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.     

1 comment:

  1. While I've been to Cuba three times, I've never had the experience of being on tour with local photographers. It gives you a different perspective of the physical and architectural landscape. I'm sorry I missed it. AMD