1.20.19 - 1.20.19 70 °F
The overnight bus from Sancti Spiritus arrived in Bayamo at 6AM, and despite sleeping a little on the bus, we were exhausted. Our cousins in Bayamo were nice enough to meet us at the bus station to ensure we make it to our AirBNB okay. We got to meet Beatriz, Betty and Esteban. Luckily the Airbnb is only a five minute walk away from the bus station, and our cousins helped us with our bags. The Airbnb was very nice, with two rooms directly off of a large second story terrace overlooking the street.
The Airbnb was booked from the night before, so we checked in at 6 AM. The cousins had everything planned: lunch at their apartment, a tour of the town, dinner at a nearby restaurant. We agreed to meet them again at 10:30, and we snuck a few hours of sleep in before another busy day.
One of the first things we noticed is that the horse and carriage is the dominant form of transportation in Bayamo, although many people use bicycles and moto-taxis are also available. From our rooms at the Airbnb, we could hear the constant sound of hoofbeats, with the occasional whoosh of a car going by. Although we were offered a ride in a carriage, we decided to stick with moto-taxis and walking.
At 10:30 Esteban came to meet us at the Airbnb. He had arrived on his bike, so he hailed a moto taxi for us and then raced us to his apartment in our moto-taxi.
The cousins have a very nice first floor apartment with an entry directly onto the street. We sat and chatted for a little while. There were some language challenges, but by and large we had very few issues. Before lunch, the cousins wanted to take us to the main pedestrian promenade in the center of town, and visit the Museo de Cero (wax museum) before it closed at noon.
The main promenade, Paseo Bayames, is beautiful, with a surprising number of stores (at least in contrast to Havana). The street itself is stone, with mosaics and islands of grass mixed in. Colorful pieces of public art pop popped up every few blocks.
On left, Betty, Beatriz and Patricia. On right, Ytan and Esteban.
We headed to the Museo de Cero. I had read about this and checked out the photos on Trip Advisor before we went, so I was excited to see what it's like. Although it was supposed to be open, it was closed that day for "fumigation". Very disappointing, and also very typical for Cuba. We got a good photo in front though.
Left to Right: Beatriz, Patricia, Myself, Betty and Esteban
We also stopped by the Casa del Queso for fun, but it wasn't very exciting on the inside.
We also visited a small archeological museum, with some exhibits about the early massacres of the aborigines.
and saw some work by a local artist.
Estaban (left) and Ytan
We headed over to the main square at the end of the Paseo. Bayamo is the birthplace of Cespedes, and the central square features a large statue.
Next door to the main square was another plaza with a cathedral, Catedral del Saltisimo Salvador de Bayamo, the second oldest church in Cuba.
Next up was the Bayamo "Malecon", which had a distinctly different character than the Havana version.
But it did feature some beautiful views of the Sierra Maestra mountains.
At that point we were looking forward to lunch, so we headed back to the apartment. Patricia, Ytan and I brought regalos (gifts) for the family; clothing, a set of new bath towels (pretty much gold in Cuba), and some kitchen knives. The cousins were very generous and gave us homemade sugar candies, honeycomb, raw sugarcane, and a bottle of Cuban wine.
Beatriz prepared a beautiful and tasty lunch, and we got a chance to learn a little more about the family. Esteban attended school in Santiago, and works as an electrical engineer in the field, and Betty is in school to become a dentist, a very in demand job due to the shortage of dentists in Cuba.
On left, Myself, Betty, Beatriz, Esteban, Patricia and Ytan. On right, Patricia and Ytan.
After lunch, we talked a little bit about Cuban baseball. The playoffs had just ended and we found out that Esteban is a big baseball fan, and watches games at the local stadium. Ethan has spent the last few years looking for a Cuban baseball fan in Cuba, so he was very excited to talk baseball.
We also got a chance to meet Esteban Senior who had been out visiting his mother. He was very friendly and also a baseball fan. We would have liked to get to know him better (and we forgot to get a photo!), but we were glad that we got a chance to meet him.
After lunch we took a long walk around town with the cousins to see Bayamo.
There was one street where a large tree had fallen many years ago. Sculptors had come by and carved the tree up into a number of animal sculptures. The sculptures were beautiful, but had obviously spent a lot of years open to the elements.
Next we visited the Plaza de la Revolución. It's not quite as large as the Havana version, but it definitely has the same feeling of ridiculous amounts of open space for no apparent reason.
On the more whimsical side, they have a "Cuba Va" sign reminiscent of the I Amsterdam sign.
On one side of the plaza there is a large monument, the Monumento Plaza de La Patria.
It's a general memorial featuring many of Cuba's "heroes", including Jose Martí, Camilo, Cienfuegos, Che and Fidel. It is notable for being the only monument in all of Cuba featuring Fidel.
After leaving the plaza, we realized that the baseball stadium was visible within walking distance. Esteban offered to take us to see the stadium, which was empty since the season had just ended. Ytan, Esteban and I headed over to the stadium while the rest of our group took a break. The stadium was mostly deserted, and the guard at the front wearily nodded us in on Esteban's request.
From Ethan Kaplan, Guest Columnist:
The Bayamo stadium was like the baseball equivalent of a Roman amphitheater: a single level of back-less concrete bleachers all around. During games, people party on the rooftops of the apartment buildings beyond the outfield, like the Wrigley Rooftops in Chicago.
The team plays for the Granma province. Their mascot, “Los Alazanes” (“The Stallions”) is taken from the horse carriage industry that powers the region’s economy. The team is colloquially known as “Los Caballos” (“The Horses”), the same way savvy sports announcers refer to the Miami Dolphins as “The Fish.”
Local hero Alfredo Despaigne (“El Caballo de los Caballos,” or “The Horse of the Horses”) holds Cuba’s single season home run record with 38, set in 2012. The record had previously been held by the Jose Abreu, who now plays for the White Sox. Despaigne had also held the record before Abreu. He now spends most of the season playing in Japan.
Yoenis Céspedes, currently of the New York Mets, played 8 seasons for Granma before defecting to the United States in 2010.
The Mártires de Barbados Stadium looks like a stadium from the 80s or 90s and holds about 10,000 in a single tier of seating. The six story apartment buildings nearby must have a decent view of the game. The seats are simple bleachers, and on a game day it's first come first serve. We asked Esteban about games. He said he tries to make it over as often as he can. It's incredibly cheap to attend, the championships don't cost any more than the regular season games. But, a popular game will almost guarantee an entire day waiting in line for any fans that actually want to make it into the stadium.
We reunited with the rest of our group and headed back into town after a round of sodas. It was a few hours before dinner, so we headed back to the Casa Particular to rest a little and change for dinner. We had made reservations at Meson La Cuchipapa, one of the most popular restaurants in town, earlier that day.
After leaving early to avoid traffic (ha!), we of course arrived early as well. The restaurant is off of a small square, several in Bayamo, and we debated finding a bar to pass the time, but eventually decided to sit in the square and take advantage of the perfect weather. The square is not huge, and dominated almost exclusively by restaurants, bars and churches. One of the churches was bustling with people, Sunday evening mass seemed to be ending and people streamed out into the square. Despite all this, the square had a surprisingly calm atmosphere.
Finally we were ushered into the crowded restaurant. A very energetic band played in front, and the menu was written on the wall on chalkboards. We had a large table right near the door.
The menu was fairly large, and had a separate set of prices for "Al Bayamés" (people from Bayamo) and another price for everyone else. The prices were not drastically different, but a significant discount, a CUC or two per item. Naturally we asked the cousins how they distinguished Bayameses from other Cubans (clearly telling the tourists apart is not difficult), and they of course said "The accent".
The restaurant had an old fashioned tavern look, with brick walls and imposing wood tables. A large antique map of Cuba took up one wall, and the decorative lighting pendants were made of empty rum bottles.
Lonely Planet had recommended (with caution) a cocktail known as Frucanga, which consisted of firewater and ginger. I ordered one, despite the concerned face of the waiter as he cautioned "muy fuerte". The rest of the table decided to stick with Cristal beer.
The Frucanga arrived in a small round wooden cup. It also included a small pot of honey on a small wooden cart, to add to the drink as needed. The presentation alone was worth the price of the drink. It delivered on its promise, but it was also very good!
We ordered, but about half of what was requested was unavailable, including, tragically, the Na Tomasa, the malanga fritters. This is a fairly common occurrence throughout Cuba, where supplies are often unreliable. The food was good, but it definitely did not compare to the homemade lunch!
Most importantly, we got to spend time with the family, and despite the loud atmosphere and the (minor) language barrier, we got in some good conversation. Our next stop was Santiago de Cuba, and Esteban explained that he had attended college in Santiago and gave us some good tips on restaurants and things to do.
After dinner and finishing the Frucanga, we invited the family over to the Casa Particular to watch the super moon eclipse from the terrace, and we were glad they took us up on it even though it was getting late. Luckily the fridges our rooms came stocked with beer and we watched the eclipse over beers and a few cigars. No one else around seemed to notice the eclipse, the horse drawn carriages continued their way along the quiet streets.
Around 1AM we were all getting sleepy and we said goodbye to the cousins. Even through we were only there one day, we saw so much and we really got to connect with our cousins. I can now proudly says that I have cousins in Havana AND Bayamo.
The cousins completely surpassed all expectations, they were so gracious, welcoming, friendly, generous and a lot of fun. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. It is Cuba after all.