From Jan. 24 to Feb. 4 a group of 19 AIC members went on a research trip to Cuba. Over the next week we will be posting about our experiences. Below is an account of days 3-5. Join us on our journey.
26 January 2014 (Day Three)
In the morning, we toured Santa Efigenia Cemetery, a necropolis second only to Havana’s Cristóbal Colón in importance. Created in 1868 to accommodate the victims of the War of Independence and a simultaneous yellow-fever outbreak, it includes many great historical figures among its more than 8,000 tombs, most notably the mausoleum of José Martí, the intellectual author of Cuban independence. Marti’s imposing tomb is positioned so that his flag-draped casket receives daily shafts of sunlight. A round-the-clock guard of the mausoleum is changed every 30 minutes, amid much pomp and ceremony. Other notable Cubans buried at Santa Efigenia include Cuba’s first president Tomás Estrada Palma (1835–1908); Emilio Bacardí (1844–1922) of the famous rum dynasty; the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill; and Compay Segundo (1907–2003), of Buena Vista Social Club fame. Afterward, we toured the Moncada Barracks, a 1938 military garrison where on July 26, 1953, more than 100 revolutionaries led by a little-known revolutionary named Fidel Castro took on Batista’s troops in a spectacularly failed action that also happened to spark the Cuban revolution. Housing a museum which commemorates both Santiago’s most famous political event and the beginnings of the Revolution, the building contains a scale model of the barracks plus artifacts, diagrams, and models of the revolution. After lunch at Aurora, we visited one of Santiago’s most important and best kept museums: the Carnival museum. Then the group went to see San Juan Hill. Later, some of us took salsa “lessons” at the Casa de la Trova. It was more like a crash course, which when out on the dance floor became for some of us more like train wreck. We at least got in our exercise that day, which was helpful to counter the mojitos we had begun to down twice daily. A dinner, we gathered again at the Trova (the scene of the crime from the afternoon) for more music and this time a lot less dancing.
27 January 2014 (Day Four)
We left Santiago early in the morning, stopping first for a visit to the Basilica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, or “El Cobre,” which is a 1926 church near a copper mining town that honors Cuba’s patron saint—La Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre. This beautiful church sits in a beautiful valley, and as befitting a church dedicated to a patron saint, the church is a place of pilgrimage for many Cubans. It also became a place of pilgrimage for us as well. Yudi, our Cuban logistical coordinator for the trip, suggested we all light a candle for the renewed relationship between our two countries, and regardless of whether we were religious or not, each of us lit one. It will take more than lighting a candle to finally end the embargo, but at least for now, we could recognize the thaw in our relations that has occurred so far and not focus so much on the long road of diplomatic work we have before us. Leaving El Cobre and our flickering candles behind, we headed for another place of pilgrimage for Cubans—this one more secular in nature. Bayamo, the second of the seven cities founded by Diego Velazquez in Cuba in 1513, has a town center that dates from 19th century. It also happens to be not only the birthplace of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the general who led the Cuban war of independence against Spain but also the birthplace of Cuba’s national anthem, the “La Bayamesa,” which at regular intervals can heard blaring across the loud speakers positioned in the main square. After visiting the church where the anthem was first performed, we had lunch at a restaurant called La Bodega, which was right behind the church and overlooked a lush ravine with a shallow stream. From there we made our way to our accommodations that night on the beautiful Playa Santa Lucia, a beachside hotel that is the only place near Camaguey with enough lodging for a group of our size. Very few groups on cultural visits see these resorts, which are mostly filled with Canadians escaping brutal winters up North, and this became apparent by the quality of the back road we used to get there (something tells me the one directly from the nearby airport is much smoother). Thankfully, our guides were prepared for the journey and “opened the bar” on the bus, which made the ride a little smoother if not “jovial.”
28 January 2014 (Day Five)
In the morning, we traveled to Camaguey, a UNESCO World Heritage city founded in 1528. Sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in the 17th century, an effort was made to confuse future marauders by rebuilding the city with an unusual labyrinthine city plan, which we navigated with the help of bicitaxi drivers who took us around the historic center, accompanied by the staff of the city’s conservation training facility and architectural preservation team. After a delicious lunch in Camaguey at La Campana de Toledo, we left for the colonial city of Trinidad, where we stayed in what are known as casas particulares or, as we would call them, “bed and breakfast.” After dinner at our Casas Particulares, we gathered for an evening of music at Trinidad’s own Casa de la Trova.
Keep tuned for more blog posts on this amazing trip…