Jan 262015
 

January 16, 2015

Cuba

The day started at 5:00 in the morning to get to the airport for the Cuban airport hustle. It essentially means that you get to the airport, hand your tour handler your passport, $20 for baggage and your visa. Then you stand and wait. That process took over an hour.

However, our standing around was more unusual than most folks, since on our departure date the stand off between Cuba and the US was cracked open just a bit more. We were joined by television cameras to greet us, take our pictures and interview a handful of our group.

Newspaper Headline Cuba Opens

Then through TSA to sit and wait some more. This wait was for weather. It was foggy on the ground in Santa Clara so we waited for that to burn off.

Once in the air it was 40 minutes. Forty minutes to look down upon the ocean and contemplate how many people have made that trek crammed on escaping, rickety boats. Landing in that short period of time hits you like a brick for just the same reason. A simple 40 minutes out of our lives spent happily talking on an airplane, 40 minutes that millions of Cubans, till now, have not been able to spend.

Our first stop was the Che Gueverra monument just outside the Santa Clara airport.

Che Guevera Mausoleum Cuba

Che is the hero of Santa Clara, a vital spot in the revolution. Batista knew that if he lost Santa Clara he would lose the fight, and it was Che that secured the area of Santa Clara for Castro and the revolution, forcing Batista to give up and leave Cuba.

Che Gueverra Monument CubaThe monument was designed by architect Jorge Cao Campos and sculptor Jose Delarra. Che’s remains are in this mausoleum, along with the remains of his comrades that died fighting with him in Bolivia.

Our next stop was lunch at the Club Cienfuegos in the Punta Gorda portion of Cienfuegos. The city, named after Governor Jose Cienfuegos was built by the French in 1819. These French were predominantly from New Orleans, Haiti and Bordeaux. The city sits on the Punta Gorda and the Club Cienfuegos is a boating club, with, primarily catamarans as members as far as I could see.

Club Cienfuegos

Our stay was at the Hotel Union. You can see how stunning it would have been in its heyday with a central open court, columns and ornamental railings. We were told this would be our best hotel during our trip to Cuba, in hindsight, I don’t think this was true, it was very similar to most that we stayed in.

Hotel Cienfuegos

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Hotel Cienfuegos

The center of Cienfuegos, Jose Marti Plaza, is a UNESCO world heritage site, chosen as a singular model of 19th century urban planning in Cuba and the Caribbean.

 

Benny More

On the Cienfuegos Promenade Prado is a bronze statue of Benny Moré, often thought of as the greatest Cuban popular singer of all time. He was a tenor and a master of most genres of Cuban music.  Moré formed and led the leading Cuban big band of the 1950s, until his death in 1963.  Click here to listen.

The Tomás Terry Theater whose name sake was a plantation owner and local patron of the arts. Built in 1890 it has been the stage for such notables as Enrico Caruso, Sara Bernhardt and Mexican movie star Jorge Negrete.

The Tomás Terry Theater whose name sake was a plantation owner and local patron of the arts. Built in 1890 it has been the stage for such notables as Enrico Caruso, Sara Bernhardt and Mexican movie star Jorge Negrete.

The Masks on the Theater

The Masks on the Theater

 

The Municipal Palace (City Hall)

The Municipal Palace (City Hall)

Constructed during the 1920s with funds left by wealthy city patron Nicholas Acea Salvador

Constructed during the 1920s with funds left by wealthy city patron Nicholas Acea Salvador

Dinner was at in the courtyard of an amazing home, Valle Palace. Built between 1913 and 1917 at a cost of 1.5 million pesos it was the collaboration of French, Arab, Italian and Cuban architects and is made of materials from all over the world. A gift from husband Acisclo del Valle Blanco, to his wife it was conceived on the couples trip to Spain.

Cienfuegos Valle Palace

 

Dinner in Cienfuegos

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I will include our official itinerary at the end of each specific day post, as some items will be covered in more depth in their own post.

1/16/15

5:15AM Meet CJ Cueto in the lobby of the hotel
5:30 Arrive at Airport and begin check in
8:00 Flight Departs Miami
9:00 Arrive Santa Clara, proceed through customs/immigration and baggage claim
Visit to the Che Memorial in the heart of Santa Clara
Transfer to Cienfuegos
Walking City tour
Cienfuegos Choir
Dinner at Los Laurels
Overnight Hotel La Union

Jan 252015
 

Cienfuegos Mercado

After a buffet breakfast we were bound for Trinidad. Before leaving town we headed to the local Mercado. It was a fairly typical Mercado and yet fun to explore.

Cienfuegos Cuba Mercado

*Cienfuegos Mercado

Our first stop out of town was a Batey. Batey is a Cuban word for a small community that centers around a sugar plantation and factory.

Batey in Cuba

The site, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was founded in 1847 by the Saria family. In 1884 Elisha Atkins, grandfather of US assemblyman Chester Atkins bought the plantation and factory. At that time there were 800 slaves and the property was 4500 acres. The sugar factory remained in the family until 1959, the last owner being one of Elisha Atkins daughters.

In 1959, when Castro took over Cuba the sugar factories were nationalized. At this time the name was changed to “March of the Revolution”.

Due to the economic crisis of the 90s Castro had closed over 50% of the sugar factories down by 2004.

The “March of the Revolution” was one of the first sugar plantation/factories to be closed due to its location. The terrain is rather hilly making it difficult to move large machinery around.

In 2002 when it was sidelined 2000 workers were left without jobs. These workers were given full pay for the next 3 years with the understanding that they get an education.

Nancy the sugar plantation guideOur guide, Nancy Robaina Monzon became a history teacher, and now teaches down the road while taking great pride in helping to archive the history of the plantation.

Pedro the sugar plantations train driverAnother gentleman Pedro Gonzalez Jauragui, was the railroad engineer for the factory. Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes had over 80 km of railroad lines. When the factory was closed he retired, but enjoys meeting and greeting tourists today.

Employment books of the Sugar PlantationRegarding the slaves. Sugar and slavery go hand in hand. Since the aboriginal population was completely decimated by the Conquistadors the Spaniards brought Africans to do the work. Slavery was officially outlawed in Cuba in 1886. At that time the Cuban sugar entities began importing Chinese to do the work. There is a Chinese cemetery on the property, and a very small and aging Chinatown in Havana.

Notice the Chinese names in the right hand column

Notice the Chinese names in the right hand column

These books are the payroll records; according to Nancy there are 1000s of them.

The Atkins lived in the house only 3 months of the year when harvest and sugar production was occurring.

We next meandered along the bottom of the Los Helechos Mountains ( translation: the ferns) to get to Trinidad. The center of Trinidad was declared a World Heritage site in 1988, and the city itself one of the better preserved colonial towns of Cuba.

The ParochialChurch of the Holy Trinity  Built in 1892, this classic facade is composed of four naves.

The Parochial Church of the Holy Trinity
Built in 1892, this classic facade is composed of four naves.

The altar of the church

The altar of the church

One of two wrought iron stairs in the church

One of two wrought iron stairs in the church

 

 is the House of the Sánchez Iznaga  which houses the Museum of Colonial Architecture This building was originally two houses in the 18th century, both owned by the sugar barons of the Sánchez Iznaga family The two houses, joined in the 19th century show the typical grilled and shuttered windows, and feature an elegant portico with slim columns and a delicate wrought iron balustrade,

The House of the Sánchez Iznaga family, which houses the Museum of Colonial Architecture. This building was originally two houses in the 18th century, both owned by the Iznaga sugar barons. The two houses, joined in the 19th century show the typical grilled and shuttered windows, and feature an elegant portico with slim columns and a delicate wrought iron balustrade,

Built between 1800 and 1809, this house originally belonged to the Mayor Rafael Ortiz de Zuniga.   It is now the Benito Ortiz Borrell University Gallery

Built between 1800 and 1809, this house originally belonged to the Mayor Rafael Ortiz de Zuniga.  
It is now the Benito Ortiz Borrell University Gallery

Diego Valazquez de Cuellar, a conquistador that originally arrived in Cuba in 1511, established Trinidad in January 1514.

However, by mid 1500 Trinidad was depopulated of the Spanish because Cortez regularly came to recruit the Spanish conquistadors for his conquista of Mexico.

Trinidad was a rich and prosperous city in the 1700s with sugar. Sugar came to Trinidad via Haiti. Haiti was a big sugar producer, but during the slave rebellion many left for Cuba bringing the sugar trade with them.

Due to this wealth from sugar Trinidad was made an Administrative Center. The 1800s however saw the beginning of Trinidad’s decline.

Some factors included; the depletion of wood, the main fuel for the sugar factories., the Industrial revolution, occurring amongst other parts of the world, and the War of Independence from Spain in 1860.

This economic decline resulted in the loss of Trinidad’s status as Administrative Center and Trinidad became a highly isolated place. This explains the preservation of the architecture within the city.

Built in 1812 for the Borrell Family, this classic colonial Trinidad residence now houses the Romantic Museum

Built in 1812 for the Borrell Family, this classic colonial Trinidad residence now houses the Romantic Museum

 

Upside down cannons dot most every corner of Trinidad

Upside down cannons dot most every corner of Trinidad

 

These gents will happily pose for photos for $1CUC.  The fabulous smile belongs to Paula Armentrout

These gents will happily pose for photos for $1CUC. The fabulous smile belongs to Paula Armentrout

Thanks to the railroad in the 1920s and the roads that were built to the city in the 1950s the population of Trinidad is approximately 100,000 people today.

The architecture of Trinidad has a few distinct features. Wide doors, pastel colors and beautiful iron work. The streets are paved with cobblestones that served as ballast when ships came from America. Lunch at David Marti, Trinidad, Cuba

Lunch at David Marti, Trinidad, Cuba

For lunch we had the utter pleasure to dine at Davi Mart. Davi Mart is a paladar. Before I rave about the food at lunch let me give a bit of history around the word paladar.

During the Cuban economic crisis of the 1990s Castro recognized that something must be done or his people were going to starve. He allowed the development of some private businesses. These were, and are today primarily restaurants and hotels.

At the same time as the crisis, the entertainment for the downhearted was an Argentinian soap opera. The soap opera centered on a woman, nicknamed Paladar, a word used to denote a person of good taste.  Somehow those two things came together to give these new ventures their name.

Chef David Marti

Chef Davi Marti

Chef Davi Mart is surrounded by his family in this venture. We were greeted with a drink called Canchanchara. It consists of honey, lemon and rum served in a little terracotta cup.

We began with a “Sleeping Bean” salad. A tomato with a helping of black beans topped with grated cabbage. The entire thing was locally and organically grown.

The main course consisted of our choice of lamb, lobster (langostino) shrimp or red snapper. Since you were allowed to combine things the majority of us consumed the grouping of three fish, they were wonderful, but I understand from Carolyn Maize, a grower of her own lamb, that it was equally delicious.

We topped the lunch off with birthday cake for Leslie Lauble, a beautiful chocolate mousse cake for a beautiful lady.

We topped the lunch off with birthday cake for Leslie Lauble, a beautiful chocolate mousse cake for a beautiful lady.

After lunch we headed to ChiChi Santanders pottery factory. That was a major disappointment. The factory was not “art” pottery but was in the business of producing items to sell quickly and cheaply. This group of sophisticated, well-educated travelers headed in and headed out and we were on our way.

The small cups are for Canchanchara, a rum, honey and lemon concoction

Canchanchara cups

As the dark clouds began to roll in we made our way up to the hotel deep into the mountains. It was a slow and careful drive with badly engineered, cheaply paved roads and rain, but the fauna along the way was gorgeous.

Our hotel, Los Helechos, was sparse and utilitarian, and the dining fare bleak.

Our hotel, Los Helechos, was sparse and utilitarian, and the dining fare bleak.

DSC_5910

 

Itinerary:

Breakfast at the hotel
Visit the street market to interact with local vendors
Transfer by coach to ruins of a sugar estate, speak with local crafters and villagers
Depart for the city center of Trinidad
Walking tour of Trinidad to meet and talk with local shop owners
Lunch in a local pleader
Visit Casa Santander
Continue to ur hotel for check in
Dinner tonight is at our hotel
Overnight Los Helechos