"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call: Santiago de Cuba--Parque Cespedes

Monday, November 19, 2018

Port of Call: Santiago de Cuba--Parque Cespedes

Bacardi home
On our way into the old town area of Santiago from our stop at San Juan Hill, we passed by Revolutionary Square. There were several monuments and some modern buildings. I could not get good pictures because a lot of the interesting sites were on the other side of the bus and we were always moving.

Our driver did slow down as we drove past the big pink Bacardi house and it was on our side of the bus. In 1862, Facundo Bacardi and his brother Jose purchased the Santiago de Cuba distillery and began experimenting with the recipe, improving upon it and making it one of the most popular rums in the world. Cuba became known for the place to go during Prohibition to get rum. The Bacardis began to expand and open some places in Europe and in Puerto Rico. A lucky move for their survival as in the 1960s Castro began to nationalize all private businesses in Cuba. They lost their holdings in Cuba as did many hotels and Casinos and other businesses, many owned by Americans.

Old Town Hall
We were let out of the bus on a very narrow street and followed our guide single file down a very narrow sidewalk. Our guide warned us to stay off the street because of all the traffic and the danger of motorcycles driving fast. In a very plain building, we were led to a room that was sparsely furnished with plastic lawn type chairs for us to sit in. Before us was a group of people with large smiles who, once we were seated began to sing. It was our cultural exchange time for this tour. The voices were lovely even though we didn't know the language and their enthusiasm was appreciated by all of us.

The concert lasted about thirty minutes and we headed, again single file, a block or two down the street to the Parque Cespedes. It is the center of Old Town Santiago and surrounded by several very historic buildings.

Old Velazquez home.
The one that caught my attention first was the old city hall with a central balcony. It was from that balcony that Castro delivered a victory speech on January 1, 1959. (I couldn't help but recall standing in front of another balcony in Argentina where Eva Perone delivered her famous speech.)

Just a quick review of the revolutionary struggle: Batista had returned to power in 1952. The next year Castro leads an unsuccessful revolt which leads to his imprisonment. The revolt took place at the Moncada Barracks on July 26 which would give Castro the name for his organization, July 26th Movement. Upon release he goes to Mexico with his brother Raul and meets Che Guevera. The men return on a large cabin cruiser named Granma (enshrined in Havana) and many of them are killed. They head for the mountains where they regroup and begin guerrilla warfare against Batista until finally Batista flees the country. That's a little simplified but gives a general idea of how the revolution went.

On one side of the plaza was what is said to be the oldest house in Cuba. The house was originally the home of Diego Velazquez and dates back to the early 1500s. It is now a museum.

Another corner of the plaza was the site of the Hotel Granda that dates back to the early 1900s. In front of the hotel was a group of musicians. Our lecturer on board ship had mentioned groups of musicians called Trovadores who travel around playing their music for donations.

Across from the old town hall was a huge cathedral, We walked up the steps and hoped to get inside as the heat of the day was beginning to take its toll on us. A small handmade sign had a drawing of what dress was acceptable and what was not. Shorts and sleeveless blouses were not allowed. Bob had shorts on and my arms were exposed. I pointed to the sign and looked at Bob. We were about to turn away when the attendant inside waved us in. We discovered later that they must have just opened the cathedral for the tourists on the square. As soon as we began boarding buses again someone noticed that the doors had been closed. It was a cool respite though on what was becoming a very hot Caribbean day.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...