Trip report - Holguin - Guaro - Baracoa - Santiago - Holguin
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Dec 17, 2012 4:53 PM Last Post By: chefhagan
Dec 15, 2012 10:30 PM
Trip report - Holguin - Guaro - Baracoa - Santiago - HolguinTrip report 10 days (4 -14 December 2012) – Holguin – Guaro – Baracoa – Santiago –Holguin
I flew Miami direct to Holguin where I zipped right through immigration and customs with no hassle. They even honored my request not to x-ray my 25 rolls of film with no questions. I was met by my Cuban friend from Havana who had arranged a private car. We stayed in a nice but unmemorable casa for two days at 25 CUC per night. I cannot remember anything significantly positive, or negative about Holguin.
We made to trip to Gibara for part of a day. That is a really nice seaside town. Memorable was my friend asking a stranger standing in front of his house if she could use his baño. The man replied “of course” as if she was family and directed her into the house.
We stopped outside Holguin so my friend could have an extensive consultation with one of her Babalawos. This was over 3 hours in a 1 ½ x 2 meter shack in back of his house with 6 of us. I was asked to leave for about 30 minutes after everything started then invited to return. It was quite an experience.
We traveled to Guaro, a very small community in BFE Holguin province to spend 3 days with my friend’s family. Family consists of her mother, 3 aunts, her 14 year old daughter, and a 20 year old son. Her son was actually birthed by an aunt who has mental problems so my friend raised him as her own. He is a student at the university in Holguin and comes home some weekends. They have a large, 4 bedroom 2 bath house that originally belonged to one of the American managers at the nearby disassembled sugar mill. I was treated royally being offered a sheet of paper towel instead of the usual pages of Granma to use for toilet paper. I had fresh cow milk for breakfast. They even left the electric immersion coil in the bucket of water for extra time to insure I had really warm water to bathe with. I met more cousins than I could possibly keep track of.
Guaro is an interesting dichotomy of the small town with close knit family history and ties vs. the small town in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, no jobs, and zero potential.
We were leaving Guaro waiting for a truck to take us to someplace where we could find a truck to Santiago when an Astrobus stopped. My friend got the driver aside for a moment then told me that the driver would let both of us ride to Moa for 10 CUC. She said she could get someone with a Jeep to take us from Moa to Baracoa for 2 CUC each. As I was realizing she had just changed our destination from Santiago to Baracoa, she said “that is OK, isn’t it?”
One can hardly call the route from Moa to Baracoa a “road” as it is now passable only by Jeep. And it got dark shortly after we left. The Jeep frequently stalled and the battery sounded like it barely had enough juice left to restart on the first or second attempt but we did not get stranded and made it to Baracoa. I would not want to travel that route on a bicycle or in a rental car that I was financially responsible for.
We stayed in what is probably the best casa particular I have ever been in Baracoa. It is on the second floor and has windows that open to the ocean breeze. It has two balconies, one private, and one overlooking the street. Best of all, it was immediately behind the church on the square. One could not ask for a more perfect location. Unfortunately I cannot find their card with their name and address now but will ask my friend. It was either 20 or 25 CUC.
In Baracoa, we traveled out to Playa Duaba so my travel companion could collect rocks with religious significance and bathe in both the sea and the nearby river to invoke the spirits of Yemayá and Oshún. Our driver was not happy when she returned wet but she would not follow my suggestion to leave her clothes on the sand.
Also at Playa Duaba they were filming an episode of “La Odisea del Honor” a series about Antonio Maceo. I photographed them at work. Their cameramen were using the latest digital SLR cameras which do great video but were fascinated and had to play with my old school 35mm rangefinder camera loaded with black and white film.
Lacking a better alternative, we traveled from Baracoa to Santiago by Viazul. Incredible scenery along La Farola.
We stayed in a nice but ordinary casa particular in Santiago. It had to be on the steepest hill this side of San Francisco.
We met two very pleasant women at the little park on the boulevard when we stopped to have a drink our first night in Santiago. All the tables were occupied but these two women who were just sitting and not customers gave up their table to us. We insisted they need not give up their seats as there were 4 chairs. Since we had rum and they each had something that would do for a glass in their purses, we shared. One had a guitar and the other had maracas so they played while we all drank the bottle of rum. They were Jiudmila and Georgina who play together as “Las Comadres” at Casa de la Trova. I will say that the people in eastern Cuba sure are more friendly that most in Havana.
We found an incredible bicitaxi guy who offered us the “complete 2 hour tour” of Santiago for 8 CUC plus tip. We ended up spending 4 ½ hours and I gave him 20 CUC plus buying him a beer every time we stopped for one.
We met an 88 year old woman collecting cans at one of our beer stops. Incredibly nice, she spoke perfect English. Our bicitaxi guy told us she also spoke French, German, and Italian as she was a famous prostitute years ago.
We stopped at Marti’s grave and memorial as part of the bicitaxi tour. The Cubans acted offended that I would not pay the government 2 CUC to see their memorial. They implied I was too cheap. I told them I would personally pay their cost to see the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Thomas Jefferson memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, and all the others if they were ever in Washington DC. They took the bait and asked me what those cost. (all free for those who have never been to WDC)
We had to stop to visit a “Voo Doo” Babalaow my friend had heard about. No charge for her but he wanted 20 CUC for me so I stepped out. I did go out and quickly rounded up the required cigar, candles and bottle of cheap rum at a total cost of 20 CUP. I chatted with our bici taxi guy and wandered around the neighborhood photographing while everything was going on.
We only had two half days and one full day in Santiago. I definitely want to return. Baracoa as well.
We found a private car in Santiago to take us back to Guaro to drop my friend off with her family and then take me to the Holguin airport. Long but uneventful trip.
I did find two bottles of Methusalem 15 year anejo in Santiago. They may possibly be counterfeit as I was able to negotiate 20 CUC for both but certainly tastes excellent.
I returned to the US with one partial bottle of the Methusalem in my suitcase. Knowing it would show on the x-ray, I listed “1/2 bottle Cuban rum” on my customs form. When the US Customs officer asked what was going on, I told them that the rum was very rare even in Cuba and I did not want to leave it behind as my family preferred 2 bottles of cheap rum rather than 1 excellent one. I explained I wanted no problems trying to slip anything by Customs, so listed it on the form. He just said “Have a nice day.”
I spent a total of 750 Euros for both of us over the 10 days. A good part of that was for the private cars we had to hire for the off the normal route travel. I joke with my friend that it must be her German-Jewish heritage and not the African part as she is the cheapest Cuban I know with an American paying the tab.
Oh, the original purpose of my trip was to photograph hurricane Sandy reconstruction but there was none. Everything that can be fixed is fixed. They are missing many trees that blew down but other than that, just about everything seems back to normal.
Dec 16, 2012 1:08 AM
1I had to look up Guaro. Never heard of it before.
"I cannot remember anything significantly positive, or negative about Holguin" Yep, that sounds like Holguin alright.
I haven't had the pleasure of traveling that infamous "Moa to Baracoa" road yet. I don't know why I thought that it had been bettered somewhat but you have just confirmed that it has not.
It's funny but all the times that I have been to Santiago, I can not recall too many bici-taxis. That town is full of motos though to navigate those darn hills. In Holguin and Baymo, bici-taxis are quite the dime a dozen. Yes, Santiago deserves lots of exploring.
Thanks for the read.
Dec 16, 2012 2:31 AM
2Bob, enjoyed your trip report. Sounds like you had an adventure filled experience. Where did you stay in Gibara as we have passed quite a few days in three trips there. You can PM me if you wish.On the street we would often hear "canadiense" from people watchers on their entrance steps as we brought quite a few sports balls for them, soccer balls mostly, after seeing what they were using in the plaza.Did you take the ferry across to Playa Blanca? Nice quiet and "private"beach there.
In 2008 or 2009 we took the Baracoa to Moa "road" because the La Farola spectacular mountain scenery had sustained damage from the hurricane; yeah it is pretty bad and extremely slow going, but if you weren't in a hurry, doable.We passed older couples on bikes. Probably easier for them. The road from Moa to Banes is quite good and the vistas are stunning.Loved Baracoa 3x. Did you partake of the famous pescado con coconut dish? Delicioso! The movie "Miel para Ochum" prompted our interest in the area.No disappointments. You're right, we find, generally, the people in the Eastern part of Cuba more friendly and genuine, even though two of our favourite friends are from Matanzas and area. Santiago de Cuba, we were there but about half an hour. Not enough time to decide whether we would like it or not. Almost got rear ended by some young Cubans at some crazy "y" type intersection, the streets were unnavigable because of some city wide event and we left out of frustration.Based on sayeh's reports, we'll have to give it a go sometime.
Again thanks for sharing your experience.
Dec 16, 2012 1:12 PM
3What a wondeful report, bobmichaels! My last trip in Sept./Oct. was the first time in Baracoa, and I want to return, and bring my wife and daughters, next time! My casa there was just a half-block away from the Templo Bautista where, as I had a Sunday morning breakfast on my roof-top terrace, I could hear not only the lusty singing--err, perhaps the wrong adjective--"vigorous" singing--of the choir, but also the minister's sermon (which I understood), too. It was almost like going to church, and brought back both fond, and painful, memories. Had a great time at the Casa de Trova, hard by the Catedral de Nuestra Senora.. The staff at the casa de trova just pulled out the tables and chairs into the street on Friday and Saturday nights. Was M.C./major domo for the casa de trova still that colorful, larger-than-life, "Zorba the Greek"-like character? Did you get to the museum in the cave above Baracoa? If so, did you manage to scale the ladder and crawl into the cave's "balcony" to get good fotos of Baracoa below? Congrats for successfully negotiating the "road" between Moa and Baracoa. Even the first 10 to 15 km, between Baracoa and Playa Maguana took us well more than an hour, at maybe 5 km/hr. maneuvering around pot-holes (some perhaps sink holes or "blockbuster" bomb craters!), rock slides, rock and masonry piles, a large self-propelled construction crane that got stuck half-on, half-off, the roadway, etc.etc. How far was it from Moa to Baracoa? 50 km.? More? And you did this after dark!
The entire trip from Santiago to Baracoa is memorable, but especially after Guantanamo City, and particularly up from the sea and over the mountains on "La Farola." As we climbed from Cajobabo on the Caribbean, each turn and twist on the seemingly endless switchbacks offered breathtaking views (yet for this entire trip the young German couple sitting across from me had their noses in their travel guide!). Besides Baracoa, the whole stretch along coast, as soon as the road reaches the Caribbean after Guantanamo City, is also breathtaking. Also, this whole strip seems pristine and undeveloped. Mile-after-mile of isolated coves below the highway and benneath the sedimentary coral (though I did see a sign for a casa particular west of San Antonio del Sur). Thanks again. B.T.W. How was Santiago after Sandy? Also, my last visit to Gibara was in late Jan. or early Feb. of 1970(!) with the Venceremos Brigade. Guess that the port has changed a bit since then!
Dec 16, 2012 1:28 PM
4Glad you got to Santiago, Bob, and it's interesting what you say about the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Of course this doesn't hold true for the people who lost roofs and consequently much of their belongings. My favourite cuatro player has been able to organise a roof over his kitchen, bathroom, and one bedroom, but the rest is a work in progress. No repairs have been done on the house I stayed in on Heredia, which lost both roof and walls. Lazaro's daughter still lacks most of the roof of her house.
But what you found - a city going about its business - may help to satisfy others that it would be worthwhile to go and see for themselves. While hurricanes - cyclones - do a lot of damage especially to crops, powerlines, roofs, trees, road signs, etc, they are not as destructive as earthquakes in the built environment. While the trauma might remain, people are able to get on with living reasonably normal lives once the power and water are restored.
Edited by: sayeh
Dec 16, 2012 2:06 PM
5I had to look up Guaro. Never heard of it before.
CubanWaters: do not feel bad as I cannot find any Cubans outside of Holguin province that have heard of it either. It is just a group of houses, not even a municipality. I would guess it has maybe 2,000 residents. I was able to determine there are 6 cars in Guaro. And that is 5 more cars than there are paved streets. It is served by a FerroBus which appears to be an old truck chassis retrofitted with a passenger compartment and railroad wheels to run on the old train tracks.
Guaro was once the headquarters for the Preston, later renamed Guatemala sugar mill which was disassembled many many years ago. Economically, there is nothing left, not any realistic potential for there being any in the future.
Dec 16, 2012 2:33 PM
6mishkamo: We did not overnight in Gibara but only did the short day trip there. I did see the beach at Playa Blanca across the bay. But I always pass on the beaches in Cuba as I have always lived in central Florida one hour away from the spectacular beaches on the east coast and one and one half hours away from the even more spectacular beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
Dec 16, 2012 2:59 PM
7emagicmtman: the crowd at night on the square in Baracoa sort of merged with everyone sitting at the tables in the street in front of the bars. It was a real hoot with the crowd being a mix of locals and tourists. Our table included a 26 year old Australian girl and her mother, both with that "deer in the headlights" look that indicated they had little exposure to that sort of raucous crowd. Both swore they could not and would not try to dance but some locals got them up in front of the crowd. I think they were halfway to discovering a new side of life by the time the night ended.
We did not make it up the mountain to the cave, preferring to hang around town and socialize with the locals.
Dec 16, 2012 3:05 PM
8Jen: absolutely agree that there is no reason for anyone to not go to Santiago because of the hurricane. Life is back, things are normal. Everyone should go and enjoy. Yes, I saw a few roofs with problems. Sad for those who are living there but nothing to do with a visitor.
Our casa had a roof top terrace for dining. Amazingly, the thatched roof had a few holes but all the plants survive.
Dec 16, 2012 3:26 PM
9I don't really know why but I kinda like Gibara. There's nothing particularly outstanding about it, but it has a weird arty-farty vibe and an odd social/racial mixture that's fairly unique. The fishermen have a low-key bar down on the shore with an unspoken "no chicks" rule and there's a couple of decent CUP places on top of the hill. If you rent a scooter in Holguin there's some really great exploring to be done in the area too. Best seafood I've eaten in Cuba, bar none. No jinetero/jinetera action either.
Sorry about the slight thread-jack, Bob. Welcome back.
Dec 16, 2012 3:50 PM
10Ditto Terry - not only does Gibara have many of the small seaside village attractions of Baracoa without all the tourists it is so very much more accessible being only a short drive from Holguin (which i like a lot more than Bob or Cwaters btw). I am one of the few who clearly doesn't get what others find so compelling about Baracoa. Been there twice and would only go back for Playa Maguana which is several km's out of town.
Thanks Bob for the report. Clearly the road to Moa is even worse than when I took it many years ago. We went all the way to Guardalavaca from Baracoa and was the least interesting road trip I've done in Cuba.
Dec 16, 2012 5:57 PM
11I think a lot of its weird vibe - especially for Eastern Cuba - is its almost complete lack of blacks and Santeria. Losing those two racial/culture issues makes it a bit different. Throw in the prosperous railway/port history (including that old tunnel) and it's slightly unique. I've explored the coast to the west and it's pretty cool too...
Dec 17, 2012 11:55 AM
12Thanks for that GREAT trip report,Bob. And to the rest of you who contributed details from your own unique experiences in the area. For me, this sort of thread is what makes TT's Cuba branch worth reading.
Dec 17, 2012 4:53 PM
13Bob, thanks for the great report. You make me feel bad not having written mine yet.
Too bad you missed Bayamo but sounds like you had a full schedule. I drove the Moa-Baracoa road just over a year ago and thought it was no big deal so either "Sandy" did some damage or I'm just accustom to 3rd world country back roads. I agree with John about Baracoa, it does nothing for me, too many tourists. But I certainly think everyone should try to see it at least once. The drive to Santigao is a walk in the park compared to anywhere in Guatemala although the road along the coast to Guantanamo has some nice if desolate spots. If you had seen Gibara before "Ike" it really was a gem. I was there this year and they are making a slow come back but I find it still bleak in comparison.
And you are right, the people in and from the "oriente" are different than Havanaites. It is a pleasure to see a report on something besides Havana-Trinidad.
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