These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Sunday Jan 1,
Going to Baracoa, going near Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Today we had another long travel day. After about an hour and a half of travel we stopped for a bathroom break and a look at a map of the area we would be covering in the day. Included was the area around the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
This whole area is the Guantanamo province of Cuba. I have zoomed in on the area beneath the black word “GUANTANAMO” on the map.
This dotted area is the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. You can see that even in cartography (map making) in Cuba the political messages are strong. Even with very limited knowledge of Spanish, if I tell you that E.U.A is Spanish for U.S.A you can tell what the basic message behind “Territorio ocupado ilegalmente por E.U.A.” means.
Then we went to a beautiful area for whoever in our group wanted to swim. We saw this brick beachfront property for sale. “Se Vende Llama…” means “For Sale, Call….” The house needs a bit of work, but the view would be beautiful.
Homes are rarely for sale in Cuba as most are state-owned. A few, however, have started to be sold by private individuals. Another one we saw in Trinidad looked like this.
Housing is different in Cuba. If you are necessary to the government, you get a house. If you have the money and ability and can get the proper permits, you can build your own house. They provide homes for athletes as well. As of 1970 and going forward, they needed more houses, so professionals were allowed to give a year or two to the government to build houses, and then they get one of the houses that they have built.
It is strange that, unlike some developing countries we’ve been to, most of the buildings in Cuba are completely finished. That does not mean, though that they are in good shape. A lot of them are beautiful old structures with gorgeous ornamentation, but the roofs are bad, or they are in a general state of disrepair. Also, we’d be walking along a city street and 2 of the 10 structures on the street would be shells with old bricks or piled-up concrete pieces in them. And I’m not talking about areas that were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Other times we’d walk by a large building and the entire bottom floor would be empty except for a single desk.
You can see from the “beachfront property for sale” picture that the area is very dry. The villages in the area around Guantanamo sometimes go a year or more with no rainfall.
You have to obtain a permit to visit relatives or friends near Guantanamo because some people try to escape to the Naval Base there since it’s American soil. There is a (very small) Cuban army installation here to keep an eye on the base, and in most of the areas you are not allowed to take pictures. If you as a tourist do this, they’ll take you away, take your camera, end your visit right then, and kick you off the island. Our guide knew a nice spot, though, where we could see the base in the distance and take a few pictures. In the distance is Guantanamo Naval Base. One of the ladies on our trip had a nice camera and we could see the US flag when you zoomed in on her pictures.
Reportedly, they have to use desalination to supply water on the base because the Cuban government cut of their water supply, and as I said, the area is very dry.
After we ate lunch at a tiny home restaurant which had amazing fried taro root chips, we started our trek over the mountains. This road, La Farola Viaduct, is another of the 7 Wonders of Cuban Engineering like the little tunnel outside Havana mentioned on Day 2. Many times the government had promised this road, but only The Revolution actually built it. Batista’s regime had started it, but was finished in 1965, so The Revolution takes full credit for it. It is a two lane road going through the mountains, like many I have been on before. The only difference is that on this one the concrete-with-rebar-inside guardrails in spots were in disrepair or missing. These spots are suspiciously in curves where it would be easiest for a vehicle to misdirect and go over. I suspect some have tried these routes and taken the guardrails with them. Luckily our bus driver was very skilled and got us to Baracoa safely. The views were amazing, though.
Baracoa is a rainy little town, mostly isolated from the rest of Cuba except for that mountain road and an airport. It was heavily hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October and is still being rebuilt. Many of the attractions were closed or wiped out because of the hurricane. It is an area of cacao farms (though Matthew must have liked cacao because he visited a lot of them and took the trees with him), black sand beaches, high mountains, and rain.
Baracoa is the oldest settlement in Cuba, founded in 1511, and Columbus visited here in November, 1492. They have a monument to him which we visited.
We checked in to our casa, and unexpectedly (since a hurricane recently came through) it was our nicest one yet. Everything was freshly painted, and though the beds were still not comfortable, the linens, etc, looked like they were less than 10 years old. You see, the owner’s brother lives in the U.S. He was a medical doctor in Cuba and traveled to many different countries as it is common for them to do. He defected while in Venezuela and then came to America. He is now a nurse practitioner in Miami. I imagine from the looks of the casa that he has brought some plastic-wrapped packages to his family here in Cuba on his visits back home. American citizens are now allowed to visit family in Cuba. We somehow missed getting pictures of our room in this casa. The shower-head-water-heater was the same as usual, though, and this one made a shocking impact on my husband when he reached up to adjust it, so he got a picture of it.
During our orientation walk Vince got sick and left his lunch in the street, and I got queasy. We suspect it was some food we ate at the tiny home restaurant. Maybe the octopus and fish? So we ended the day with Vince alternately visiting the bathroom and watching Steven and I eat cheap pizza.
Continue the journey to Days 11 & 12.