From La Demajagua I rode to the town of Manzanillo then caught a bus to Bayamo.
When I first entered the room I thought that I was entering a honeymoon suite because it was decorated primarily in pink with lots of crystal accents. The owner was so nice that I overlooked my initial impression.
The bathroom was clean and the shower was perhaps the best that I had experienced in all of Cuba. The shower head was an overhead rain shower head which I love.
On the inside was some original period furniture which belonged to the family.
A small interior patio.
The Cuba flag alongside the Cespedes flag.
Down the street a young girl gazes out of the doorway of a local church.
A store selling shoes.
Why walking around the outskirts of the city center of Bayamo, Cuba I stumbled across this rather large and peculiar structure. The building was two stories high with plain white nondescript walls. However there were rows and columns of windows with wooden shutters. There was a man standing outside of the building just staring at the facade… so of course I approached him and began a conversation.
He explained that the building was the San Francisco Convent and had previously housed a sisterhood of nuns dating back to 1620.
He shared that he was the caretaker and guard of the building. I took a few photos of the outside and started to walk away. He softly called me closer and said, “if you would like to look on the inside, you may.”
I entered through the door within a door. In Cuba, I noticed that many buildings had large wooden doors that might rise to ten to twelve feet high. Then within the large door there would be a smaller door which might only be six to seven feet tall. The smaller door would be used to enter on a day to day basis. The larger door might be used to pass large objects or larger groups of people on special occasions.
As I walked around the inside of the convent I was thinking that I might find some interesting Catholic frescos or religious artifacts. However, it was actually quite empty and stark on the inside. I guess that the nuns lived a pretty simple existence or after the vacancy of the convent the government had removed any of the religious symbols.
There was a stairway that led to the second floor. On the second floor there were a number of empty rooms. Sometimes old vacant buildings are interesting and sometimes they are a little spooky. This building had be taken care of by the caretaker. It wasn't dirty, it wasn't clean, it wasn't scary, it was just empty.
I chatted with the caretaker for probably about thirty minutes. I asked him about the building, the history, the history of Bayamo, his life and his work. He was curious about where I had visited in Cuba and where I was planning to go. I shared a few stories about the places that I had traveled in Cuba. He asked if I had traveled to other countries.
Sometimes I'm a little reluctant to share my travel stories because I know that I have been very fortunate to travel to the places that I've visited and that there are other people that are not so fortunate. And while I almost always travel on a small budget, I'm still very privileged just to have the time and resources to travel.
This gentile man was genuinely curious about the world outside of Bayamo and Cuba. Where could I begin?
I shared the names of a few of the places where I had lived and traveled in Latin American - Guatemala, Argentina and Brazil. I explained that I have been typically drawn to places with beautiful natural areas and warm friendly people.
After some time, I felt that it was time to leave.
He asked me if I would take a photo of him and show it to the rest of the world. He said that he knew that he would never be able to leave Bayamo, so he wanted his photo to travel.
I took his photo. I almost cried.
This particular afternoon it began to rain. An attendent of the park quickly took down the flag. Two little kids stood by and watched in amazement. It was one of those times that I wished that I was carrying my good camera with a zoom lens to capture the moment. The expression on the little boys face was priceless.
The experience was peculiar because some people showed up late and others left early. I was wondering if all of the patrons, all five of us, were really just trying to find an activity to avoid the rain.
I really enjoyed my time in Bayamo. The town was large enough to have a number of interesting sites and activities, but small enough to have approachable and friendly people.
I asked a number of the locals where I should go next. I inquired if it was worthwhile to visit the nearby city of Holguin to the north or Las Tunas to the west. Many folks said that both of the towns were more touristic, but not really very significant. One person was honest enough to share with me that many male tourists go to Holguin and Las Tunas to find Cuban girlfriends. Interesting. I inquired if the tourists eventually get married to these girlfriends. He said, "No." In other words Holguin and Las Tunas had developed somewhat of a reputation for sex tourism. At first I was not sure if the locals were telling me the truth, which is sometimes hard to decipher in Cuba, or telling me tales of the neighboring provinces and cities out of rivalry or jealousy. I had begun to notice that many Cubans held fierce loyalty to their hometowns and provinces - wherever that might be.
Later, I ran into traveler and asked her if she would recommend visiting Holguin or Las Tunas. She confided that she felt uncomfortable in both cities and confirmed that she saw what appeared to be a lot of overt sex tourism. I decided that I would seek a more legit location. The owner of the Casa at which I was staying mentioned that I might like to visit the town of Sancti Spiritus. I knew nothing about the town other than it was about 400km west along the Carretera Central (Central Highway). Sometimes you just don't know until you go.