The bus from Trinidad to Santa Clara was freezing cold, but luckily, I had my jacket along inside the bus, having learned from previous bus trips. A man holding a sign that said, “Carol” met me at the bus and we taxied to his casa particular (set up by my hostess in Trinidad)—maybe his mother-in-law’s house, they all seemed to live together. He and his wife got me settled into a room with an adjoining little kitchen with my own refrig, containing sodas, beer and water.
The next morning I had the usual (too much) breakfast, and asked if I could take some of the fruit juice to my refrig to drink in the afternoon. Of course, that was fine. I also asked the hostess if she would make me a salad, fruit and sandwich for my main meal about 2 or 3 o’clock, which she did. I prefaced this with some rum added to the mainly guava fruit juice, which made a very enjoyable afternoon.
Cubans do not dress as modestly as other Latin Americans. The young girls are slim and beautiful in their strapless short outfits; many of the older women wear them, as well, even though they are no longer slim. So why not? It’s pretty hot here. In their homes, many men do not wear shirts, although that is rare on the street.
I walked a long ways to see the Che Guevara monument. Santa Clara is His City, as when he conquered it for Fidel, it was deemed a turning point in the Revolution. There is a museum and a mausoleum there, but I saw neither, as the mausoleum was closed, and to enter the museum, I had to walk quite a ways back to check my camera bag, so I skipped it. (Yes, a socialistic state) My friend, Val, says Che is not quite a hero since in Colombia he snatched children to ransom and thus finance the effort there.
I took a bicycle taxi back to the park, but there was the choice of a horse cart taxi, too.
Monday I spent more time on the pretty Parque, looking at all the pretty colonial buildings around it, including the Teatro de Caridad, where I observed a dance troupe practicing for a performance that evening. All are lovely except for a 10-storey green eyesore—the Santa Clara Hotel. This is preserved (along with the bullet holes) since it figured in the Battle of Dec. 29, 1958 when Che took Santa Clara. How nice it will be when eventually artists or musicians or intellectuals can be lauded instead of military people. Still, it was quite a feat. Che, with 18 men, ambushed a Batista train with 408 heavily armed soldiers. The train was carrying lots of ammunition and other supplies. The rebels removed pieces of the track to derail the train and then conquered it within 90 minutes! This is all preserved at the Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado, which had many photos of the event. (I think the ‘Blindado’ refers to the ambush.)
I really enjoyed Santa Clara. A fun thing was just to spend time in the Parque Vidal and watch this world go by—flower sellers, children playing, women fanning themselves. Interestingly, there was NO church on this plaza. That is really a departure. The church doesn’t seem as strong here as in Mexico, for example. In other Cuban towns there were churches on the plazas and they were attended on Sunday morning for Mass, but seemed to be locked up tight the rest of the time.
My neighborhood was interesting. From my room I could hear: turkeys gobbling, pigs squealing, roosters crowing, trains tooting, people talking (at 4:00 AM), dogs barking, cats wailing, horns honking, vendors calling—and it goes on and on. Cuba is NOISY, but that doesn’t bother me for sleeping. Either I sleep or I don’t; noise doesn’t seem to figure in.
The Museo de Artes Decorativas was finally open, and was worth the wait. The house was beautiful as were many rooms, all furnished in different styles and periods. The dining room contained Lamouge china and Bacarrat crystal—-these people knew how to live! There was a old painting of Parque Vidal that showed there had been a church. The docent didn’t know when it came down, or why. Interesting, though, that it wasn’t replaced! The same day I saw an impromptu altar in the Plaza on which were placed cigars, rum, flowers and, while I was there, a person put money in a container, too. Not the same as a cathedral, but I guess it serves the purpose.
My next excursion was to a cigar factory, but once I found it, I had to have bought a ticket at a travel agency in the green (eyesore) hotel, so after some forth and backing, I was able to visit. The name is the Fabrica de Tabacos Constantine Perez Carrodegua, which employs about 300 people, all making cigars by hand. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside. There is a small school there, too, as it takes nine months of training to learn to make the cigars. The employees work eight hours a day, alternating weeks of five days and six days, and earn about $50-$60 a month. There was a little humorous art in the reception area that I did photograph.
I really liked staying in the Casa Particular of Bibiana, Vladimir and Bibiana’s mother. They were so nice to me and tolerant of my struggling Spanish. The house was a pretty salmon color on a pretty little street, which my balcony overlooked.
On Wednesday morning after an early breakfast I got the Viazul bus to Havana. My seatmate was a 20-year old student from Australia, who had been studying art history and creative writing in Colombia. We had such a nice conversation throughout the four-hour ride.
Soon I was once again ensconced in Casa Kelly. I decided to do some internet and what a wild goose chase that was. The hotel I used before was out of cards to sell me to access their internet. They suggested another hotel; couldn’t find it; another—no internet; another—couldn’t find it. Finally I managed to find the Etecsa (government internet), which was only three blocks from my Casa. (I had gone around in a huge circle!) That day was a special day and it was closing at 4:00, so no time left. This sort of thing happens a lot in this socialist state.
The next morning I tried it again, and stood in line for an hour before I could access internet. While waiting I had a nice conversation with a Turk and a French woman from New York. The lack of internet services frustrates everyone. What did we do before?
It’s clear their economy is on the ropes. Salaries are about $25 per month for the lower jobs. There is nothing on sale for the Christmas season—one does see an occasional Christmas tree in the nice hotels, but there are no street decorations or decorations in the shops. There are very few shops, for that matter. The people seem quite well dressed, although in very casual clothes, which fits the weather. The systems in the airport, art museums, bus terminals, etc. are very customer un-friendly. At an art museum, I started to take a non-flash photo, which are permitted in many museums, and a guard rushed at me and insisted I delete the picture. When I tried to tell her that I hadn’t taken a picture, as she had stopped me before I could, she said I was an old lady who told lies! We got into quite an argument! Her supervisor made her apologize, though, and I did also. Still, I tried to explain that the museum needed to post signs prohibiting photography, if that were the case. That is in such contrast to the women who run the casas particulares. They are so customer friendly, it’s incredible. They have a whole set-up in which they earn money for ‘referrals,’ both for rooms in another city and for taxis. The people are very eager to have the USA discontinue the blockade as they think it will improve their economic situation, and I’m sure it will. They were all very aware of President Obama being pictured shaking hands with Pres. Raul Castro at Mandela’s funeral. They felt it was a hopeful sign.
I will miss the fruit that I had every single morning for breakfast in Cuba—generally four kinds—pinapple, papaya, banana and guava, plus big glasses of fresh fruit juice. The food was not spectacular but the fruit certainly was. I enjoyed the rum drinks, too, and the seafood. I suspect we tourists ate much better than the families with which we stayed.
Havana had more rain—locals say that normally at this time of year they don’t get rain like this—climate change, I suspect. But walking between raindrops, I got a taxi to the Havana airport, and a flight to Cancun, Mexico on Friday, where I am now. Then on Saturday afternoon I shall fly back home to Minneapolis. I’m looking forward to Christmas!