Pinar del Rio, the City I Love

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

A view of part of the city of Pinar del Rio.

HAVANA TIMES – I’ve been researching the origins of Pinar del Rio city and according to what I’ve been able to find out, it takes its name from the existence of a pine forest near the Guama river, where a settlement began to form back in the 17th century.

In 1710, the first church was erected, under the name San Rosendo, and this is the date that some historians take as the date it was founded. However, it was officially named a city on September 17, 1867, by then Capitan General Felipe Fonsdeviela. It was also in his honor that the city was named Nueva Filipanas. Although as we all know, “Pinar del Rio” endured, the name it’s always had.

In short, a cramped and imperfect summary to tell you an anecdote from a few years ago, when I was trying to get to work and I was still on the highway at 9:30 a.m. Not a single car would stop and private trucks were passing by, full of passengers. But it was one of those days I needed to get to Pinar del Rio, no matter what.

With a bill in hand, I began to wave down any vehicle that approached me, until a car with a tourist plate stopped, to my surprise. An elderly man was driving, and he must have maybe been Canadian from his accent.

It was the second time he was driving to the city and he asked me where the Tobacco Factory was, in broken Spanish. As it was on my way, I offered to help him. In spite of our language difficulties, he talked to me as if we were friends during the entire trip. I tried really hard to understand him and I just about managed to.

When you reach the Havana-Pinar junction on the highway, the first thing you see on your right is the Pinar del Rio Hotel, and the University’s residences on the other side. Marti street, the city’s main street welcomes you with a beautiful divider that has sculptures and a leafy row of pine trees.

While taking in the view, he told me that he had been to many cities around the country and that this was one of the most beautiful, which was nice to hear and also surprised me. Maybe because people talk about Cienfuegos, Bayamo, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin or Matanzas as beautiful cities. I believe they are, although sometimes I doubt they really are, because of the level of impoverishment all over the country, which is the result of so many years of indifference and poverty.

We drove down the entire street until we were in front of Parque de la Independencia and we joined Maceo Avenue, where the Tobacco Factory is. “Here it is,” I thanked him and wished him a good day, not before first hearing something like “beautiful Pinar, a clean city,” as he gave me a strange and hearty handshake. 

While I’m not a chauvinist, I have also visited some Cuban cities and the majority don’t have this poetic air I find here, this beautiful “touch” that isn’t bestowed by the city’s architecture or street planning exactly. I don’t know how to explain it. In fact, when you look at Google Maps, you can see that the city has the most unsymmetrical street plan in all of the provinces.

I know, I’m being biased. But that’s what love is: it’s visceral, schizophrenic, it doesn’t pay heed to reason.

Maybe Pinar is this city I love because it’s where my biggest dreams have come true. I’ve written my still budding books here. I’ve loved, suffered, and enjoyed myself here.

In this city with its blackouts, shortages, never-ending lines and health crisis… At the end of the day, in spite of its people’s suffering, my hopes for a better future are still alive.

Read more from Pedro Pablo Morejon here.

3 thoughts on “Pinar del Rio, the City I Love

  • When I was in Cuba 10 years ago hitchhiking was popular. There were places along the roads where hitchhikers gathered and there was a system in place so the first to arrive got the first chance to thumb down a ride. I was told all government vehicles where required to pick up hitchhikers.
    I loved the public transportation system in Pinar del Rio city. It consisted of horse-drawn wagons with passengers sitting on benches facing in along the sides. The riders were very proud of the system and the wagons were made of repurposed truck rear ends and buses fabricated right in the city.
    Another thing I liked about Pinar del Rio was that local dairy farmers provided unpasteurized milk for the city. They would bring it into the city each morning in their little one horse-drawn utility wagons that are the pick-up trucks of Cuba. I suspect all Cubans were drinking unpasteurized milk at the time and I hope they still are.

  • Familiarity can breed love and I think that applies to cities. As a foreigner, I did not initially find Pinar del Rio interesting, the attractions of other Cuban cities being greater. Most tourists only see Pinar as a gateway to the Valley of Vinales and apart from those going diving at Maria la Gordo, relatively few go further west where some ten years ago, there were some grandiose plans to build three hotel/golf complexes all of which came to naught. There appears to be an idea in Eastern Cuba, that somehow west of Pinar there is little of interest, but the area does contain some gems. Another part of western Cuba that has little tourism is the part that runs along the Caraterra Central between Soroa and Havana, as the Autopista is the easy drive. Few tourists ever visit Artemisa and the area surrounding it, although it has some of the best agricultural land in the country and appears to have better living standards than most cities. It is perhaps best known as a major source of participants in the Moncado raid of July 26 and on the east side, has individual memorials to each of those who died or were shot. One has to admire Pedro Morejon’s optimism. I agree with Dan that there is something in the air!

  • I love Pinar too, and miss it. I remember back in the mid 90’s when I used to spend time there, and in the surroundings like Puerta de Golpe. There was a particular, pleasant smell in the air there which I have never experienced anywhere else in Cuba.

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