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Published: January 7th 2010
Just like someone clapped their hands together, the humidity suddenly broke as we arrived into the city of Camaguey.
Cool and breezy, I figured a nice stroll around the town to get my bearings before the sun dropped behind the buildings would be a good idea. I walked about three blocks before I realized, maybe not.
As I was staring blankly at my trusty map trying to figure out the general direction of one of the town squares, a local man approached me smiling and said Camaguey was like taking a dinner plate and smashing it on the ground. He pointed at my map. See how the pieces look? All scattered? His toothy, well weathered grin, knowingly proud. This is Camaguey. He wishes me luck before limping away.
Suddenly my map looks like a broken dinner plate. Each street zigs and zags uncomprehensively...sometimes they go around in a complete circle! As I continue on ahead, all I know is every corner I turn looks strangely like the last.
Camaguey was originally designed to fool pirates....but evidentally tourists too! It is quite literally a conundrum....but that's what makes it so interesting! Unlike Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, and Bayamo,
the buildings of Camaguey are painted a little more flamboyantly...pinks, blues, yellows and greens....I'm guessing so even the locals can find their way back to their own house.
Our one star hotel is smack dab in the middle of this dinner plate chaos. The Hotel de Cuba. Outside, right on the street curb, a man is roasting a whole pig on a spit. Normally this would alarm me, but it seems to fit, oddly. Coals spill over onto the roadway as people and traffic, and interested dogs stroll by. There is a lot of reggaeton music coming from somewhere, loud reggaeton, and people yell back and forth at each other, dogs are barking, horns honking, this city vibe is completely different. And I understand why. Cubans are completely cut off from one another. There is no inter-visiting going on between the cities. As a result, Camaguey has become a wilder more rebellious place, but so incredibly poor that people really have to hussle and hurry to survive here.
It's saturday night and a full-on street party errupts near our hotel. We get right down in the middle of it, people are drinking and dancing in the streets. We
think we've dropped into a Mardis Gras or something, but apparently this is a regular Saturday night event for them. Camaguey is a party just waiting to happen. With a snoot-full of rum, we have bike taxi races to a local nightclub on the other side of the river, and spend the evening waist deep in locals all grinding their stuff out. It is wild.
And speaking of, with all this grinding going on, you'd expect there to be at least twelve kids per mother right? But something else has really struck me about Cuban people. Responsible. Each household appears to only has one or two children at the most, not buckets full. Chock it up to a well educated population? Or restrictions? Or free birth control? Or free abortions? Well, nonetheless it makes me feel there may be hope for the rest of the world after all.
To ensure we don't get lost while exploring Camaguey during the day, we latch onto a local guide, Nadia, who takes us everywhere in the city and gives us a history lesson at the same time. This city is fascinating and definately embraces the Arts. There is ballet, art galleries,
and plenty of music. We visit some of the homes of local artists. Just like the other towns there are plenty of people hanging out in the squares, and we spend most of our day strolling through churches and old significant buildings. Camaguey is incredibly vibrant and beautiful.
Everywhere in Camaguey are these things called Tinjones, gigantic mother-sized clay pots that water was stored in. When the original habitants of Camaguey moved the entire town inland to get away from the constant pirate attacks, they soon discovered there was no water. So it became a desperate battle to collect water during the rainy seasons. Pirates still attempted to invade the new inland town, but thanks to the dinner plate configurations, they gave up eventually.
While in Camaguey, we ate mainly at restaurants...so the food wasn't the highlight. Our hotel served up a horrifying breakfast buffet, and we found a couple places around town that made pizza or spagetti, but most of the local places served rice with black beans with a poorly cooked meat of some sort. Not like the Homestay food unfortunately. We are all looking forward to getting to Trinidad so we can stay with Cuban
Tourism obviously isn't big in Camaguey. I think we were the only tourists around. Nobody really paid us any attention either. As I stood in line at the phone company to get an internet card, I struck up a couple conversations, and enjoyed hearing what Cubans thought of us. One guy asked if everyone was really rich in Canada. I told him compared to the rest of the world we make a descent wage, and therefore can afford houses and cars and stuff like that, but I explained that we have developed a lifestyle that makes us cut off from everyone. We don't get to know our neighbours. Most of us don't live with our extended family, we stay inside and watch TV at night, instead of sitting outside on our stoop and talking to people who happen by.
I explained that because everyone is too busy working to pay for everything, we don't have much time for anything else. They all laughed when I said I was envious of the Cuban lifestyle where you meet to have ice cream at night, or sit around chatting with neighbours, or play dominos on a street corner, or
watch musicans practice in a square in the evening. I explained that money isn't everything.
One of the girls in the lineup said back, well when you don't have money, it is everything. She was right. Kinda.
You always want what you don't have.
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