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Published: October 24th 2019
Sunday, our first full day in this country, was a jam-packed day exploring Santiago de Cuba. One of the first European settlements here, it is also the city where Fidel Castro launched the revolution. At the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery we watched the militaristic changing of the guard, saw the mausoleum of Cuba's most famous writer, Jose Martis, and visited the Morro Castle, which very much reminded me of the fortresses in San Jose, Puerto Rico. Eddy said they were constructed around the same time, thus the similarity. The day was hot, hot, hot, and heavy with humidity. Only one woman and I - along with Eddy - climbed to the top of Morro Castle, and gazed out over the beautiful placid blue ocean, again reminding me of Puerto Rico. But we couldn't stop sweating even after we were out of the pounding sun and in the shade; all our "badness" was pouring out of us and continued for over half an hour. Small wonder we are all drinking so much water, even though this is a problem for Emilio, as the government does not supply purified or filtered water to its restaurants. Only the private restaurants have bottled water for their foreign guests, so Emilio has to hunt for water for us wherever we go.
On our way back to Holguin from Santiago de Cuba we stopped at El Cobre, a copper town where the church is a pilgrimage site; here people pray to Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, and leave gifts in thanks for being healed or having their prayers answered. In the sanctuary are crutches, braces, tiny shoes, baby clothes, dissertations, locks of hair, ribbons, photographs, precious offerings of thanks, all of great personal importance to the givers. Here also was Ernest Hemingway's golden Nobel Prize for Literature, dedicated to the Cuban people and the Cuba he loved so much. It actually is hidden away somewhere now, since someone once stole it (it was recovered), but one can see photos of his receiving the Nobel prize, and of his giving his award to the priest of this church.
We continued on our way, and half an hour beyond Holguin we were finally at the beach, at Paradisis Rio de Oro. My room here is (thankfully) on the upper level. I'm surrounded by trees, lush leafy branches outside every window. It feels like I'm in a luxurious treehouse. This is a resort, usually filled mostly by Thomas Cook travellers, but since that company went bankrupt instead of 700 people this resort now only has about one hundred. Very nice for us, but who knows what will happen if Thomas Cook customers are not soon replaced? The beach is a good walk away, maybe 1/3 or 1/2 mile, but in this heat and humidity many tourists ride the free golf-type carts that are driven by staff everywhere on this pretty compound. I've gone to the beach three times so far in the day and a half we've been here; the sand and water are perfect, the beach chaises and umbrellas are free for guests, and the ocean's sounds and views are spectacular! But we leave Wednesday morning, on to more discoveries of this troubled country. We had a debate over what body of water this is; is it the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean? Our Cuban guide, Eddy, said this was the Atlantic, but also an arm of the Caribbean Sea. That doesn't seem to be a definitive answer.
Except for turkey vultures I had mentioned the scarcity of birds in Cuba. That was a premature generalization. I was wrong! At dusk here on our first night much of all that could be heard was raucous birdsong! I was relieved and tremendously delighted. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of smallish black birds were flying and alighting in the rafters near the reception area. Such a gorgeous sight and sounds! I asked Emilio what these were, but he directed me to Eddy, our native Cuban; these are the very common Cuban Blackbird. Here they only arrive at dusk, stay for an hour and then are gone again. (Where do they go? What other appointment do they have?) But what a treat is that one hour each day! I've seen lizards too, tiny ones that hold their curving tails up very much like scorpions, and larger fatter ones that look like overfed geckos. (I do love geckos; they were my most reliable companions in Thailand.) When I finally asked Eddy on our last morning here what these were, he said they were iguanas. What a surprise, tiny iguanas no bigger than Thai geckos. There are so many wondrous gifts at this resort. I would love to come back some day, stay a week or two or longer, swim, sweat, walk the beach, watch for iguanas, listen to evening birdsong. I never thought Cuba would be like this.
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