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La Cuba del Espiritu Cubano
Educational Program

Manzanillo

click to enlargeThe 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 the day.

click to enlargeThis 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 click to enlargeor 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 click to enlarge Christianity 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 disrepair.

click to enlargeAs 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 otherwise.

Like most cities in Cuba (and most hispanic cities), the center of the city is marked by click to enlarge a 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.

click to enlargeThe 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 click to enlarge 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 conference.

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