Camaguey Wed-Thurs 11 & 12 July Day 6 & 7

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July 11th 2018
Published: July 26th 2018
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Camaguey Wed-Thurs 11 & 12 July Day 6 & 7

After a rough night we started our drive towards Camaguey. The vehicle that they sent us was a station wagon with 2 fold down seats at the back making it a 7-seater. All the bags had to go on the roof rack. After some discussion we decided to accept the vehicle but under duress.

Our first stop was only 30 minutes out of Trinidad, stopping at a large old sugar homestead in Sugarcane Valley. This was where the slaves were bought from different African countries to work the sugar cane fields. The men wore heavy balls and chains while they worked. There was a very tall tower built so that the whole property could we watched and guarded from above. Slavery was only banned 20 years ago, which was the last place for slaves to be used.

Ladies were selling table cloths and runners, locally made clothes and other decorative material. The homestead had been converted into a restaurant. The walls are adorned with historical art work and statues mainly depicting the slavery history. Each side of the markets was the old houses where the slaves lived. Slaves came from Congo, Haiti and Nigeria. The idea was to ensure the slaves didn’t get together to plan a revolt, so they didn’t get the slaves from the one country. However, African people were linked by their singing which enhanced to team work.

From there we stopped along the way for a hamburger lunch and after a couple of hours we arrived in Camaguey.

Cuba’s third largest city (about 321,000 people) lies about half way between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Camaguey was designed in the 17th century to disorientate potential invaders such as pirates and plunderers, so the street layout is a jumble of narrow alleys where no two streets are parallel.

Camagüey was founded as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe in 1514 by Spanish colonists led by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar at a location now known as Nuevitas on the northern coast. It was one of the seven original settlements (villas) founded in Cuba by the Spanish. The settlement was moved inland in 1528 to the site of a Taino village named Camagüey. The village may have been named for a local chief, or perhaps for a tree endemic to the region.

The symbol of the city of Camagüey is the clay pot or tinajón, used to capture rain water to be used later, keeping it fresh. Clay pots are everywhere, some as small as a hand, some large enough for two people to stand up in, either as monuments or for real use. Local legend has it that if you drink water from a girl's personal tinajón, you will fall in love with the girl and never leave her.

There are large parks and various private art galleries, and one of which we enjoyed, the gallery of Martha Jimenez. She is a world-renowned artist who has been invited by Queen Elizabeth. Her art includes fish to represent the sensual movement of women, sewing machines to represent the work of women and the style of art was to encourage the power and independence of women. Martha also designed statues which are in one of the Plazas in Camaguey, depicting an old man who came in the plaza every day to read his newspaper, 3 women who come together to work and talk, and a water man who used to deliver water to the houses.

Camilo had organised “bici taxis” to transport us between the plaza visits. We visited 4 different plazas, hearing about the history of buildings around the squares. Walking down the narrow lanes took us to many different art galleries. I spotted one piece of art of an old car in a narrow street so went back the next day to buy it. Our bici taxi was friendly and Jessica from the USA was able to talk to him in Spanish. She worked in a primary school in LA where the majority of children come from Spanish-speaking families.

I loved Camaguey as it wasn’t as touristy as Trinidad, the streets were very clean and people friendly (as always). Over our full day in the town I made sure we walked down the mall visiting shops and looking at how the locals shop. So many retail outlets and restaurants were government owned with the same items for sale. Shops were always sparsely stocked. There was a good variety of restaurants and we spotted a few private ones, evidenced by a greater selection of drinks and a more diverse menu as well as staff being very well dressed and with high standards of customer service. The first night’s dinner in Camaguey was at a lovely restaurant that served a diverse, tastefully presented menu. The second night was at an Italian Restaurant which was also very good, both of which were privately owned.

Our favourite wifi spot where we had wonderful cappuccinos, mojito and icy cold beers while we used the wifi was the Convention Centre. We got to know a couple of the staff there who were very helpful.

We also visited the Yesterday Bar which was the same as the one in Trinidad and had models of the Beatles. They also played Beatle songs as well as current and 90s and 80s music which was a change from Cuban music – not that we didn’t enjoy Cuban music!

The first day when we arrived it was relatively cool as it had rained before we got there and was overcast. The 2nd day was back to being hot and humid.

Camaguey is also a university town and has a rich cultural tradition, and like just about everywhere in Cuba, there is plenty of night time entertainment to be had.

We also visited the Ballet Academy of Camaguey. Wow, what a lucky/special experience. We watched the men training first and then went into the next-door room to watch the girls. They were amazing athletes – all of them. All were professional dances practicing from 9.00am – 4.00pm Monday to Friday. We were also lucky enough for them to perform 4 excerpts from their performance which was scheduled in Havana at the end of the month. I couldn’t help thinking of Gemma my granddaughter who loves her ballet and is such a beautiful little dancer. I took lots of photos and videos which I look forward to sharing them with her (and her Mum). This dance company is privately owned and travels internationally as does the Academy in Havana.

All in all, we loved Camaguey and said our farewells the next day

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