It is a long bus ride (750km), two-thirds the length of country, from
Havana to Bayamo. We started in the morning and arrived in the evening.
that Cuba is a very livable place. This
section is mostly agriculture with intermittent towns, so it is mostly
green. The vegetation rotates between row crops, fruit orchards,
sugar cane and pasture. The towns tend to be less aesthetic with
a lot of boxy cement construction. If any forest used to be here
it is now largely decimated so timber is scarce, which probably
explains the lack of wood construction. (In the tropics, cement
construction is more durable than
wood and withstands hurricane force winds better than a wooden
But the outward appearance belies the inward joie de vive.
When we stopped for lunch in Jatibonico, the restaurant was the backyard of a
house. To get there we walked through the compact house, it was
very homey with a television, rocking chairs, family photos,
knitted doilies and personal memorabilia. Like so many mysteries
and contradictions in Cuba, it was not clear that this was a legal
restaurant, but everybody in the neighborhood seemed to know about it.
At the "restaurant," you could get anything you wanted as
long as it was rice, pork and cold slaw. The raw material for next
weeks pork chops was being fatten up in a cement block pen on the side.
It was after dark when we arrived the hotel. Between our
group and the provincial national league baseball team, we pretty much
filled the hotel. They were coming back from a game or a
practice. From being empty, the dining room went to packed and the
waiters and kitchen had their hands full -- which they didn't respond
to very quickly.
At breakfast they next morning we again shared the dining room with
the baseball team. The two groups were starting to recognize
Our day was filled with learning about Bayamo. The area is the "cradle of nationalism."
It was founded just after Cuba's first city, Baracoa, around 1511 and
was the focus of Indian anger in a 1530 uprising. Carlos Manuel de
Cespedes, the Abe Lincoln of Cuba and father of the first
Cuban revolution, grew up on the main square. It is were he was inspired by Thomas Jefferson's
ideas on liberty. His boyhood home is now a museum. Jose
Marti's struggle against colonial masters also had its roots in this area. Both
men are revered for there contributions to the "espiritu Cubano"
and their biographies can be recited by any middle school student.
In 1868, Cespedes freed the slaves on his sugar
plantation near Manzanillo and invited them to help overthrow Spanish
colonial rule. They lost their first battle in Yara, but
eventually took Bayamo. When Spain fought back, Céspedes burned
Bayamo to the ground rather than surrender it. He then fled into the
Sierra Maestra. Although Céspedes was soon killed, his
followers fought on for 10 years.
We got a tour of the museum, square, monument, and
from a local historian that works at the museum. While his
formal presentation on the historical items was very well prepared,
well presented and informative, he was also willing to discuss contemporary
issues and himself. He seemed much more relaxed and willing to
be personable than an American in a similar position.
With all the extra talk, the tour and the walk took twice as long
as the hour we had planned. Of course part of
this was Pedro, the program director, sniffing out an ice cream stand
with a batch
of ice cream in. Being the gracious host and big spender that he
is, Pedro treated everyone in the group to ice cream. The
whole thing probably cost about two bucks and that included the
several cups that Pedro diverted to his own stomach.
After the walking program in the area around
the central square, we
got the bikes to visit a couple other points of interest that were a
little further out. As soon as the bikes were out in front of
the hotel a crowd started to gather. It was largely school
children, but there were older people as well. They examined,
pointed at and generally critiqued each element of every bike in a
dozen different conversations.
Ostensively our destinations were the first
Presidents house, the house of the composer of the national anthem and
the Fatherland monuments, but these hardly represent what was
interesting about the day. At this point in the trip every
building, every doorway, every sign, every little shop and every face
has something to teach you. And, it seems that everywhere we
went there was more happening than we expected.
Part of the composers house is a cultural center.
Bands were auditioning before an arts committee for inclusion in future
cultural programs. When we arrived a local Mexican mariachi band
was playing and we were invited in to listen.
Fatherland Square is a large monument in the suburbs
of Bayamo. The monument celebrates the national leaders from the
area and has an exhibit area inside where local artist display.
Beside the regular explanation from the attendants at the site we had a
little more engaging visit as we exchanged songs with them and answered each
others questions about such things as politics and the politics of gender. They
sang much better than we did.
Next to Fatherland Square is an organic farm. These farms were
developed during the "special period" following the collapse of
the Soviet Union and the end of their subsidies to the Cuban
economy. A large part of the subsidies was fuel. Without fuel
farm goods couldn't get from rural areas to the cities, so the government
started a program of sustainable agriculture in the cities and towns across
Cuba. Beside following principles of organic farming, the farms use
raised beds and drip irrigation to minimize inputs and maximize output.
Like most of Cuba, tobacco is grown around Bayamo and it has a cigar
factory, but there wasn't enough time to see the factory.
Transitioning to dinner, our program ended about 4 PM and dinner
was out 7 PM, some members of the
group partook of the Cuban pastime
of sitting on the benches in the central square. It wasn't long
before they were taking to students. A conversation or series of
conversations that continued off and on well into the night.
After dinner, the warm evening air invited a walk. The street
scenes are a little different at night. Many
"storefronts" that were shuttered during the day were now
open. We found that they are not storefronts after all, but
because of the chronic housing shortage they have been converted into
living space and you are looking into peoples' living rooms.
Almost every living room had a TV and if they had one, it was
on. Some were just on and filled the air with flickering light and
a drone of noise. Others were being avidly watched by a gaggle of mesmerized
children. At some levels it seemed not so different from the
Around 9 or 10 PM the music venue started to come alive.
of the group still had the energy to get to the Casa de Trova near the
hotel. Besides some dance lessons, we were introducted to the
differences between Granma's home grown Son music, rumba, salsa and
various other beats.