Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Santiago de Cuba Part 2

Viking Star in Santiago Bay

The city of Santiago de Cuba has played an important role in Cuba’s history. Taking a photography tour of the city allowed me to explore some of its past. Last week I wrote about the first part of the tour, visiting Plaza de la Revolución and the Cementario Santa Ifegenia. Here is what happened next.

Leaving the cemetery, we traveled to San Juan Hill. This area is more accurately known as San Juan heights, because it is really a series of hills. It is the place where the U.S. achieved its greatest victory during the Spanish American war. Spanish troops were dug in along the top of the ridge. The U.S. Army, led by General Joseph Wheeler and General Leonard Wood, laid siege to Santiago and on July 1, 1898 they attacked the Spanish lines. They used Gatling guns, which could fire as many as 700 rounds per minute to attack the Spaniards, inflicting major casualties before the troops started to climb the hills. One battalion was the 1st Volunteer Cavalry, known as the Rough Riders, led by Colonel Teddy Roosevelt. The 1st Volunteers were tasked with taking Kettle Hill. When they arrived at the top of the hill, having easily defeated the Spanish troops, Roosevelt wanted to join the main battle on San Juan Hill. By the time he gathered his troops and made it over there, the battle was over. After a few days of siege, the Spanish Army surrendered, and the war was over.

Cuban Monument from 1929

Recreation of a Spanish Blockhouse

American Monument

The U.S. continued to occupy several parts of Cuba, and San Juan Heights stayed under its control from 1898 until 1927. During that period the U.S. government built several monuments to American soldiers. After 1927 several more monuments were built here by the Cuban government, including a centennial marker in 1989.

After San Juan Hill, it was on to Castillo San Pedro de la Roca, a fort that sits on the cliff over looking the entrance to Bahía de Santiago de Cuba. Locally known as El Morro, this fortress was built between 1638 and 1700 to help protect the city from pirate raids and military invasions. By 1775, the danger of invasions had dropped, and the Castillo was turned into a prison. After the Spanish American War, the fortress was largely abandoned, but it was restored during the 1960’s and in 1997 it was named a UNESCO Heritage Site as the best and most complete example of Spanish-American military architecture.
El Morro
From a Garita

San Pedro Lighthouse

As I mentioned last week, this tour gave us the opportunity to meet with a local photographer. We also had a photographer assigned to our bus to offer advise on site. Yaisel is an amateur photographer and a professional reporter for a local radio station. She is extremely knowledgeable about the places we visited, and worked with some of us on the trip, taking us to some places at El Morro that we might not have found on our own. This gave me some great views of the bay down below. El Morro was also a place where local artisans sold their goods. Carved statues, paintings, and other souvenirs were available.

Our last stop was at Plaza Cépedes. This is a beautiful urban plaza, with the Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption along its southern side. On its eastern edge is the Hotel Casa Granda, where we enjoyed a mojito at its rooftop bar, while enjoying being entertained by a local salsa band.

Ground floor dining room

Front desk

I always have mixed feelings about paying for tours when I am on a cruise, and Viking does offer a tour of Santiago included in the price of the cruise. But the Photographer’s tour was much more extensive, and having the chance to talk to and work with local photographers made it a special day.     

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Santiago de Cuba part 1 - an introduction to Cuba's history

Santa Ifigenia Cemetary

After three days in Cienfuegos, our cruise moved on to the Bahía de Santiago de Cuba. Here we stopped to visit the city of Santiago de Cuba. I chose to not take the included tour, but instead, went on a tour designed for photographers.

An old diesel engine, still in service

Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast corner of the island, is Cuba’s second largest city. Santiago was founded in 1515 and served as the capital from 1522 until 1589. The city became a major port and industrial center for sugar cane and aluminum mining.
General Antonio Maceo

Our tour started with a stop at the Plaza de la Revolución. The plaza, which opened in 1991, has two parts. One is a large open space that can hold up to 150,000 people for large rallies. Across Avenida de los Desfiles is a building with space for cultural event and conferences. This structure is topped with a tribute to Lt. General Antonio Maceo y Grajales, a general during Cuba’s war for independence in the 1890’s. He served in the Cuban Army from 1868 until his death in battle in 1896. The statute is 16m (50 ft) tall and is joined by twenty-three metallic shafts thrust into the ground. These are meant to represent machetes. The instillation was built to celebrate the rebel spirit of the Cuban people.
Classic Car

Public Transportation

From the plaza we traveled into the center of the city, to the ArteSantiago gallery, for a meeting with a local photographer. Dr. C. Vicente Gonzalez Díaz, an archeologist and underwater photographer gave us a short lecture on the places we were going to visit and tips for taking the best photos when we got there.
Dr. Vicente Gonzalez

After our lecture, it was on to the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. This is the burial site for many of Cuba’s most famous residents. The two main attractions are the mausoleum of José Martí and the grave site of Fidel Castro. José Martí (1853-1895) was a poet, author and revolutionary philosopher. He wrote about, and fought for an end to Spanish colonialism in Cuba and through out the Americas. Martí and his wife lie in rest in a beautiful mausoleum. It is guarded by soldiers of the Cuban Army day and night, with an eternal flame in front. We were lucky enough to arrive in time to see the changing of the guard.

Tomb of the Bacardi family
Changing of the Guard

José Martí Mausoleum

Fidel Castro (1926-2016) was a leader of the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Communist Party. When he died, his brother Raul, declared that Fidel had wanted no monuments or roads named after him, who “strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of personality.” Fidel’s ashes are interred in a single boulder, meant to resemble a kernel of corn, in honor of a poem by José Martí. 

While he did not want a memorial, in fact, that is what his grave has become. Next to it is a part of a speech he wrote for the May Day celebration in 2000. I believe it is a wonderful declaration and description of the base ideas of what he fought for:

Revolución by Fidel Castro Ruz May 1, 2000
Es sentído momento histórico
Es cambiar todo lo que debe ser cambiado
Es iqualidad y libertad plenas
Es ser tratado y tartar a los demás como ser humanos
Es emanciparnos por nostoros mismos y con nuestros propios esfuerzos
Es desafiar ponderosas fuerzas dominantes dentro y fuera del ámbito social y nacional
Es defender valores en los que se cree al precicide caulquier sacrificio
Es modestia desinterés altruism, solidaridad y heroism
Es luchar con audacia, inteligencia y realismo
Es no mentir jamás ni volar pricipios éticos
Es conviccion profunda de que no existe fuerza de los verdad ys las ideas
es unidad, es independencia
Es luchar por nuestros sueños de justiciar para Cuba y para el mundo
Que es la base de nuestro patriotism
Nuestro Socialismo
Y nuestro Internacionlismo

REVOLUTION (Translation by Peter W Davies)
Is the sense of the historic moment;
is to change all which must be changed
is complete equality and liberty
is to be treated and to treat others as human beings
is to emancipate ourselves by ourselves and with our own efforts
is to challenge dominant powerful forces within the social and national scope and realm;
is to defend values in which we believe at the price of any sacrifice;
is modesty, unselfishness, altruism, solidarity and heroism;
is to fight with audacity, intelligence and realism;
is to never lie nor violate ethical principles;
is the profound conviction that exists no force in the world capable of confounding truth and ideas
is unity, is independence, is to fight for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world
which is the base of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism