The longest day
Mao had the long march. Moses spent 20 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days. We went to the Bay of Pigs today. They’re all seeming pretty much the same to me tonight.
We left the hotel at 8:00 a.m. sharp. We got back about 10:00 p.m., a mere 14 hour jaunt. Yes, it is possible to have too much fun on a vacation. It’s supposed to be fun, not a test of endurance.
First, we went to the Bay of Pigs, the scene of an abortive 65 hour invasion by anti-Castro forces and the CIA which served, I think, to help cement Castro in power. I’m sensing a theme that everything the US has done for the last 50 years has worked exactly opposite of the way the politicians think it is going to.
What was once a beachhead is now a summer resort. Close by is a museum devoted to the battle and the glorious victory of the homeland forces–aided by the craven absence of air support promised but not delivered by the CIA. It’s an interesting collection of weaponry and relics, the “holiest” of which is a wall panel where a dying Cuban soldier scrawled “Fidel” on the wall in his own blood. You just can’t buy that kind of PR.
So after a three hour drive and a visit to the museum, we piled back on the bus and drove another 90 minutes to Cienfuegos, where we had lunch at the yacht club, such as it is. There are yachts, which are all state owned are rented out for day trips. There is a restaurant. There just isn’t what you might call restaurant food. Cuba is a fun place to visit, but you’d better like chicken, black beans and rice. And not very good chicken, either. The beans are great, though.
After lunch, a walk around the town plaza. The priest was saying Mass in the church, the artists were selling blindingly bright art in the mercado , kids were playing, the sun was shining, I forgot about the food and remembered why we travel. Cienfuegos is much better maintained than Havana, and more modern. I think it is a major port on the south/Caribbean side of the island.
A quick stop at an amazing Moorish style mansion (with an included Cuba Libré to keep the troops quiet), then the brief 3 hour jaunt back to town.
We passed through a couple of huge collective or cooperative farms–they looked busy and prosperous, but don’t have anywhere near the kind of equipment and machinery to which we are accustomed here.
Passing by fields in the US, I’m often struck by how incredible evenly all the plants grow. I hadn’t realized that it is the effect of the special, expensive, patented, manufactured seed we use. The Cubans don’t have it, so each plant is slightly different, and the fields just look ragged to someone accustomed to the cloned sameness of the Central Valley.
Bicycles. You rarely see them. Now I know why: in 1991, China donated some vast number of bikes, maybe 1,000,000, and people were riding them everywhere. But they didn’t provide spare parts or extra tires, so they soon started breaking and couldn’t be repaired. Now, there are almost no bikes. More in the country than the city, but still not anywhere near you would expect to see.
Cars: I wondered about the gasoline cost of all those old cars; their mileage is terrible. It turns out that most/all of them have had their motors replaced with diesel engines–first Russian, now Chinese. Cheaper to run, cheaper to repair (where can you get parts for a ’48 Dodge even in the States, much less Havana?)
Cars: I realized that the day after relations are normalized between our countries, Americans will be here trying to buy up all these old gems and bring them home to sell to collectors. And then thousands more of them, stashed in garages and barns and farms for lack of parts will make their way out to the market.
Roads: The freeway here is remarkable. Built in the 1920’s, it is 8 lanes wide, straight and smooth. Speed limit is 60, and reasonably observed. The road is shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, horses, tractors and people, all giving each other due respect. There are hitch-hikers everywhere, since there isn’t much other planned transport. Even the police and the military hitch their way around. Women stand in the roadway waving small peso notes with no apparent concern for their safety or their virtue. There are no rules for pedestrians–I walked across all 8 lanes to take a photo, and said ‘Hola” to the police standing there hitching. That might not fly on I680 in San Ramon.
Side roads range from poor to miserable. Maybe one and a half lanes, more horse drawn carts. Horses tethered in front of many houses grazing. Lots of goats wandering, very few sheep.
Houses: All pretty much the same, more likely to be well kept and individualized in the country. Very few with windows, just shutters.
Power: Guide says most have no hot water. They heat buckets on the stove to bathe. I wonder about solar heat–the technology is cheap and easy, he says it is too expensive. I still have no idea.
So there we were, 40 minutes from our hotel and a wash-up before dinner, when our shiny new Yutong bus got awfully warm–the electrical system wasn’t working well and our driver, the estimable Roberto, had to kill the A/C. 10 minutes more and we pulled over on the side of the freeway. Yep, it died. Amazingly, the system worked better than I would ever have thought. Roberto radioed in to his headquarters, and in about 35 minutes a savior bus appeared and we were on our way.
We voted to skip the hotel step and head straight for dinner. Tonight we at the Club Havana, the yacht club founded by Fulgencio Batista when he was refused admission to the classy Havana Yacht club because he was a mulatto. Membership in Club Havana was open to everyone except members of the Havana Yacht club.
Fulgencio would be ashamed of the dinner we had. I don’t know how it is possible to serve food both overcooked and cold, but they managed. This may be a new way to lose weight–eat Cuban restaurant food every night. At least the building was gorgeous, and the girls had a fit of hysteria in the ladies room when they found that all the stalls had pebbled glass walls. Kind of defeats the purpose, they thought.
Finally, we’re back in the hotel. Too much time on the bus, too much bad chicken, but worth the trip. More tomorrow.