Leaving the orient farther behind, the group continues to push toward the west, where the journey began. The landscape changes from lush green to barren ruins then back again. Each town we stop in is different from the other, but all of them—literally all of them—boast signage titled after Fidel, Che, Martí, or the Granma (the boat which held the leaders of the last independence war/revolution from Mexico to Cuba). I make a mental note of this observation and liken it to the United States where town after town restaurants, museums, schools, retail warehouses, etc. all named after Lincoln, MLK, Kennedy, Regan, and even Obama.
The prominence of it here, however, seems more profound than plain nationalistic pride. It reminds me of other countries I’ve visited that were once under authoritarian governments (such as China, Cambodia, Vietnam) where various sorts of propaganda and wartime paraphernalia overshadow reality; as if the country wants to stay stuck in a period of turmoil.
Recalling the crumbling buildings and sidewalks of Santiago de Cuba as I walk through the clean, completely paved roadways of Camagüey, I’m incredulous. These streets feel and look more like Belgium than Cuba. I suppose these sort of stark contrasts exist in every country. Still, with as historical and war-torn this town once was, there seems to be far more money filtered into the upkeep here versus a handful of the towns the tour has passed through. When I share my confusion in the form of inquisitive questions in the direction of my guide, he smiles back at me stating he shares the same puzzlement. He does not elaborate on his point. I snicker under my breath at our common understanding of the truth that governments everywhere are corrupt. And note the only difference being my ability to voice my discontent for his government and my own without serious consequence.
The drive-in (and out) of Camagüey is sensory overload. There are water buffaloes bathing in small pools, handmade huts displaying seasonal, fresh vegetables and tractors that have been resourced into taxis pulling carriages full to the brim with locals attempting to get from one part of this massive island to another. We spend between three to seven hours every handful of days in this vehicle. This method of transport granting me a passing perspective of the Cuban topography and culture.
The roads are always atrocious. Our driver swerves from the left side to the right attempting to avoid the chunks of missing asphalt or potholes big enough to swim in. More than once I’m nauseated by the journey, not from the bumpiness or being flung around my seat, but from the scent of tar that fills the van when passing sporadic repair zones along the way.
Settling into the next stop, I crave alone time. A reprieve of sorts. I wander the small alleyways alone at night, grateful to stretch my legs after such long travel days spent sitting. I come across a public park and take a seat on an uninhabited bench. This is an internet park, one of the few places in the city that public wifi is accessible. I’m hoping to download a handful of movies from Netflix and hope that the hour warrants fewer bodies and, by default, a stronger signal.
The streets aren’t too active, but they aren’t barren either. The heat brings people into the cooler air of the evening and true to Spanish tradition, businesses are open late into the night. A child passes me with red hair, freckles, and bone-white skin, then another child with a milk chocolate complexion and hazel brown eyes. The diverse appearances of the locals in this country continues to throw me. I people-watch as my smartphone acts smart. An elderly woman of indigenous descent searches a woman’s face for understanding, tearing up as she begs for money. Across the street a leggy brunette with green eyes squeezes passed a bicyclist and a taxi, turning the heads of several old men as she goes.
Men blow kisses and whisper “Vamanos, Linda” when they ride passed me on bicycles, but I pay them no mind. Violence is wildly scarce here in comparison to my home country so I don’t feel threatened to be out alone in the slightest. On the contrary, I welcome the quiet; it gives me time to reflect.
A familiar silhouette of Che Guevara’s face dominates my viewpoint as I glance out over the park. Occupying the entirety of a building’s facade, the ominous features of the man in his prime levitate, backlit by spotlights. Entering the famous three letters into the search field I settle on three documentaries to download for the road journeys ahead: one on the revolution, the second a closer look into the relationship of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and a background story on Che, as the Argentinian doctor long before he was Che of the Cuban revolution.
When in Cuba…
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Oh, I love Ernesto as well 🧡 he was a remarkable human being despite what people say haha 😊.
I didn’t know they had public wifi! This surprised me 🙂 beautiful Cuba 😍
He was many things to many people, it’s true. Thanks for reading number one fan! Appreciate you dearly.
Cuba was and will always be my favorite country! The culture blew my mind so much that I went three times in one year! I think I’ll add it to my 2020 list.