Day 10 – Santiago de Cuba

24 Mar

The day started with a city tour.  Initially on the bus we stopped off at the Plaza de la Revolution, with 23 huge machetes and a man on a horse (Antonio Maceo).  Posters of Fidel were a bit more evident here.  As were trucks crammed with workers. Parasols were a popular sunshade.

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Antonio Maceo

Off then to the scene of the ill fated attempt by Fidel and 118 others on 26th July 1953 to storm the barracks. The bullet holes are still there although they had originally been covered up until Fidel “took a flaky” and they were restored.  All barracks are now either schools or hospitals and this particular one was now a school, with a small museum.

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Bullet ridden barracks

Fidel ended up in jail for this, but it was a missed opportunity for Batista not to get rid of him for good.  It inspired the country to rally around Fidel and the “26 Julio” movement was born.

Off then to the cemetery Santa Ifigenia – the home of the national hero Jose Marti. Our tour guide, Jose, showed us around with perfect English after we had safely negotiated the photo ticket seller with the longest nails in the world.

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Emelio Bacardi tomb

Despite having bought our photo tickets, the guides were quite intent on us not taking photos. Jobsworths with nothing else to do we think.

Several notable tombs including Emelio Bacardi (died before the Bacardi family left Cuba and Havana Club replaced it as a brand – with the same recipe). Also Cespedes who had a couple of flags on his tomb. I’ll figure out why eventually but I think there was a national competition to create as many flags for Cuba as possible – and he lost.

Many of the tombs had the red and black of the revolutionaries flying high and there was a whole space reserved for any yet to die.  Most likely including Fidel himself.

Another tomb was that of “Compay Segundo” – not his real name – one of the original five members of the Buenavista Social Club. Marked with a hat on a guitar.

Cuban marble was everywhere, with the occasional Italian marble thrown in for the rich people.

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Jose Marti tomb

The monument to Jose Marti was high in comparison to any or the others.  He started the first (failed) war of independence from the Spanish in the 1860’s. Changing of the guard happens every 30 minutes and we managed to get a good view of this from the small crowd that had assembled. Afterwards our guide explained the symbolism of the tomb and the representations of all the provinces of Cuba. Two holes in the tomb allow rainwater to create two rivers around the casket. All very clever for a poet who wasn’t a soldier but obviously inspired people very well.

Some of his poems were used as the inspiration for the words to Guantanamera.

The tour continued into the main square of Santiago – the scene of last night’s chess playing. It seemed a lot quieter today.

With the temperature display showing 35°C and it feeling at least double that, Ernesto gave a brief description that we should not visit any of the streets we had last night and left us to explore further.

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Cathedral

The cathedral was an instant target for me as it it normally the coolest place. However it is still being restored and was full of scaffolding. A trip to the rum museum proved slightly better although all the displays were in Spanish. There was a man with a bucket of rum from a leaking barrel which filled the place with a pleasant odour. One small sample and a swift exit to the roof terrace of the Casagrande Hotel. Excellent all round views of Santiago from here. The Barrel Proof rum and the tuna sandwich were almost as welcome as the cool breeze.

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Bus from the roof terrace of Casagrande Hotel

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Balcony from which Fidel declared the revolution a success

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Expensive rum doesn't need a mixer

Back in the hotel I had time for an afternoon nap which almost caused me to miss the bus to the Castillo del Morro (fort).

As a UNESCO world heritage site, I’m glad I didn’t. Cannons, castillations and a history of piracy. Alexander Selkirk got a mention, but the rest will require further translation from the hundreds of photos I took.

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We waited on the roof for sunset which, as normal, was interrupted by a low cloud. It was worth the wait.

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The rest of the group joined us at a nearby restaurant for one of the best meals of pork, prawns and fried fish ever. Paul McCartney had visited and his name was everywhere.  Shame he’s vegetarian.  The knife and fork he used was on display.  Despite the restaurant closing at 4:30pm, we left at 9:00pm.

Just in time to pack our bags for the early morning start.

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