A Trip to Baracoa, Cuba’s First City

10. Parque Central, frente a la primera iglesia de Cuba

Photo Feature by Onel

HAVANA TIMES — The last part of my trip to Cuba’s east-laying provinces took me to the impressive city of Baracoa, Guantanamo. I had expected to run into a different, distinctively “eastern” community with marked Caribbean characteristic, plenty of chocolate and lush vegetation.

Bridge over the Miel River.
Bridge over the Miel River.

With the exception of the nature, my expectations as a carefree tourist were completely disappointed, particularly by the so-called “chocolate houses” (don’t waste your money on that watery shit).

The hustlers, stalking all tourists, make the atmosphere tense and unpleasant. Where are the genuine and spontaneous locals I ran into in my previous trip, more than 10 years ago?

The first time I saw the majestic Duaba river, some locals were washing clothes on the stones there. The bucolic landscape was replaced by an obese tourist – red as a lobster – who embraced a young mulatto woman as he got drunk and horny.

But not everything is terrible. Actually, I find it hard to describe the beauty of the place without using grandiloquent adjectives.

The town, the first ever built by the Spanish on the island, was kept in isolation for centuries, at the entrance to the lushest tropical forest on the island. Making an effort to look past the thick layer of hustlers, some faces, some expressions, still suggest to us what the town must have been in the glorious days when it was known as Our Lady of Baracoa.

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9 thoughts on “A Trip to Baracoa, Cuba’s First City

  • I wouldn’t understand? I am a Black man in America. I understand better than you. I also understand better than you what the lack of freedom feels like. I understand what having no say so in government means. I can
    therefore empathize with Cuban suffering. It seems to me that you. …..not so much.

  • American “excepcionalism” is both a blessing and a burden. Canadians can sleep nights because of US NORAD patrols. We realize “that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.What happens in Cuba does and should concern America.

  • As usual, you create a straw man, then knock him down! Why shouldn’t I spend the money I’ve earned in a country whose politics I support?! Moreover, I am very aware of the poverty, dilapidated housing, lack of opportunities, etc., I see in Cuba. All of those conditions, however, are the result of Cuba’s Third World status, the U.S. embargo the demise of the Socialist Camp, and the results of following its creaky model. The government, given its limited resources, is trying to muddle through as best it can. Of course more can be done, and is, but this requires both additional investments from the First World, and the full unleashing of the creativity of the Cuban people, as reflected by the blossoming of cooperatives, small businesses, such as paladares and casas particulares, etc. Besides, sitting under a tree, chatting with other jubilados during the most torrid hours of the day, is productive–at least to me! From my Cuban benchmates I hear of their daily struggles, but also, though you’d deny that there are any, of their daily joys, too. Cuba is neither the Third World “hell hole” you depict, nor the “heaven” some of my younger friends described (i.e. a delegation of students from the local high school who travelled to Cuba a few years back). The latter described Cuba in much the same terms as did back in 1970, shortly after returning as a volunteer sugar cane cutter during the “Zafra de los diez millones.”) Cuba is somewhere betwixt “Heaven” and “Hell, ” though I’d say, even with all its problems, closer to “heaven” than my own country, which is descending into a hell hole of injustice, but you wouldn’t understand.

  • Maybe you missed my point that being poor in Cuba is much safer and healthier than in the USA, or are trying to mislead? No one said poverty in anyplace makes Cuban Poverty OK, but I did say the USA Blockade had a lot to do with poverty in Cuba. Thus your country, the USA, has a majority share in the creation of Cuban Poverty and then you complain about it and blame the Cuban Revolutionary Government, nice cover but it don’t wash. Why don’t you turn your fire and brimstone towards all that is wrong in your own home and we Cubans will take care of our problems without your help.

  • So rough times in Southeast DC make it the poverty in Cuba okay? Is poverty anywhere a justification for poverty in Cuba? If so, please explain why?

  • Hola Moses, Here you are again using any platform available to rain some heavy moral judgement from your pulpit down on Mr. emagicmtman or anyone who went to Cuba, liked it and had a good time; and another chance to criticize Cuba. There is poverty everywhere and I’ve see some extreme poverty among African-Americans in the US capital itself that rivals anything in the 3rd World, but no palm trees. Extreme poverty is common in all States of the Union: homelessness, dilapidated trailer parks, rundown suburbs (Pacoima, Ferguson, South-Side Chicago), rundown cities (Detroit, Patterson, Baltimore, etc…But no universal access to free medical and dental treatment, and no free, post secondary schooling or training, like in Cuba.
    Beyond poverty the citizens of your country, the USA, have to contend with extreme crime rates and extreme drug use and availability, something that does not happen in Cuba; to top it off there is the militarization of the mostly white, police forces in the USA, and their habit of shooting, abusing and jailing Black and Hispanic people for any excuse.
    Poverty in Cuba is a problem, and the USA Blockade is at least 50% responsible, hopefully an injection of billions of U$Ds’ in trade and tourism will help to solve that situation.

  • My beloved Baracoa…

  • Your comment “Hence, for me, Baracoa is a wonderous and wonderful place” says it all. When you get to Cuba, you arrive with a bank account full of money to provide you a comfortable stay in Cuba. Money, by the way, that you earned working outside of Cuba. So, you are spot on. FOR YOU, the hunger, the dilapidated housing, the lack of opportunities are non-existent. You said it yourself, spending your days sitting under a tree in Independence Plaza or on the deck (you have a deck!) of your casa particular. No worries about what you or your children will eat that day. Is there any doubt that you would have a different perspective?

  • Thanks for your fotos of my beloved Baracoa. My experience, during a visit in late September and early October, 2012, was very different than yours, however. I really enjoyed the town, never felt besieged by husslers, and don’t consider it a tourist trap on the level of Habana Vieja and the Vedado, Trinidad, Varadero or the Parque Cespedes in Santiago. I stayed in a casa particular a few blocks the center. During the torrid mid-day hours I sat beneath a tree in the Plaza Independencia chatting with and comparing notes with other old jubilados like myself; on Sunday morning I enjoyed the lusty hymn singing of the chorus of the local Templo Bautisa without ever having to leave the deck of my casa particular, a half-block away. I visited all the museums in town (including crawling out to the “eagle’s nest” of the Museo Arquilogico ‘La Cueva Paraiso’), an all day excursion in a 1980’s Renault to Playa Maguana, including a wonderful, freshly-caught seafood at the rustic ranchon-style restaurant run by a family of guajiros across a sandy track just opposite the beach, and several nights of enjoying the larger-than-life antics of the major domo and MC at the Casa de Trova on the main square. Even managed to help the eleven-year-old son of my casa owner with a tarea assignment. Hence, for me, Baracoa is a wonderous and wonderful place. The trip from Guantanamo City along the completely undevloped and utterly breathtaking coast of the Caribbean, then up-and-over the mountains on the La Farola, is worth the price of admission in itself!

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