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Published: June 18th 2017
Our Final Cuban Sunset
June 17, 2017
We started of our day following breakfast with a great conversation with Ralph and Jorge about the reaction of Cubans to the recent Trump announcement. Basically, the Cubans were happy that the embargo was not brought back to pre-Obama status. Careful analysis of Trump’s proposal (not an executive order; he signed a memo) seems to indicate that the net result of his ideas, should they be enacted, will really only negatively impact American solo travelers. Group travel may continue as long as it is with a licensed operator, but the “I’m going to check out Trip Advisor and plan my Cuban adventure” travelers will be impacted. And those of us on trips such as ours will be required to document each day’s activities and be subject to IRS audit. The game of the powers that be continues in a way that impacts the freedom of people on both sides of the straits of Florida to do as they please, with no “regime change” in sight. American politicians can’t seem to get over Fidel Castro even posthumously. We seem to have no problem with open trade with China, despite them having a Communist government and chock full of human rights violations that far exceed anything happening in Cuba, at least in 2017.
After our discussion, we arrived at a Botanical Garden started in 1902 by an American named Atkins and a project of Harvard University between the 1920s and 1961. Our guide, Tanya, was very nice and took us on a mile-long walk through the gardens. There, we saw a number of species of bamboo, an elephant foot tree, rubber plants, the shrub called Ixora (a flowering plant we had been wondering about the whole trip), and several palm trees including the Royal Palm, Cuba’s national symbol found on the Crystal beer logo. One tree bore fruits eaten by Cubans whose seeds are the nuts we know as cashews, which aren’t eaten here. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. We also saw a banyan tree (also known as a walking tree) that was large enough to house a small family. “It’s just a baby,” Tanya told us. We also saw a bamboo structure that was large enough to house a picnic inside, all of which was one plant. One set of trees dated from the Jurassic period, called cork palms (which aren’t cork and aren’t palms) and are extremely endangered.
From the gardens, it was back to Cienfuegos for lunch of shredded beef with the traditional rice and beans. On the way, we saw several hitchhikers. This is a socialist form of public transportation, as Cuban hold up a peso in their hands indicating they wish for a ride. Drivers who have seats available are required to pick up passengers. There is no trust issue in this practice, and no instances of crime. One of the hitchhikers, a farm worker, was waiting on the roadside with a peso in one hand and a machete in the other. It is doubtful that he would be picked up in the States. In Cuba, no problemo.
After lunch, we headed to a graphic arts workshop. The proprietor and head artist was very happy to showcase the work being done there for the community, for the artists, and for children after school and on weekends. We saw the process of a lithograph being printed. Each of us left with gifts, including Cuban coffee, small lithograph prints, and cloth bags. He was very upbeat about Cubans and Americans maintaining positive energy and was proud to report that over 3,000 Americans had visited the studio.
Next, we visited the central square of Cienfuegos. Flanking the square were a number of building including the central government building and an ornate theatre donated by a wealthy slave trader named Terry. We were able to peek inside and learned that the performances that take place here are virtually free to Cubans (actual cost is around 10 cents to attend). It’s amazing that in a nation that is so resource-poor that the arts continue to flourish everywhere we look, yet in a nation like ours that is so resource-rich, the arts are starved for funding and are not accessible to average Americans (think the cost of Hamilton tickets… A bit more than 10 cents). Ralph also mentioned baseball, which is so popular in Cuba and also accessible. We reflected on the cost of Cubs tickets.
We then headed back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s journey back to Miami and to get ready for dinner.
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