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Published: June 16th 2017
June 15, 2017
Today marked our final day in Havana, but not without a few last goodbyes to the capital city. Our first stop took us to an alley decorated by an eccentric artist known as Salvador. He began illegally painting walls in 1990 and for some reason the government turned a blind eye. After all, not much had been painted at all in Havana since 1959. Over the years, his project turned into a multi-media alley-long installation. Different sections of the installation paid homage to various gods in the Santeria faith, which has thoughtfully melded many aspects into Catholic saints, so much so that the religion is recognized by the Catholic Church. Various artistic elements included car transmissions, bathtubs turned into seating, sinks and toilets turned into planters, piano frames turned into walls and windows, car transmissions, shovels… You name it, Salvador and his team have found an artistic use for it. The overall vibe of the place was very upbeat and positive and it was clearly a quality art project. Salvador himself was present but not in the best of moods. He told our guide that rather than support the project with a donation or by purchasing music CDs, that he wished we had brought concrete. That was a statement of principle, but not one of interest to American Airlines.
Our next stop was a market in a former warehouse. This featured several aisles of vendors and is one example of free market capitalism found in today’s Cuba. Though many of the vendors were selling similar wares, each had his or her somewhat creative or somewhat pushy way of prompting us to by his or her products. When hearing we were from Chicago, most seemed genuinely excited about our baseball and basketball teams. We walked away satisfied with a few purchases.
From here it was time to hit the road. We started on an 8 lane highway built by the Soviets in the 1970s bound for the Bay of Pigs. Pretty soon we were on a 2 lane road shared with horse-drawn carts and vintage tractors. Billboard after billboard featured pro-government (pro-Revolution) propaganda. We finally arrived at the shores of the Bay of Pigs where we paused for a picnic lunch. Next it was time to don our snorkeling gear and head out into the waters, which were full of colorful fish. We left the ocean cleaner than we found it, returning to shores a floating bandaid and plastic bag. We found interesting that there were several people nearby using scuba gear in 4-5 feet deep water. One of them accidentally scuba’ed Barb. We ended up staying in the water for about an hour, time enough for the sun to come out and the tide to come in. It was surreal to be in such a tranquil place knowing that we we so close to the site of chaos in 1961. Along the way we noticed monuments along the side of the road to the Cuban casualties of the invasion, which was a paradox considering our recent visit to the eternal flame honoring the Cuban-American and American casualties of the invading forces. The American side called them martyrs; the Cuban side called them mercenaries. On the way to our hotel, we saw a billboard that read “The Only Place where Yankee Imperialism was Defeated in Latin America.”
As we continued on the way to Cienfuegos, we stumbled across a pick-up baseball game. This was minor league baseball at its best, complete with a horse in the audience. As we watched the game underway where the players had no uniforms and the first baseman had no shoes, a tractor and wagon full of farm workers pulled by on their way back from the fields.
Finally, we arrived in Cienfuegos at Casa Verde, a home turned into hotel. Literally, a green house, situated directly on the Cienfuegos Bay. As in the bay is our backyard. We were almost immediately treated to an a Capella concert by a professional choir that has performed throughout Cuba. They performed numbers such as Shenandoah and later moved into more traditional Cuban music and were really, really good. They used their bodies as instruments as they sang about cats, peanut sellers, the attempted cutting down of a tree, and a young man in love. It is our hope that they one day have the chance to travel beyond the island of Cuba to perform internationally.
Finally, it was time for dinner at another paladar. Exhausted, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and retired to Casa Verde for an early night. Tomorrow, we are going to visit Trinidad.
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