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.
Wednesday, Dec 28
Trinidad to Camagüay via Sancti Spiritus and Ciego De Avila
Just outside of Trinidad we visited a tower with a beautiful view.
This tower also had the obligatory market common to all tourist sites in Cuba.
Cuba is a beautiful country between (literally between) the mountains and the Caribbean.
On the way to Camugüey we visited the Sanctu Spiritus, another of the 7 oldest cities in Cuba. There we visited an open-air market where they were selling meat, beans, rice, and fresh veggies. Remember everything grown in Cuba is organic. There were many (organic, I guess) flies around, enjoying the foods, especially the meat. Vendors were counting money with the hands that they had just picked up the raw meat with and I’m sure they would soon pick up the meat again with all the germs on his hand from the money. There were no sinks visible anywhere in the market.
This market didn’t surprise me, as many places the world-over have similar open-air markets. It did surprise me in a nation that is so proud of its level of civilization (because of The Revolution, of course) and its self-proclaimed second-to-none health care system (also to be credited to The Revolution, of course). Cuba is a paradox of a nation. When traveling in Cuba we were inundated with their message (propaganda) that they are the healthiest and best-educated nation on earth. Then we’d run smack into something that looks exactly like what we have seen in Africa or rural Mexico.
The 1990’s were a period which Fidel and his government called the “Período Especial.” Basically, between the time of The Revolution and the fall of the USSR, Russia propped up the Cuban economy. When the USSR fell apart, their support of Cuba fell apart too. Fidel rallied the people by saying everyone should work together and expect hard times. This is what was called the “Special Period,” but it doesn’t sound very special to me, just really bad. Supplies were lacking, especially meat, but also soap, electricity, etc. With the drop of supplies, prices soared, and basic necessities were hard to obtain. Looking back on the dates, it was during this “Special Period” that I had a professor in college who was convinced and tried to convince us, his students, that Cuba was a great place to live. I didn’t believe him then, and I wouldn’t believe him now. They do not grow things that could be easily grown such as the carnations at Che’s burial site, various fruits, etc. Instead they import them at very expensive rates. China and Venezuela are now Cuba’s main allies and economic support now since the USSR came apart, but Venezuela has been having their own troubles, and Cuba is in a recession as a result.
After visiting the market, we took a quick 10 minute stroll through the heart of town. A block over from the open-air market we saw a sign for the Provincial Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology, and Microbiology. They would be well served to go inspect that market.
After lunch we also visited the Pauyet jewelry shop in Ciego de Ávila. There they make jewelry and other sculptures with silverware. I have never seen anything like their beautiful work. They are basically modern-day silversmiths. We saw where 4 of them were actively working.
When Steve found and bought a cross figurine for 30 CUC’s he took it back to the workshop and with Vince’s help asked who made it. We got to meet the artist and Steve got a picture with him. The cross now sits in his office.
They have national brands of water, cola, gas, and many many other things. We did see both Coke and Pepsi, but they were not actually made in the US.
However, there are obviously still good flowing in from the US. American brands of clothing were some of the most obvious. Also, our tour bus had a clear spot in the tinted windows so the driver could see the side mirror. This was in the shape of the Apple logo. When we asked our driver about it he said they just liked the shape. All those plastic-wrapped items at the airport eventually make their way into the homes and streets of Cuba.
Someone on the tour asked why sometimes Cuban people would be dancing or enjoying themselves and police officers would call them aside. As it turns out, they are checking people for a criminal record and if you have a record they make you leave. This is their way of keeping tourists safe and keeping shady characters away from them. I guess once you have been guilty of one thing it is assumed you’re always guilty (or will soon be) thereafter. Their way of preventing trouble, demonstrations, protests, etc, is to arrest people ahead of events they might object to.
After our long day of travel we checked into out homestay, which was very nice this time with an eating area, a fridge, a courtyard, etc.
After giving our passport info to the lady of the house, we took a bicycle rickshaw orientation tour seeing all the different “squares” which are not square at all.
The town of Camagüay was intentionally designed in 1528 to confuse foreign invaders, pirates, etc. Now it is equally successful in confusing tourists.
A symbol for this town is the tinajón. There is a legend that if you drink from one you will not leave Camagüay. In history these huge clay pots, some about 4 feet in diameter, were used to collect water for future use, similar to the function of our cisterns. Here is an example in the courtyard of our homestay.
During the orientation, our guide pointed out various restaurants, art galleries, bars, and other attractions that were either good, bad, or overpriced.
Outside the art gallery featuring the works of Martha Jimenez we saw some statues made by her that feature local people. One was a man pushing a cart full of tinajónes.
Another of the statues was 4 chairs, 3 of them filled by women gossiping and the empty one for someone else to join in. I try not to be a gossiper, but I joined their party on this occasion.
These people have all died, but the other one is of an old man who still lives and occasionally comes and sits next to the statue of him reading the local newspaper and he talks to people. According to our guide he has Parkinson’s Disease and doesn’t come meet people as much any more.
Camagüay is a beautiful clean town with a lot of artwork, cathedrals, shops, etc. Remember how awful Cuban TV is their expensive Wi-Fi is only available in the squares? Main Street USA may have died but the main streets downtown in Cuba are still vibrant and very much alive. The shops, however, are not well-stocked. I only saw 1 store (with home goods) that was adequately stocked by American standards. Most had lots of empty floor space and sparsely-filled shelves.
By the time we ended our orientation tour it was about 7:30 and we were very hungry. On our guide’s suggestion, we ate Italian food at a place whose menu was in Spanish with a tiny bit of Italian but absolutely no English. We ordered two pizzas to share: one with only cheese, and one with what was supposed to be sausage but looked like hot dogs. We were very hungry, though, and it all tasted very good.
After eating we returned home. At this point I was getting sick, my asthma was kicking up, and I was starting to get what felt like a sinus infection.
Click on Day 7 to continue the journey.