The Revolutionary City

Santiago de Cuba Travel Blog

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Grafitti in Santiago

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.

The Barracks
  It is also here that the National Hero Jose Marti is buried.

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.

It's not quite Evita's balcony but just as famous!

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.

Jose Marti
  A "special period" indeed and one our guide likened to anything we had seen in Europe.

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.

View of the bay
  I felt our time here was too long it's got none of the soul or charm that make Havana so special and it's definitely more Caribbean in it's feel.  It's the place of Cubas carnival and it would have been great to see the city come to life more - that's for another visit though!

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Grafitti in Santiago
Grafitti in Santiago
The Barracks
The Barracks
Its not quite Evitas balcony but…
It's not quite Evita's balcony bu…
Jose Marti
Jose Marti
View of the bay
View of the bay
Our plane!
Our plane!
Santiago is Santiago
Santiago is Santiago
The vehicle used to transport Fide…
The vehicle used to transport Fid…
Some of the guns used in the battle
Some of the guns used in the battle
Marte Plaza
Marte Plaza
The balcony where Fidel made his v…
The balcony where Fidel made his …
Castillo Morro de San Pedro - the …
Castillo Morro de San Pedro - the…
Changing of the guard at Jose Mart…
Changing of the guard at Jose Mar…
The guards strutting their stuff
The guards strutting their stuff
Compo Segundos grave
Compo Segundo's grave
Music supplied by randome blind gu…
Music supplied by randome blind g…
Our taxi home!
Our taxi home!
CUBA!
CUBA!
The oldest house in Cuba
The oldest house in Cuba
Santiago de Cuba Hotels & Accommodations review
Comfortable hotel with an amazing breakfast! Great pool and a great bar with music playing at the weekend. A little far away from the main part of… read entire review
Santiago de Cuba
photo by: boicot