***** Great news!!! I have been having serious technical difficulties getting videos loaded from my camera onto my ipad. I don’t know what the deal is…..I’ve been doing it the same way since we began our journey around the globe……but for the last 2 months I haven’t been able to do it my ‘normal’ way. Anyway, I finally sat down today to figure out a work around……and it worked!! So, enjoy some videos of Cuba in this exciting new post!!
Leaving Cienfuegos, one of my favorite towns in all of Cuba, I ventured toward the province of Villa Clara, specifically to it’s capital city Santa Clara. Smack bang in the geographic center of Cuba , this is a city of new trends and insatiable creativity, where an edgy youth culture has been testing the boundaries of Cuba‘s censorship police for years. My kinda town!
A good 10,000 miles out in his calculations, Cristopher Columbus believed that Cubanacan (or Cubana Khan, an Indian name that meant ‘the middle of Cuba, see Note 1), an Indian village once located near Santa Clara, was the seat of the khans of Mongolia; hence his misguided notion that he was exploring the Asian coast.
Santa Clara proper was founded in 1689 by 13 families from Remedios (we will head there soon!), who were tired of the unwanted attention of passing pirates. The town grew quickly after a fire emptied Remedios in 1692, and in 1867 it became the capital of Las Villas province. A notable industrial center, Santa Clara was famous for it’s pre-revolutionary Coca-Cola factory (see Note 2) and it’s pivotal role in Cuba’s island wide communications network. Santa Clara was the major city to be liberated from Batista’s army in December 1958, by none other than Che Guevara himself (more on him in a bit). A decisive victory that paved the way for Fidel to arrive in Havana unmolested.
Cuban toothpaste….. in case you were wondering.
I spent a few days in Santa Clara enjoying the sights and sounds. Namely the Che monument and mausoleum, the end point of many a Che pilgrimage. Even if you can’t stand the Argentine guerrilla (he was, after all, a murderer), there’s poignancy in the vast square that spans both sides of the road, guarded by a bronze statue of El Che.
The statue was erected in 1987 to mark the 20th anniversary of Guevara’s murder in Bolivia, and his remains were eventually returned to Cuba in 1997. Sorry Comrade, no photos!!!!
And speaking of El Che, good lord he is EVERYWHERE! The Cuban government uses his image as a propaganda tool like no other. His image is plastered over posters, billboards, walls, cars and every piece of tourist merchandise imaginable. Che key chain, yep. Che coffee mug, yep. The guy peers at you from every corner, usually with some time worn slogan over his head, such as “Hasta La Victoria….Siempre” (towards victory, always!).
I am working on Che pajamas and sheets and pillow cases. Stay tuned.
“A moral giant, who grows every day”
Some depictions of El Che are better than others!
“Your examples live, your ideas endure”
On the right is Camilo Cienfuegos, my favorite revolutionary ‘hero’ (see Note 3)
From Santa Clara we moved on to the small town of Remedios that I mentioned above. There is only one reason to head towards Remedios and that is it’s legendary parranda.
Sometime in the 18th century, the priest at Remedios cathedral, Francisco Vigil de Quinones, had the bright idea of providing local children with cutlery and crockery and getting them to run around the city making noise in a bid to increase Mass attendance in the lead-up to Christmas. He could not imagine what he was starting!
Three centuries later and parrandas, as these cacophonous rituals became known, have developed into some of the best known Caribbean street parties.
Festivities kick off early, with the city’s two traditional neighborhoods (El Carmen and El Salvador…..I was staying in the El Salvador neighborhood, so this was my ‘team’), grouping together to outdo each other with displays of fireworks (homemade and fucking dangerous), and dance, from rumba to polka. The second part of the party is a parade of vast floats, elaborate carnival like structures only with fanciful dressed people on display, standing stock-still as the (soviet) tractor-towed artworkd traverse the streets. Further barrages of dangerous fireworks round off the revelry. Oh, and rum. Lots of rum.
For more on Remedios, check out Note 4
The El Salvador neighborhood float under construction
Carnival rides in Remedios
Looking for the un-exploded ones.
The El Carmen neighborhood float
My buddy Ezzy from Belarus!
Remedios was awesome
Next up……lovely Gibara, trouble with Big Brother and a little Fidel history
1) Ironically, Cubanacan is the name used by the Cuban government for their very capitalistic hotel chain. Most resorts in Cuba are run under the Cubanacan name, in association with other big chain hotels, like the Spanish Melia and Ibostar. A very lucrative business for the Socialist government.
2) There are now just two countries in the world where Coca-Cola cannot be bought or sold – at least not officially. They are Cuba and North Korea, which are both under long-term US trade embargoes (Cuba since 1962 and North Korea since 1950). Cuba was actually one of the first three countries outside the US to bottle Coke, in 1906. But the company moved out as Fidel’s government began seizing private assets in the 1960’s, and has never returned. So, when Mr. Obama visits later this month, he should bring a 6 pack with!