: In smaller cities and in the countryside, you frequently see horse driven wagons like this one in Santa Clara. In small cities, they will act like public transit carrying many different folks to different destinations.]

[Image: Everywhere we went, we found the most amazing cement tile floors with amazing patterns and colors. The tile in our former kitchen was made the same way as these, only they are new.]

Final thoughts…. This was without a doubt an experience of a lifetime which will forever impact me personally. Spending time in Cuba, meeting the people, and learning about their history from their point of view shifted my understanding of things. The Cuban people love the US, it is the governments which have the issues. There is a sizable tourist market in Cuba, mostly from Canada, China, and Europe, but every time somebody asked were we were from, the response of US garnered hugely positive responses and a distinct love for Barack Obama to no surprise (and a lot of anger at Donald Dump). The US/Cuba political situation is very complicated and to go into any detail on what is currently happening and what will or should happen is fodder for those who better understand the situation than I ever will. I do hope that one day there will be more opportunity for Americans to freely travel to Cuba, and for Cubans to have more freedom to become entrepreneurs in their own right. But most of all, I hope that big money does not fuck up what is really and truly an amazing place.

Next post…. Back to the house and tapping into my dark side.

 

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Till next time. . .

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2 Comments

  • Looks like you had a great time! I’m really intrigued with the Hotel Barcelona and its magical courtyard… it has a real time-travel quality to it. So much great architecture and history everywhere – thanks for letting us vicariously experience it!

  • Devyn says:

    The Hotel Barcelona was lovely and the courtyard was wonderful. We ate dinner under the stars the first night (and drank copious amounts of wine) and was truly magical. The hotel was restored sometime in the past ten years, from what we were told, it had been all but abandoned for decades. It is now a modern fully functioning hotel with the odd quirks of Cuba due to the limitations of obtaining building materials (the shower was plumbed very strangely). During breakfast on our last day, there was a downpour and the courtyard was filled with puddles while the staff ran around with mops and squeegees to mop up the mess.

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