Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bayamo, Cuba - Good Food, Bad Food, Cespedes and Shopping

From La Demajagua, I rode to the town of Manzanillo, then caught a bus to Bayamo. 
After checking out a few casa particulares I chose the home stay of Ana Marti Vasquez located at Calle Cespedes No. 4. The house was conveniently located steps from the Cathedral and Plaza Marti.
When I first entered the room I thought that I was entering a honeymoon suite because it was decorated primarily in pink with an abundance of crystal accents. The owner was so nice that I decided that the decor was of little consequence. 
The bathroom was clean and the shower was perhaps the best that I had experienced in all of Cuba. The shower spout was the type of spout that I loved - a large overhead rain shower head. 
I walked around a for while to get a feel for the town and found this restaurant about two block away from my home stay. Restaurante Manegua seemed a bit more formal than most restaurants, but their prices were reasonable and fit within my budget.
I ordered a set meal which included a pork steak filet, rice with beans, and a salad.
I tried a local cerveza called Tinima. After tasting this beer my recommendation would be to stick to drinking rum while in Cuba.
The next morning the assistant of the casa told me that there was a place near the main shopping street where one could find a hamburger for 2 pesos (8 cents). I had to check it out. Once I found the cafe I noticed that there was a line outside the door and every table inside was occupied. I thought that the hamburgers must be pretty good. I had to wait about 15 minutes just to get inside. Once inside and seated I waited another 15 minutes to place my order. After perhaps 15 minutes more my hamburger arrived. It was terrible. It was pretty much a meat patty on a piece of bread. The bread was dry. The meat was chewy. Well, at least now I know what an 8 cent burger tastes like.
I was walking around the central part of town. At one end of the park, there was this statue of Peruchu Figueredo who wrote the national hymn of Cuba.
 At the other end of the park stood this heroic looking statue of Carlos Cespedes.
This is the historic home of Cespedes which has been restored and converted into a museum.
On the inside was some original period furniture that belonged to the family. 
A large kitchen facing an open patio.
A small interior patio. 
The Cuba flag alongside the Cespedes flag. 
A bell from La Demajagua.
A fountain pen and ink well perhaps used to pen his famous manifesto.
Down the street a young girl gazes out of the doorway of a local church.
At one corner of the park there was a street closed for only foot traffic which contained a number of shops and restaurants.
I spotted this optometry shop. They actually had some pretty current designs of eyewear, but the selection was limited to about ten designs.
A store selling shoes. 
Soap and toothpaste were on display.
As evening approached, I thought that the park might come alive because it was centrally located and truly a beautiful park. But not many people were actually strolling around the park. I later learned that Bayamo is a pretty laid-back town. By 10pm most people are at home and asleep.
I decided to check out the Cine Cespedes (Cinema). There was actually one cinema in front of the central park and another little video cinema a few hundred feet away. I always seem to enjoy towns with cinemas.
I happened to catch the premiere screening of a Cuban film called Valores (Values). No red carpet or movie stars at this premiere, but there was this cool little band that played a few tunes before the film was screened. The film was about the adventures of three hair stylists who venture out on the town in Havana. I enjoyed picking up a few nuances about the cultural life of Habaneras, but I felt that the pace and some. sequences dragged. It was still worth the price of admission of 2 pesos (8 cents).
The next day I ventured out early and tried a croquette for breakfast. It is typically some type of meat deep fried and served in a bun - kind of like a hotdog, but not really.
I happened to pass by the bar dedicated to the Beatles. The Beatles and John Lennon in particular were once popular in Cuba. Of course, Castro thought that the Beatles epitomized the mindless vulgar western ideology and actually banned their music. It's been said that back in the 60's, Cubans smuggled copies of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" into Cuba because they were yearning to experience the rock n' roll revolution that was taking place in the US. Later Castro recanted that he felt akin to John Lennon because of his dreams and ideas.
The attendant let me look inside and mentioned that at night there was a Beatles cover band that would play and that there would also be people singing Karaoke. I smelled a tourist trap, so I decided right then that I would not be crooning to "Imagine" later that the evening.
I stuck my head into to this local art gallery.
In almost every city I visited the was a local art gallery that displayed local artist work. I did not find any of the art particularly interesting or striking. It seemed that much of the art was thematic and lacked originality. But perhaps in Communist Cuba, it was best to fall in line with the party line. 
Ok, well this end of the outdoor shopping area had some original street art.
I came across this nook where there were a number of food venders. The locals seemed to be standing in line for the fresh bread.
The tourists were standing in line for the ice cream cones.
I joined the line of tourists and enjoyed this almond-flavored ice cream cone for 2 pesos (8 cents).
There was a somewhat large line standing outside this storefront. I don't like to shop, but I sometimes like to walk through a grocery or apparel store just to see what local people buy.
This store was similar to a mini department store - it had many small stores inside the one large store. Arranged on neatly delineated shelves, apparel was carefully folded and on display.
Some bath products.
Some hardware products.
The cathedral was located at one corner of the central plaza. I've noticed that often in Cuba that the cathedrals are not one of the primary features of the central plaza, but are often located in a corner or even on a different street. I found this to be a contrast with many Latin American cities in which the cathedral is front and central on the main plaza. I don't know why.

While 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.” 

Why not? 

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. The smaller door which might only be six to seven feet tall 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 removed all 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 been 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 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 am 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. 
Parked under an awning to protect it from the rain was this awesome handbuilt tricycle. If you looked closely you could see that every part of the tricycle was hand fabricated. I thought that it was awesome.
Since in was pouring rain all afternoon I decided to seek indoor entertainment. I mentioned that there was a normal cinema located off the park. There was also this video cinema near by. I did not fully understand how it worked, but I found out. There was a listing of films and times posted outside the cinema. I paid my 2 pesos for my ticket. I was then shown through a door. Inside there was a small room with maybe 25 seats, a window air conditioner, a tv and DVD player. The film was a US film called John Wick staring Keanu Reeves. I had not seen the film, but I think that it was released perhaps a year ago. So the video cinema basically played DVDs of semi recent releases and foreign films.

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.


  1. Video cinema--I would never have guessed.

    I used to enjoy Cuban bread when I used to live in Florida and used to eat bread.

    Thanks for all of you documentaries. Blessings.

  2. Loved the story about the caretaker and his photo. It is beyond the imagination of many people that they could possibly see other parts of the world. If only everyone had the opportunity to do so, the world would feel much smaller and the people not so different from one another. Way to be a 'World Ambassador',Troy!

    1. Joe, thanks for the kind words. We truly live in amazing times. Sometimes I take it for granted that I'm able to travel. But then sometimes there are reminders of how fortunate I am.


Thanks for visiting my website and for leaving a comment. - Troy

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