.  
 

Pinar del Rio
Educational Program

 
 

San Diego de los Banos

 
  Note from 1998 program: The day started with a rain squall. The first unseasonable weather in a week. Mostly the weather hasn’t been of note and worth a lot of discussion. It has been pleasant and great: enough sun so that we need a sunscreen-applying rituals but also enough overcast to keep the heat down, and the winds were moderate. In the same time period as this trip, in California, Texas and Peru there was flooding, deadly tornadoes in Florida and blistering heat in Latin America. This extreme weather was attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon. This all prompts the Cubans to tell a joke referencing El Niño – it is also a commentary on their economy. (You also need to know that in Spanish El Niño is the name for the weather phenomenon and "the baby.") "El Niño doesn’t come to Cuba because there is no milk."  
     
 

Cueva de los Portales, CubaCueva de los Portales, CubaCueva de los Portales: This was originally, in the 19th century, a large, riverside, recreation garden and cavern for the wealthy Portales family. During the 1962, October Crisis (the Cuban Missile Crisis to Americans), Che Guevara, and nine senior staff, set-up here for 45 days, to command the Army of the West, for Cuba. Access to the cave used as the headquarters, is through a tunnel carved by theSan Diego de los Banos River.

 
     
  Cueva de los Portales, CubaOutside the cave, the senior staff was guarded by several hundred troops. Inside the cave, there was a communication room, map room, and Che quarters, which included a simple disk and chairs, a telephone, and in a deeper cave, his bed. Outside his office is a bench at which he played checkers, and a couple of trees between which he lounged in a hammock.  
     
 

After the departure of Che it reverted to its recreational purpose, in the form of historical tourism, referencing the events of October 1962. Unfortunately, there is nothing at Cueva de los Portales to give the large picture of other players in the event, the brinkmanship between the USA and the USSR, and the other important locations in the face-off.

 
  Che’s lookout post, Cueva de los Portales, Cuba Che’s writing table and telephone, Cueva de los Portales, Cuba Che’s bed, Cueva de los Portales, Cuba Che’s chess playing bench, Cueva de los Portales, Cuba Che’s hammock tree, Cueva de los Portales, Cuba  
  The tour now sounds like this:
  • Che's bedroom and bed, Cueva de los Portales, CubaThis is "Che’s dinner table;
  • This is "Che’s kitchen;
  • This is "Che’s lookout post;
  • This is "Che’s office;
  • This is "Che’s writing table and telephone;
  • This is "Che’s bedroom and bed;
  • This is "Che’s chess playing bench;
  • This is "Che’s hammock tree."

It is interesting to notice how Che's bed augmented or enhanced between 1998 (right) and 2016 (above)..

 
     
  Limestone formation, Cueva de los Portales, CubaLimestone formation, Cueva de los Portales, CubaImage of Che, limestone formation, Cueva de los Portales, CubaThe cave still has some large formations, but compared to other subterranean offering in Cuba, this is not the best destination for viewing stalagmites, stalactites and columns.

One of the Limestone formation at Cueva de los Portales is said to resemble Che (right).

 
     
  Biosphere Reserve of Sierra del Rosario, San Diego de los Banos, CubaBiosphere Reserve of Sierra del Rosario is the oldest in Cuba and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1985. It covers about 27,000 hectares of mountainous forests, drained by several picturesque rivers.

You can’t get much better back roads bicycling. Winding roads through green hills. Occasional climbs with great views to rewards the efforts and then long descents as like extra whip cream on a hot fudge sundae (the sundae was not included). The points of interest along the way each had their own unique touch:

 
     
  Reserva Ecologica Sierra la Guira, San Diego de los Banos, CubaLa Guira luxury hotel and forest: Set in the Reserva Ecologica Sierra la Guira, also hosts la Guira luxury hotel, which has all of the four star amenities to make one feel like they were on vacation.  
     
  Cabana de los Pinos, San Diego de los Banos, CubaCabana de los Pinos: Guest cabins suspended in the pines, built on stilts with wooden catwalks in between for access. Currently they are under renovation, but they should be ready for tourist again in a couple of years.  
     
  Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, CubaHaciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, CubaHaciendas Cortina: This is one of the homes and estates of an extraordinarily wealth José Manuel Cortina y García (journalist, lawyer, politician, diplomat (in Asia)). Clearly the Cortinas had been wealthy. At one time, the Cortina's controlled the land of a significant part of eastern Pinar del Rio Province (Parque Nacional La Güira).  
  Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, Cuba Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, Cuba Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, Cuba Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, Cuba Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, Cuba Haciendas Cortina, San Diego de los Banos, CubaSome of the buildings and formal gardens still remain. There is an impressive gate and acres of formal gardens, fountains, pools with statures, and the stone work of what once was a large multi-story residence. It had been torched some years ago – maybe 30. After the revolution, the hacienda was confiscated by the state. The former residential grounds are being restored and developed as a passive public recreation area.  
     
 

San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba San Diego de los Banos Spa, CubaSan Diego de los Banos: Medicinal sulfur baths for people with skin conditions. If you are a Cuban, referred by a physician the stay and treatment are free. Part of the medical benefits of being Cuban. Others can also be treated as paying customers. People have come from a number of foreign countries.

 
  San Diego de los Banos River, CubaThe main feature is a mild sulphur health spa. It curative properties were purported discovered by a slave, with a skin disease, who was put out so he would not infect anyone else. He went swimming at the side of the river and his skin cleared up. The warm water is supposed to be especially good for curing skin ailments. The spa is not frequented by tourists, but is a working medical center, and is prescribed as treatment for some conditions by Cuban doctors. There is a full medical staff at the facility. The pools are used as physical therapy pools.  
     
  Art, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Art, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Art, San Diego de los Banos Spa, CubaEven if you don't have a medical reason to visit the spa, it is worth a visit to look at the art work. There are more than a dozen large, high quality, paintings in the lobby, and a large wall mural on the plaza. The painting ranged from impressionist, to realism, to the fanciful and the macabre. Everyone was worth a look.  
     
  Venacular retail building, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Venacular retail building, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Venacular retail building, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Venacular retail building, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba Old Hotel, San Diego de los Banos Spa, Cuba  
  New hotel, San Diego de los Banos Spa, CubaSan Diego de los Banos Spa, CubaIn the core of San Diego de los Banos, there are a few heritage building that give it some character. Most are, or were previously, retail space. A couple are hotels, but they are peso-hotels, so they only serve Cuban Nationals.

A couple blocks away, and slightly up the hill, is a newer, larger hotel to serve international travelers.

 
     
  Note from 1998 program: Dinner raised another issue of Cuban economic system. Cubans get ration card for bread (a bun a day), eggs (less than one a day), meat (occasional) oil and a number of other basics. Here we are a bunch of foreigner, without ration cards, and the food was always on the table in greater quantities than would be allowed by the ration cards. Dinner tonight was an exceptional feast!  
     
  Dinner, San Diego de los Banos, CubaBy 2016, in under two-decades, the food situation had changed dramatically: The available quantity, variety and quality of the food is now astonishing by comparison. While there is still a gap between what tourists are severed and what might be on the average Cuban's table, most noticeably access to beef, their options are also vastly improved, as well. Over time, the offerings in the ration book have been pared back, and there are rumors that it might be discontinued all together.  
     
  Previous dispatch Next dispatch  
     
   MainAbout this tourMapJoin this tour  
     
 

Please write if you have questions, comment, criticism, praise or additional information for us, find a bad link or would like to be added to IBF's mailing list. (Also let us know how you found this site.)

IBF Homepage          Cuba Homepage          Search ibike

"Hosted by DreamHost - earth friendly web hosting"
Created by David Mozer.
Copyright © 1995-2017  International Bicycle Fund. All rights reserved.