Tag Archives: Che

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

Sailing into Santiago de Cuba

Sailing into Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, was breathtaking. Santiago rests in the heart of a picturesque bay protected by the Morro Fortress. The ship docks at the foot of the city, which rises up before you with colourful buildings.  This is a city filled with energy and life – traffic and people. Called the City of Heroes, Santiago remembers its sons and revolutionaries. This is where the revolution began.

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Before revolution, pirates attacked the city until the Spanish built the Morro Fortress. It was the first capitol of Cuba, until it moved to Havana. It is the home of Cuban music, dancing and produces the best rum. Its streets are chaotic and people can be “very friendly.” Welcome to Santiago!

Before we could enter Santiago, we had to go through an immigration checkpoint and get our temperatures taken (again). The difference this time is that we had to turn in our immigration forms and get a temporary pass because we would be leaving Cuba when we sailed away from this port. Sounds a bit confusing, but just follow the instructions.

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My first stop was at the Morro Fortress.  This impressive fort provides amazing views of the harbour and the city of Santiago. Inside the fort is a complete history of its construction and lists of various pirates who made life in early Santiago challenging. Most of the information is Spanish, but you will recognize a few names, including Henry Morgan. Walking around the fort can be a bit tricky – the cobblestones can be slippery and it can be very windy. However, the views are worth it. Note that to take pictures in the fort; you will have to pay $5 CUC.

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There is also a nice restaurant next to the fort – and it is always time for a mojito! There are also a number of private craft vendors along the road to the fort.  I bargained for a hat and there were lots of woodcarvings and other items for sale.

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Santiago has a number of beautifully restored colonial houses, many of which are now schools.

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It also has monuments to many heroes. One of which is a monument to Che Guevara and the men who were killed with him in Bolivia.

Che Memorial

The largest monument to a Cuban hero is in the cemetery – the tomb of Jose Marti. Every thirty minutes, there is the changing of the guard ceremony. The tomb is impressive – and setup in such a way to honour his wishes, as expressed in this poem:

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door:
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
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.

This is a monument to him – a tower that is open at the side and the top is stained glass that reflects the sun that shines on the wooden casket draped with a Cuban flag. Every morning, they place white roses at the casket. It is a beautiful memorial.

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The cemetery has a number of other notables, including the Bacardi Family, several sections for revolutionary fighters, and a section for Cubans who aided in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Like the fort, you will have to pay to take photos — $5 CUC seems to be the going rate.

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The main plaza in Santiago is similar to other plazas throughout Cuba. At the heart is the main church, and the open area is surrounded by other colonial buildings.  This one had building from different eras in Santiago’s history, including one that is the oldest building in Santiago.

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Overall, Santiago is a beautiful city, but it can be chaotic for a first-time visitor. Streets are crowded and there are few, if any pedestrian-only areas. In the main plaza area, I found some of the people more aggressive in requesting things from you. No one asked me for money, but it was more for items such as soap or cosmetics. Even saying no, did not deter them from continuing to ask me to things. This did not happen to me in Havana, so it was surprising.

I only mentioned the highlights of some of the things I did in Santiago – there are many more!

Hitting the streets of Havana

Continuing my saga of my latest adventure in Cuba, I did not get to my hotel until after 2 am – yet I did not want to miss a minute, so I was up before 9 and headed to the breakfast buffet. The best I can say is that the fruit juices and coffee were great, but the eggs were cold and bacon (and how can you ruin bacon) was more grease than bacon. Maybe I was just too excited to get out and see what awaited me.

Of course, I missed the free shuttle bus to the old city section of Havana but there is a hop-on, hop-off bus that costs $5.00 CUC and stops in front of the hotel – in fact, it stops in front of most of the big hotels in Havana, and many smaller ones. It is a good way to get you’re bearings for the city and see things from a different perspective.

I wasn’t quite sure where the stop was but I saw some people who looked like me, aka obviously lost tourists standing at a corner, so I joined them. Eventually a bus appeared and we were one our way. In addition to the hotel stops, we saw Revolution Square with the iconic Che and Fidel art on the sides of government buildings and, of course, the tallest monument in Havana dedicated to Jose Marti.

Che

Fidel

Jose Marti

We drove down the Malecon and finally into Old Havana.

Malecon


Havana Fortress

By this time, I needed to get out and walk, so I got off near the cruise terminal. In port was the Fred. Olsen Braemar. Why would that be important? My trip in October will be on this ship!  So, it was fun to see it before my future cruise.

Braemar

Across from the cruise terminal, and in front of the San Francisco church, is a presentation call Unity Bears.

Unity Bears

Each bear represents a different country from around the world. Of course, everyone was looking for their own country and Canada should not be hard to find, right?  Just look for red and white, maple leaves, moose, beaver, hockey sticks … we have a lot of iconic symbols that typically represent Canada.  So, please, anyone, explain this to me – the Canadian Unity Bear! (NOTE: several of us Canadians stared at the bear together and tried to make sense of it. None of us could come up with an explanation).

Canada Unity Bear
The Canadian Unity Bear — please explain it to me!

Bears aside, I started doing what I do best – wandering around the streets of a beautiful city and getting lost!

Streets in Havana

At one point, in my wanderings, I decided to actually check a map (I know, surprise!) and discovered that I was only a couple blocks away from Obispo Street which is a pedestrian street know for art galleries and some famous Hemingway bars.

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I stopped in one art gallery and really enjoyed the different materials used to create different works.  One that intrigued me the most were the painted toe shoes. The former dancer in me got excited – here is what I could do with old toe shoes, if I could paint! There were a number of brightly coloured paintings of the Orishas, the ancestor spirits worshipped in the local Santeria religion. One of them caught my eye, a bright-eyed woman in yellows with cigars. I thought it would be a great gift for a friend of mine. Then, I saw some prints of photographs. The one I like best was call Los Tres Revolutionaries. The background was a old wall with graffiti drawings of John Lennon and Bob Marley. Between the drawings was an old car with the iconic drawing of Che on the door. That one is going in my living room!

I wandered down the street a bit more and came to Café Europa – looked at the menu and thought this would be a good place to stop for lunch.  What a treat was in store for me! I got a table right next to an open window and the band that was setting up. For the next couple of hours, I drank mojitos, ate Cuban food, listened to great music and saw some amazing dancing.  At one point, there was even a Samba band that danced their way down the street outside! Here is a small “taste” of my afternoon.

Cafe Europa

Malanga fritters!
Malanga fritters!
Samba Dancers on Obispo
Samba Dancers on Obispo