A Travellerspoint blog

March 2021

January 22nd 2019

Santiago de Cuba

sunny 70 °F
View Cuba 2019 on carolinea's travel map.

We started out the day visiting the roof terrace with some views of the city, followed by a delicious breakfast.

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After breakfast, we arranged for a taxi to take us around for the afternoon, and then walked over to Parque Cespedes. First we visited the Cathedral, Santa Basilica Metropolitana Iglesia.

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Then we climbed the church tower for the beautiful views.

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We visited a house turned into a museum near the church tower, Casa de Diego Velazquez.

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La madre from the AirBnb arranged for us to have a taxi with a driver for several hours to drive around and see some sights. Our first stop was a church known as El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, or El Cobre (the copper) for short. This was the one place that Patricia absolutely insisted that we visit.

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On our way there.

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El Cobre is a popular pilgrimage for Cubans, even many Cubans who do not consider themselves to be particularly religious. Many visitors leave gifts, and in particular leave behind crutches and medical braces that they no longer need.

After visiting El Cobre, we drove over to the Monumento al Cimarron, a monument to runaway slaves at the top of a large hill.

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After visiting the Monumento, we drover over to the Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia, the main cemetery of Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel Castro is buried, as well as Jose Martí.

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The Jose Martí tomb is large, central and quite beautiful. The casket is at the center draped in a Cuban flag. The mausoleum is designed so that the casket always has sunlight hitting it, based on a famous Martí poem. "Do not bury me in darkness / to die like a traitor / I am good, and as a good man / I will die facing the sun."

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The rest of the cemetery is quite beautiful.

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Some members of the Bacardí family are buried here.

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Castro's "grave" is just a big rock with his ashes inside. Security was tight, so we kept our opinions to ourselves.

They also have an extremely elaborate "changing of the guard" ceremony every 30 minutes, complete with goose-stepping soldiers and terrible music blasted over loudspeakers.

After the cemetery, we hopped back into the car and drove over to the Castillo del Morro, an impressive 17th century fort located on the Santiago de Cuba Bay. The weather was perfect, the late afternoon sun glinting over the water.

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We even discovered a long lost relative, Tomas Abella Estravis, who died in the Spanish American war, or as it is known in Cuba, La Guerra HIspano-Cubano-Norteamericano.

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And stumbled upon some decidedly modern lighting.

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For dinner, we headed over to the Plaza del Marte area, a bustling part of Santiago de Cuba, where we were planning on eating dinner at a popular restaurant called St. Pauli. Unfortunately there was a problem when we go there and they didn't have any room available for us. We were very lucky Patricia was there, because whatever was going on was quite complicated, but in the end they weren't able to seat us for dinner. We wandered around the area for a while trying to find another restaurant, but eventually we decided to visit the Hotel Meliá which has several restaurants. We searched for a cab for a while, but it was worth the wait, because we ended up finding a cab that was a cross between an antique car and a jeep. We couldn't even figure out how to get inside at first, until we realized the door was in the back.

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The Meliá was reminiscent of the Meliá in Havana, and it clearly caters to tourists, so it was kind of fun, but the food was pretty terrible. We opted for a pizza place on the ground floor, and everything we ordered was missing crucial ingredients. We argued with the waiter for a while, he kept protesting that he just didn't have the right ingredients, and eventually he brought over a plate of shrimp (nobody could figure out why) and we gave up and ate what we had.

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After dinner we headed back to Plaza del Marte and stumbled upon a jazz bar. Unfortunately it was late and we were pretty tired, but we stuck around for a drink and some music before heading back to the casa.

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Posted by carolinea 04:08 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

January 21st 2019

Bayamo to Santiago

sunny 70 °F
View Cuba 2019 on carolinea's travel map.

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The bus to Santiago wasn't until the late morning, so we had a chance to spend a little more time in Bayamo before heading to Santiago de Cuba.
The host at the casa particular prepared breakfast for us which was absolutely delicious, we made a mental note to request breakfast in Santiago as well.

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Beatriz came to meet us at the casa, we chatted for a while, and she walked us to the bus station with us. The Viazul bus station was tiny and we chatted with some friendly Italians. Patricia and Beatriz and I chatted for a little while. Beatriz explained how happy she was with the new towels from the day before, but she didn't want to be selfish, so she sent half of them to a friend who lives in the country. I've noticed this before on previous trips, and I'm always pleasantly surprised at how selfless Cubans can be.

The bus was a little delayed, but we finally got on our way, Beatriz waved to us from bus terminal. The bus ride was a little over two hours, which was a nice break after everything we had done the day before. The bus station was busy, but we finally found a reasonably priced taxi, and headed over to our casa particular. The casa was a small bed and breakfast, located very centrally in the city in an old colonial house.

The biggest surprise when we arrived in Santiago was how incredibly hilly it was. I had always thought of Cuba as generally being pretty flat, outside of the mountains of course. But walking around Santiago turned out to be a pretty serious workout. A few streets had stairs actually cut into them, and we became pretty familiar with them over the next few days.

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Our first trip down the stairs, before we got tired of them.

Our initial reason for traveling to Santiago was a New York Times article about a small dive bar next to the Rum Museum. It was early afternoon, so we took the opportunity to head over as soon as possible. We had read some snippets online that said the Rum Museum might be closed. Rosa, the lady who ran our casa particular, assured us that it was still open. We arrived to find the Rum Museum had been converted into a fancy bar. On a hunch, we went around the corner and found the bar we were looking for.

NYT Profile of Eduardo Corona

The bar was on the small side, but still had plenty of room for a band, a large bar, and a whole lot of tourists fresh off of a cruise ship.

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Behind the bar stood the man himself, Eduardo Corona, wearing a starched white shirt, black bow tie, and his signature Bacardi apron with a prominent bat.

He was very busy making Mojitos and small talk with the various tourists, so we sat down at a free table and watched him work. Each mojito was a work of art, starting with dousing a slat of rum barrel in rum, lighting it on fire, and applying each glass to the fire before making the mojito. In addition to being a cool party trick, the fire adds a distinctive smoky taste to each mojito.

The whole time Eduardo never stopped moving, rushing back and forth to get just the right formula for each and every drink. Eventually the tourists began to thin out, and we managed to order our own round of mojitos.

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One of the finished mojitos.

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The bar as it was winding down.

Finally it was just the three of us in the bar, Eduardo poured a couple of glasses of premium rum, and I tried a daiquiri, which was excellent, of course.

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The premium rum was also excellent.

Eduardo was also kind enough to pose for a few photos, as well as showing us his collection of vintage Bacardi labels.

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We learned about some of the finer points of good sipping rum.

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Finally we closed down the bar.

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We headed over to la casa for a short siesta before heading to dinner. The restaurant was called Roy's terrace inn, the entire restaurant was in a rooftop garden. The food wasn't particularly great, but the ambiance made up for it.

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We headed over to the riverfront, hoping to check out the beer garden, but they were already sweeping up, even though it was still fairly early. We walked around town for a while before heading back to our casa.

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Posted by carolinea 01:52 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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