"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call: Santiago and San Juan Hill

Friday, November 16, 2018

Port of Call: Santiago and San Juan Hill

San Juan Hill (Heights)
Santiago de Cuba is known as the "hero city" for it's role in defeating the Spanish troops in the Spanish-American War and later, the Cuban Revolution. A lot of the buildings suffered damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Restorations projects have been underway but to restore all those beautiful buildings will take a lot of time.

The first thing that impressed me about Santiago was the architecture. While resembling European and Spanish style it still has a flavor all its own. Definitely not the typical Caribbean structures. It is sad that so many are in disrepair. There are obvious signs (hanging laundry for one) that some of the buildings/homes which look uninhabitable still have residents in them.

Santiago served as the capital of Cuba for almost 100 years before the Spanish decided to shift it to Havana in 1607. Because of its location on the southeast end of Cuba, it became a major trading post for slaves from West Africa, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Monument to 71st New York
The backdrop to Santiago de Cuba is the Sierra Maestra mountains where Fidel Castro hid while assembling his supporters for the revolution to come.

An interesting note: The city is 41 miles away from Guantanamo Bay which was established in 1903. The area is 43 square miles and an 8 mile long cactus wall was planted in an effort to keep Cubans from sneaking in and asking for sanctuary. It is the only place in Cuba that has any fast food franchises. The song Guantanamera is actually from a poem written by Jose Marti one of Cuba's heroes and speaks of a peasant girl from Guantanamo.

In 1898, Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders among several other troops arrived in Cuba and fought the Spanish in a place now known as San Juan Hill. Our guide said it is actually San Juan Heights. It is an elevated area above the city. There were no horses for the Rough Riders as they could not travel with them. The hill was taken and eventually the city when the Spanish fleet was defeated by the US Navy.

Cuban Soldier Memorial
Fidel Castro and Jose Marti are both buried in Santiago. When Castro began his revolution and came down from the mountains, he took Santiago first and then marched across Cuba to Havana when independence was declared. When Castro died, his remains were taken over land retracing his steps back to Santiago where it all started. We only saw pictures of his grave since our tour did not stop at the cemetery. It is just a plain large rock with his name on it. He did not want a monument.

Speaking of monuments, we learned that if a rider's horse has his fore feet in the air it means the rider died in battle. (Tuck that away for a trivia game.)

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