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La Cuba del Espiritu Cubano
Educational Program

Bayamo

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.  The overall click to enlarge impression is 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 structure.)

click to enlargeBut 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.

click to enlargeAt 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 each other.

click to enlargeOur 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 Abeclick to enlarge 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.

click to enlargeWe got a tour of the museum, square, monument, and click to enlarge oldest church, 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.

click to enlargeAfter the walking program in the area around theclick to enlarge 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.

click to enlargeOstensively 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.

click to enlargePart of the composers house is a cultural center. click to enlarge 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.

click to enlargeNext 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 theclick to enlarge 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.

click to enlargeTransitioning to dinner, our program ended about 4 PM and dinner was out 7 PM, some members of the click to enlarge 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 United States.

Around 9 or 10 PM the music venue started to come alive.  click to enlargeMost 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.

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