The Church of Our Lady of Bethlehem (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Belén) forms part of an 18th century Old Havana (Habana Vieja) religious complex dominated by a convent of the same name.
On the corner of Industria and San José streets in central Havana lies the ruins of a once grand theatre, Teatro Compoamor. Destroyed by fire decades ago, the theatre appears off limits. However, payment of a fee facilitates access.
Cuba is known for its classic American cars from the 1950s. The country’s streets also carry Soviet vehicles from the 1960s to the 1980s along with modern Chinese auto-mobiles. However, old Japanese cars are a rarity.
On Rocío and my second full day in Havana we saw this ancient Toyota sedan. The sighting piqued Rocío’s interest as a previous long-term resident of Japan.
The car’s proud owner told us he got his Toyota while visiting Japan with the Cuban military in 1985.
In typical Cuban fashion, the car is still running decades after manufacture. It is also right-hand-drive, another point of difference to other Cuban vehicles. The owner wore a tattoo sleeve on his right arm, probably for sun protection as opposed to fashion.
160 kilometres west of Havana is the intriguing city of Pinar del Río. Not a major tourist destination itself, south-west of Pinar del Río is the famous Robaina cigar tobacco farm Finca El Pinar and to the north, Viñales’ wonderful landscapes.
After the new year in Havana Rocío and I were ready to go west. From Parque de la Fraternidad we caught the local P-12 bus to near the National Bus Terminal (Terminal de Ómnibus Nacionales). On 19 de Mayo Avenue we took an old Chevrolet van colectivo to Pinar del Río. Part way there the vehicle experienced a flat tyre.
While changing the tyre, the driver used a rock to support the axle. The van’s lights contained images of Che Guevara.
Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city was founded in its current location in 1528. The city’s labyrinthine streets in its UNESCO world heritage-listed historic centre are worth wandering. Camaguey is also a good base for exploring its eponymous province, Cuba’s biggest, including Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey, Nuevitas and Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo, the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site.
Rocío and I first visited Camagüey for an afternoon in between the bus from Holguín and the train to Nuevitas. Returning Christmas day after a night on a hut floor, we desired a shower and proper bed. From our worst Cuban accommodation we chanced upon our best: Casa Juanita y Rafael, a lovingly decorated guest house with super high ceilings and a beautiful courtyard (25 CUC/US$25 per night). The courtyard included a fish pond in Camagüey’s symbol, a large ceramic vessel called a tinajón.
Cuba’s second city Santiago de Cuba lies far from Havana and is known for both its music and rebellious streak. Rocío and I visited Santiago twice in December 2016, firstly for Fidel Castro’s memorial rally and funeral and later, returning from Baracoa. While based in Santiago we had an epic day trip to La Gran Piedra I blogged about here.
Moncada Barracks and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement
On 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro led an unsuccessful armed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada army barracks. This is regarded as the start of the Cuban Revolution and the official revolutionary movement is named 26 de Julio (26th of July) after this date. The former barracks was converted to a school although some of the battle’s bullet holes remain. Continue reading
Wildfires, tree rat stew, a fallen tree blocking the road, slavery, a butterfly with clear wings, and a ride with the Cuban Air Force, this December 2016 La Gran Piedra day trip had almost everything. La Gran Piedra National Park (Parque Nacional de la Gran Piedra) is named after the monolith at the top of the mountain about 28 kilometres from Santiago de Cuba.
Waking up early, our Santiago de Cuba hosts kindly provided a 6am breakfast. We walked to bus terminal near the port on Jesús Menéndez Avenue. Our options from hear were a bus to Siboney 1 hour later or a 10am bus direct to La Gran Piedra (The Big Stone).
Instead of these options, we:
- Rode moto taxis across town (20 CUP; US$0.80 each) to El Palo del Aura where more frequent transport departed towards Siboney.
- Caught a bus for 1 CUP (US$0.04), exiting at the junction to La Gran Piedra. Here we watched lizards while waiting with others for a ride up the mountain.
- Took a private car (organised by a man in a tractor) up the mountain for 20 CUC (US$20; negotiated down from 30 CUC).
This car should have delivered us to the top, however, we came across the following:
Baracoa in Cuba’s far eastern Guantánamo Province has unique a history, location and environment. Founded in 1511, the city is the island’s oldest Spanish settlement and Cuba’s first capital. Historically, people could only visit Baracoa by sea or air with the first mountain-piercing road connection opening in the 1960s. Continue reading