For six decades the United States of America has imposed an embargo (el bloqueo in Spanish) on Cuba. Separated by less than 200 kilometres, this action by the world’s largest economy has heavily restricted Cuba’s commercial, economic and financial options. The embargo has also shaped modern Cuba’s uniqueness as a country and provided the totalitarian Cuban government with a convenient (and sometimes legitimate) bogeyman to blame. During our Cuba visit, Rocío and I saw several examples of anti-blockade propaganda.
In Old Havana (Habana Vieja) we came across a small restaurant and bar with the marketing nightmare of a name, El Shamuskia’o. Located on Muralla Street in between Habana and Compostela, El Shamuskia’o became a Havana favourite for Rocío and me, visiting four times.
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.
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.
I had never heard of Nuevitas until this day. A port town on Camagüey Province’s coast, it is not on the tourist map. Arriving to Camagüey from Holguín, Rocío and I hoped to go north to Cubitas for the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey. Instead, the fruit cart man suggested catching the train east to Nuevitas. We wanted to experience a Cuban train ride so embraced his idea.
Our bicycle taxi driver advised we buy food beforehand as the train doesn’t sell any. 5 CUP (US$0.20) per fish sandwich later and we were set.
Taking a Cuban Train from Camagüey to Nuevitas
The daily Nuevitas train left Camagüey at 5:20pm with ticket sales beginning 4pm so we had time to observe the locals in the station and watch a freight train pass. Continue reading