CARNIVAL in SANTIAGO DE CUBA

JULY 1999

 

Text and Photos Copyright ©2001 Mark E. Halliday

 

 

 

I flew to Jamiaca en route to Santiago de Cuba. An Air Jamica Express charter flight operates twice a week on the route from Montego Bay to Santiago de Cuba.

My interest: Cuba Carnival on July 24th.

Why July 24th? Isn't carnival always 40 days before Easter? Well, that is a another story.

 

 

Entering Cuba I endured the closest search of my bags since the USSR in '83 (so it seemed authentically communist!).

For an hour they went through every little corner of my bags, probably because I was arriving from Jamaica.

However, since there have been about 200 attempts by the CIA to kill Castro, maybe they thought I was the latest messenger from El Norte........

 

 

Santiago is Cuba's second largest city, on the opposite end of the island from Havana.

I first visited the famous church where the Pope stopped last year, built on an ancient copper mine.

It was easy to meet people, most of them desperate for a way to get dollars.

 

 

 

 

All the Cuban "guides" know gringos are nuts for "Buena Vista Social Club" stuff.

I met a musician supposedly in the movie, but couldn't find him when I saw it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santiago has a beautiful fortress at the mouth of the harbor.

Old photos show American warships destroying the last of the Spanish fleet 100 years ago.

 

 

 

 

I then took a tourist minibus to Baracoa,

on the very Northeast coast,

the first place in Cuba discovered by Colombus.

The drive across the mountains was most spectacular.

 

 

Close to Baracoa, the Rio Yumari was an unspoiled paradise perfect for a day hike and swimming.

 

 

 

 

It was an adventure flying back from Baracoa to Santiago in an old Russian AN-2 single engine biplane.

As we flew through a storm, I smelled freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, just like transpacific business class!

Actually, a nearby child had just tossed his lunch down mom's dress.

 

 

Arriving at Santiago airport, I saw an interesting interaction with the local police.

A lady in the airport offered me a ride into town for $5, the normal price, and in one of those old cars from the 50's that everyone loves.

 

 

$5 is a lot of money in a country where everyone, including doctors, makes about $20/month.

Leaving the airport, a policeman waved us over, and gave the driver a ticket for illegal contact with tourists. The fine was about $5.

 

 

Carnival had been canceled for many years after the Russians departed, so I was curious to see how the tradition was recovering.

An extensive "Carnival Museum" in the center has great photos and costumes from the 50's, giving an excellent idea of how carnival once thrived here.

It will never compare to Trinidad or Brazil, but the streets are packed for three days, and everyone really has fun.

There are a few truck-mounted floats, but most of the revelry surrounds groups of hundreds of people in costume, moving through the narrow downtown streets.

 

It was similar to the non-electrified groups moving through the Pelourhino district in Salvador carnival.

Drums of all kinds accompany those banging a chevy brake drum with a metal stick.

 

An old hand-cranked calliope is hauled through the streets by a group of ten musicians.

Santiago is HOT in July, and the Santiagueras drink a beer-like liquid from giant roadside tanks filled from tanker trucks.

 

There is never a shortage of excellent music in Santiago.

I made friends with a group called Rescate de Son.

I then rented a car for two days and drove west along the coast from Santiago.

The scenery was great, the road in excellent condition, but gasoline was at European prices, i.e. $4/gallon.

 

 

 

After two weeks in Cuba, I flew back to Jamaica.

I was surprised to feel relief upon leaving Cuba. I don't remember this from my first cuba trip years ago!

Having to carry and pay everything in cash, and guarding the un-replaceable passport, was a bigger worry than I expected.

 

After two nights at Negril beach, Jamaica, I aborted plans for the famous Sunsplash party that week.

Jamaica is a constant hassle of people trying to get something from you. Dont bother.

 

 

 

Text and Photos Copyright ©2001 Mark E. Halliday