The Revolutionary City
Santiago de Cuba Travel Blog› entry 114 of 134 › view all entries
Cuba time is a special time. It's like Jewish Mean Time and Spanish Manana Time but worse. Which is why we ended up at the main airport three hours before our natgional flight for Santiago de Cuba. After check in and going through security we sat in a cold airport for 2.5 hours waiting for the plane with little food or drink on offer. Sleep was the only way to get through the boredom as my book collection had dwindled.
The plane - the photos can do it more justice than words - was small, jet propelled and took two hours to cross Cuba. Now Cuba is big .... but not that big! We finally landed in Santiago de Cuba - the Revolutionary City. An important seaport and home to Revolutionary hero Frank Pais who formed a sophisticated cell during the Revolution, the city has always had the spirit of the Revolution and it was here that Fidel proclaimed victory and took leadership of Cuba from a balcony on January 1st 1959.
However, it is also the location of the Moncada Barracks - the location of the failed July 26th battle that led to Fidel's arrest and subsequent rise to power. In order to overthrow Batista Fidel and a group of his closest allies attempted to overthrow the barracks in 1952, which at that time housed 1,000 of Batista's army. The attack was designed to obtain arms from teh cellars of the barracks and over throw them. However the men never got further than the main gates. The building today is bullet riddled (apparently faked and put there to make the battle look more intense). We learnt more from the way our guide Marette took us through the tour than from the facts she gave us - "Our Martyrs", "The yankee imperialists", "the brave victorious revolutionaries" - the speech was well scripted and any question of this version of history not being all complete was brused off.
After this attack Fidel was jailed and he eventually left Cuba and went to Mexico where he would meet Che and train his men to return to Cuba. He had captured the imagination of Cubans and many joined him in Mexico and retreated to the mountains to train for the battle.
It's fascinating to listen to the propoganda in action, to actually hear what Fidel wants the tourists to hear. The "special period" for instance, is the period of time after the Berlin wall came down, when Cuba lost the ability to trade with Russia and Eastern Germany. There was limited food, money and goods and many people in Cuba suffered terrible hardships. It's as a result of this that "flexible communism" rose - to allow people other means to make money to avoid possible revolts from the people.
The second of our three days we visited Castillo Morro del San Pedro - used to combat pirates and bandits on the bay of Santiago. It's a magnificant old fort with spectacular views of the bay and the city and well worth the visit. We also visited Santa Ifigenia cemetary where we witnessed the changing of the Guard at Jose Marti's grave (takes place every 30 mins!) and went to see some of the famous tombs that make up the 10,000 people buried here. Unlike most things in Cuba, death is free. If you can't afford a grave, the government will supply one in the cemetary - although you can bet your bottom dollar it's not going to be as spectacular a grave as some of them in here!
Santiago is a hard city to love.