The heat comes early when you're away from the water in Cuba. With the heat of the day comes bugs and a little bit of warm weather inspired laziness. We were at the end of a two hour bus ride. It was time to get off the bus and to explore.
Our first stop in Bayamo was at the Casa de La Trova, a combination hotel, bar and restaurant. It is the longest standing establishment in the inland city. Unlike Santiago and Havana, Bayamo is not situated on the Caribbean Sea, and one would think that it was safe from marauding pirates, from back in the day, as a result. That was not really the case because the pirate hordes would simply land at or near Santiago and then follow the river inland to the next settlement, to plunder at will.
At Casa de La Trova, we were greeted and seated in front of the house band after a request that we try the house drink, which looked like rum laced fruit punch, with real fruit chunks swimming in the glass. At all establishments in Cuba that we visited we were given the choice of our drinks with or without rum. In other words, they make them virgin or without alcohol and if you want the rum or the vodka, or whatever, then it is added at your table in front of you. At this time of the day, I drank out of politeness. I added the rum because it is Cuba after all and everyday brought me closer to when I would no longer be able to drink real rum.
I also marveled at the woman who was our host. At every stop we were greeted by a spokesperson who literally hustled us for drinks and CD's made by the groups entertaining us. The music was uniformly priced at 10 CUC, leading me to believe that this was an island-wide state run hustle, allowing the people to make money off tourists. The crowd consisted of several different tour groups each of whom spoke a different language. Undeterred, our host greeted and spoke to each group in their language. She never missed a beat delivering her spiel in Spanish, English, German and French, switching effortlessly between the different tongues.
My brain gets tied in knots just trying to go from English to Spanish even though I also speak French and a little German. One of the things that bothers me about the United States is that we Americans only speak English unless our parents recently migrated from somewhere else. In America, there is no proximity of cultures or languages. Even if you learn another language in school, there is no place to practice it and thereby become proficient.
Our tour continued down the block toward the restaurant where we would take our noontime meal. On the way we stopped at the town square to learn the history of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, and to view from the outside, the only hamburger joint that we would see in Cuba. The square was dominated by a statue of the great man, a sugar plantation owner, who after returning from a visit to Spain, promptly assembled his slaves and told them they were all free. He also asked them to join him in revolution against the Spanish. It was the start of the 10 years' War, in 1868. In 1969 Cespedes became President of the Republic of Cuba.
Cespedes was deposed in 1873 and died in 1874, killed by the Spanish. The war ended in 1878 with agreements of liberation of all slaves and Chinese who fought with the rebels. Spain refused to free all slaves and also refused to grant independence, which would come later as a result of the Cuban War for Independence.
We continued our stroll down to our lunch destination, one that our guides told us would be an adventure, as in “we don't know if this food is gonna be any good,” kind of adventure. It wasn't bad at all. We had beans, rice, meat, coffee, mojito, water and cerveza. A satisfying and filling lunch on a veranda, complete with chickens and roosters adding sound effects to our foodie adventure.
More museums ringed the pedestrian walk way, including a wax museum that was closed to the public, unfortunately, a pottery school and exhibit space where we watched young people work in clay, smiling at us, but refusing to talk or engage with the nosy Americans.
More walking down narrow cobble stone streets, past a radio station to find our bus, seeing obviously a couple of same sex couples, unobtrusive but out in the open, and flirting briefly with a butch woman who ran a state store and who tried to entice us to join her. No time for fun, the bus was there waiting for us on a wider street than those we'd just traversed, and it was raining as well. It was a quick springtime shower, not enough to wet us down or to turn on the windshield wipers.
Time to go home to Santiago.