Category Archives: Cuba

S is for Santiago de Cuba

SThe energy in Santiago de Cuba is very different from Havana and is considered the most Caribbean-influenced city in Cuba. Whereas Havana has large, open plazas and broad avenues, I found Santiago more chaotic, with smaller plazas and narrow streets. In some ways, I felt safer in Havana as I wandered along its streets because there seemed to be more people – and they all wanted to ask you something! In some ways, Santiago seemed almost claustrophobic with so many people and different modes of transportation crowding its narrow streets. It was very exhilarating!

The port is near town but is can be a bit of a walk up the hills that are part of this city, so for some people, it will be easier to take a taxi to get around and see the sights.  That said, if you are good with crowded streets, it is very walk-able and has different types of colonial architecture.  The buildings are very different from the grand structures in Havana. They are more colourful and unique to this portion of the island.

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Known as the City of Heroes, Santiago celebrates its contributions to Cuban revolutions with many monuments and a large Revolutionary Square. In the cemetery, there are a number of special sections devoted to different groups of revolutionary fighters — including a section to those who died fighting apartheid in South Africa.

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The Morro Fortress provides a guards the entrance to the bay leading to Santiago. It was built to protect the city from pirates. now, it provides a great vantage point to see the entire city.

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R is for Revolutionary Heroes

RBefore I begin this, none of this is meant as a political statement, but as a way to show how Cuban revolutionaries are commemorated. In a prior post, I talked about John Lennon and shared a print that I bought linking him to other revolutionary people. In every country, you will find monuments to that country’s heroes. In Havana, there is the Avenue of Presidents that honours leaders from many parts of the world. Cuba has a long history of revolution and you will find signs of these everywhere, including monuments, statues, signs and large plazas.

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Probably, the most honoured is the revolutionary poet, Jose Marti (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895). He worked in many ways: a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century. He honoured all over Cuba through statues, and monuments. He fought against Spanish occupation and influence of other countries in Cuba. He dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, political independence for Cuba and intellectual independence for all Spanish Americans. His murder became a cry for Cuban independence from Spain by both the Cuban revolutionaries and those Cubans previously reluctant to start a revolt.

The tomb of Jose Marti in Santiago has a changing of the guard ceremony at his tomb daily. It is designed in such a way to honour his wishes from a poem a wrote:

Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun

The sun shines through the stained-glass dome of the tomb directly onto his casket which is draped with a Cuban flag and fresh, white roses placed on the coffin daily.

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Revolution Square in Havana is a large, open area framed by three large memorials.  The highlight is the large statue of Jose Marti in front of the tallest monument in Havana. Across from the monument and statue are the iconic figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on government buildings.

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Jose Marti

Che

Fidel

In Vieja Havana, there is the Museum of the Revolution, you can learn more about Cuba’s struggles.

Fidel's tank

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The tomb of Che Guevara is in Santa Maria – a place I did not get to on my 2015 trip to Cuba but hope to on future trips. There is, however, a memorial statue in Santiago for him and the fighters killed with him in Bolivia.

Che Memorial

It is near the large Revolutionary Square in Santiago that has a statue for Antonio Maceo.

Santiago Revoution Square

P is for pottery

PIn Trinidad, Cuba, there is a private pottery business run out of a family home.  The Santander family started this pottery business in the 1890s and it still runs out of the family homes around Trinidad. In 2007, UNESCO recognized their work with a Master Artisan award.

You enter the back of the family house, directly into a pottery showroom. The day I was there, a large dog was asleep near a counter and a parrot in was in a cage near some pottery chimes. Soon after we entered, an elderly man walked up a pottery wheel, and demonstrated how to make the pottery cups that you will find in bars all over Trinidad. I picked up a small bowl, which costs only $2 CUC. I should have bought more but I did not know how much would fit in my luggage! They have a wall of pictures that show many of the famous people who visited the shop.

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Here is a YouTube video that tells more of the story of this pottery business.

O is for Opisbo Street

OOpisbo Street is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare in Vieja Havana. Lining the street is a collection of art galleries, souvenir shops and lots of restaurants and bars. Most of the bars have a band or some form of entertainment. Rum is the alcohol of choice served in a variety of ways – usually daiquiris and mojitos.

One of the most famous bars on this street is the Floridata, a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and the “home of the daiquiri”.

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Being a street where many tourists go, there is a lot to see. Here are some of my sights along Opisbo Street.

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M is for the Malecon in Havana

MThe Malecon is a road in Havana that runs along the sea and connects old Havana to other sections of Havana. Many colonial-style buildings line the street, facing the open sea. The buildings are in various forms of repair — and dis-repair. People come here at all hours of the day and night, to walk along the sea, play music and share good times.

I traveled down the Malecon several times during my stay in Havana, including in a Coco Taxi.  Here are some of my pictures of the Malecon and the sights you can see.

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K is for Kicking back with rum

KIt is so easy to Kick back with a drink made from rum in Cuba. How many different rum drinks can you find in Cuba?  A lot! Most people will know a Cuba Libre, or rum and cola. In Cuba, you get this with a Cuban version of cola. At the Tropicana, each table got bottles of rum, cola, and a bucket of ice and could make your own throughout the evening.

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Of course, Ernest Hemingway helped make two drinks in Cuba famous – mojitos and daiquiris.  Reportedly, his favourite daquari bar was the Floridita and drinks there can be more expensive than at other locations.

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At Café Europe on Opisbo Street, you can get either a mojito or daiquiri for $1.50 CUC — not bad!

In Trinidad, I got to try what is not my favourite Cuban Rum drink, a canchanchara. It is made from rum, lemon and honey and can be served hot or cold. I had it cold, a perfect drink after a long, hot day walking around. I think this was my favourite drink!

There is also different rum, depending on where you are in Cuba.  The easiest to find is Havana Club. In Santiago, they have their own Santiago Club, which they consider is the best. The reason? The location of the distillery is next near train tracks.  As trains roll by, the rum is gently shaken in the oaken casks, adding to its flavour.

I even started my dolphin adventure with another rum drink — it was very colourful!

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J is for John Lennon

JCuba loves revolutionaries and some consider John Lennon an adopted son.  You will find many portrayals of John Lennon as street art around Havana. I bought a print an art shop on Opisbo Street in Vieja Havana. the photographer called it Las Trilogia.

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The best-known tribute to John Lennon is a bronze statue, located in a park in Central Havana that many people call John Lennon Parque. Jose Villa Soberon sculpted this bronze statue of Lennon seated on a park bench. A marble tile at the foot of the bench says, “You may say I’m a dreamer” in Spanish. It was unveiled on the 20th anniversary of Lennon’s death, 8 December 2000.

One feature that makes this statue so unique is the removable glasses. As you can probably guess, these glasses have been “lost” several times, until someone came up with a unique solution.  Now, when you arrive at the park, an elderly gentleman sitting in the shade, walks up to the statue and reverently places the glasses on the statue so that tourists can take photos.  It is customary to give him a peso for this task.

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My Coco Taxi driver, Nadia, surprised me by taking me to this park on my tour of Havana.  She is also responsible for the picture below.

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I is for the Isle of Youth

IThe Isle of Youth, or Isla de la Juventud  is the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago (Archipiélago de los Canarreos) chain of islands located to the south of the main island of Cuba. It has an interesting history, however the few tourists who come here are usually in search of a very private beach or some of the best diving and snorkeling Cuba has to offer. On the Cuba Cruise, some people took an opportunity to snorkel and saw lots of fish, including a very large barracuda.

The majority of people on the cruise opted for a visit to a perfect, white sand beach at Punta Francis – and literally, there was nothing on this beach except a small pier, a make-shift bar, and a few chairs that the locals setup.

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Punta Francis, Cuba

It is a slice of paradise!

H is for Havana

HIf I seem to gush about Havana, it is because it exceeded all my expectations and these were very high. There is a interesting mixture of energy and ease. For a large city of over 2 million people, it does not feel large or congested. It is easy to get around, the architecture is breathtaking, the people open and friendly, and it has a collection of so many little quirks that are just Havana.

It has beaches…

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Scenic drives…

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Nature…

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Art

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Classic buildings

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History


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Mostly, so much more I would like to explore. There is nothing like Havana!