We got to Camaguey in luxury; a reasonable modern Chinese Geely copy of a 1990’s Merc C class, that featured seatbelts, some working electrics, a driver with mirrored aviators and the desire and ability to do 120kph. We felt right posh.
The best bit about going to a new town in Cuba is that we have hope it’s all going to start to get better. On the first evening in Camaguey, as we walked down a lively pedestrianised street, containing shops that seemed to have something other than detergent to sell and a technology park, we thought our hopes had paid off. We also established it was culture week, with ‘lots of events’ taking place. After a quick wander around we stopped off in an eccentrically decorated bar on the edge of a leafy square, drank a few rums and tried to get a feel for the place. We sat at the bar so that the miserable git behind it would find it a challenge to ignore us, but still he gave it his best shot. I think our Spanish was a little off as when we asked for a little ice for our drinks, the look on his face and his general manner suggested that we had accidentally asked to sacrifice his first born. However, to appease us, he slunk off and got us an ice cube each.
Another ‘interesting’ museum
It turns out there was three big ‘events’ as part of culture week. One was getting shitfaced on cheap rum, as demonstrated in the bar and by the people zig-zagging around the streets clutching rum. The second event was to queue to get tickets for up to date films like the original Lethal Weapon or something with Charlie Chaplin in it. The last was to go and see the ‘Big Doll’, a 30ft high rag doll suspended off the side of a building, in a sitting position with its rag legs outstretched. If you went to stare at it in daylight, it had small children playing on the legs. If you stared at it in the evening, it had a couple of ladies who looked down on their luck, sitting on the legs doing their knitting.
Camaguey is Cuba’s third largest city, and like all the cities we have visited, has tremendous potential. It has big, old churches, handsome buildings, large open parks etc. But it is in Cuba, so the potential is far from realised and very soon, after the normal shit service experiences and discovering that the technology park was a place were you could get wifi, our hope left us.
A Shopping Extravaganza
In the three days we were there, we ate once in an up and coming private place called the Melange Grill Bar whose owner was a charming Cuban Canadian who was also trying to open a new bakery in town but was hampered by the lack of flour. We also found the very good Casa Austria, featuring Weiner Scnitzel and Afpel Strudel with ice cream and the Restaurant El Paso on a quiet square with smiling staff and reasonable wine. These places took us a while to find, so supper on a couple of nights was beer and Pringle’s (in normal life, I consider Pringles to be the devils food; here when we see then, we buy at least 4 tubes).
Our highlight was another night of ballet at the Theatro Princiapal. The show was in five parts, each one featuring about 20 minutes of ballet. It was obviously a big deal in the city and people had dressed up for the occasion, even teenagers (who in the west would probably never dream of going to such a thing).
The first performance was the normal 19th Century affair, with tutus and permanent smiles but the second two were more contemporary, flowing and full of emotion, backed by some great music. I really, really loved it, so much so that I kept the program so that when I return to a place that has access to Spotify I can download them. So, some good from Cuba .. I may be a bit of a fan of contemporary ballet.
Out and About
Our daytrip out of Camaguey was a very Cuban experience. We were off to the Hoyo De Bonet, a natural deep depression with a unique biosphere in it. We were picked up by a guide and a taxi, a 1980s Lada that had so much exhaust fumes seeping through the floor that keeping the windows open was a must to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and drove the 45m to the park where we were met by another local guide.
The place was pleasant enough and we walked through deserted woodland, spotting hummingbirds, a snake and big millipedes, visited a cave, walked through a steep sided natural limestone canyon and got to the hole itself. The thing we did know about the hole is that you are not allowed in it as it is a ‘unique biosphere’ that cannot be disturbed. We also didn’t know that the old viewing platform was destroyed by a hurricane a couple of years ago and hadn’t been replaced so you get to stand on a rock near the edge, holding on to a sapling to reduce the risk of death and see pretty much fuck-all whilst the guide assures you that it is really interesting down there. The experience cost of $120….to see fuck all……and get gassed…… Fantastic VFM.
Perhaps the next place will be great……..
Hoyo de Bonet