day started with Pedro's chalk talk, which was to become a daily
ritual played out on the pavement in front of wherever we were
staying. He explained the routes, points of interest and gave an
overview of some of what we would be learning or who we would meet for
was our first day of getting out into the country side, or so
it seemed. The day before we had physically gotten out of Bayamo, but by
comparison we didn't really get out of its sphere of influence.
Traffic volumes were much less. The vehicles seemed
older, or at least less pampered. Horses and horse-drawn carriages
were more common. Towns and villages were further
between. This is definitely an agricultural district. The
crops included bananas, coffee, coconut, yucca and a lot of sugar
cane. Many field were bare
already harvested. Those might have contained corn, cabbage, tobacco or
other row crops. We weren't alone traveling by bike. This gave those with
Spanish language skill an opportunity for an occasional conversation.
The first organized stop was Yara. Though it is dispute,
those who live there say this is were of Hatuey was execution in
1512. Hatuey had fled Hispanola a few years
earlier. In Cuba, Hatuey warned the local people of the
atrocities that the Spanish had committed against the indigenous people of Hispanola and led Cuba's indigenous people in their first
organized uprising against the Spanish. When he was
captured the Spanish gave him the choice of converting to
or burning at the stake. Not willing to compromise his
principals, Hatuey chose the later. Yara has a museum dedicated
to Hatuey and the lives of other local patriots and heroes, and a fitting larger than
life statue of Hatuey burning at the stake. A guide from the
museum took us around and explained the personal memorabilia (spectacles,
shoes, bloodied shirts, wallets, scissors and the like) and history
connected to it, with great enthusiasm and pride.
Part of Yara's claim to fame is that it is the site of the first battle
of 10 year war (1868). The commanders were Maximo Gomez and
Antonio Maceo, who names are immortalized frequently in the area.
Only 12 of the freedom fighters escaped alive from the first
engagement. Even with this less than promising start the
rebellion continued for ten years. The rebels capitulated when
the "crillo" (a second class middle class group of Cuban born
Spanish) withdrew their support
to the army of peasants and blacks.
Manzanillo has a good port, but historically wasn't closely watched
by the central government in far off cities like Havana. This
made it a convenient strong hold for pirates and buccaneers.
Anything that might have been wild about it's past isn't reflected in the
current character of the city, which is very sedate and often in
we cycled along the picturesque Malecon, we would ask about a building that
had seen better days. The answer was, "it was such-and-such and
it is now going to be so-n-so," but it looked like years since any
work had been done. One of these was the Club Diez, a social
club. It had 2 pools, 3 bars, dance floors and various social activities.
Along the waterfront is a small zoo and children's play area.
The zoo is characterized by sedentary animals but is of some interest
because it houses a few endemic species that you are unlikely to see
Like most cities in Cuba (and most hispanic cities), the center of the city is marked by
square. Manzanillo's is larger than most and it doesn't have the
architectural cohesiveness of most. In fact it is very eclectic,
incorporating Spanish, Roman, Arab and modern style. The ornate pavilion
in the center of the park is very Andalusian in style.
On the eastside of the square is the municipal museum displaying
the personal memorabilia of local patriots and heroes. Our
visit was not so memorable for what we saw in the exhibit, but the enjoyment
that came from spending an hour plus in discussion with the two
women who showed the exhibits. It was dark by the time we left and
it seems like they should have been closing the museum, but as long as
we were listening and asking questions they kept answering them
without any indication of having something else to do.
Manzanillo's favorite sister is Celia Sanchez Manduley.
During the revolution she lived in Manzanillo and helped organize
support for the army that was building in the Sierra Maestra.
After the war she was a top confident of Fidel and a leader in Cuba's women's
movement. There is now a viewpoint/monument dedicated to her,
with a view over the city to the sea.
Manzanillo hotel was built during the Soviet era. It served both
Cubans and foreigners, though with separate menus and different sets
of rooms -- the rooms for foreigners got CNN International on the TV. Even so there
weren't many Cubans and we
seemed to be the only foreigners. The
small crowd at the bar seemed to be exclusively Cuban and most
probably were locals who weren't staying in the hotel. It seemed like it was
waiting for something bigger and grander to happen. Probably not
mass tourism, but it would have worked well for an appropriately sized