Monday, 10 April 2017

Cuba - It's not all mojitos and salsa lessons

Typical rural home (photo by Diana Kim)
 Until relatively recently all tourism ventures in Cuba were government owned and operated, even today every tour bus on the island is owned by the government.  In the 1990s it was decided that the best way to develop the Cuban tourism industry was to enter into joint ventures with foreign companies, who would then, hopefully, invest in much needed infrastructure. At the same time the law was changed to also allow locals to open and operate their own small businesses. Nevertheless the country is still struggling to keep up and provide the facilities required of a modern, booming, tourism industry.  We discovered this on a number of occasions, none more so than at a toilet stop we made on our way to the Bay of Pigs.  What looked like a perfectly respectable, modern restaurant from the outside had the worst toilets we were to come across in Cuba. The women's toilets had cubicles without doors, were unflushed, dirty, with toilet paper strewn about and water across the floor.  They were so bad that several of our group preferred to wait until the next stop. Toilet paper is never provided in Cuba, you must take your own, and it cannot be flushed away due to a primitive sewerage system (it must be placed in a separate receptacle).  Nevertheless we did get good coffee served at this restaurant, although no milk.  Due to a very poor production level ( approx 50% of what is needed) the supply of milk, in Cuba,  is restricted to children, the ill,  the elderly and pregnant women. 

As our journey continued we were shown a documentary about Fidel Castro. This government made film portrayed Fidel as a perfect, almost god like, hero. I have read extensively about Cuba, Batista, the revolution and Fidel Castro, and feel I have a good understanding of the country's history, but don't feel qualified to make too much comment here.  What I will say, though, is I know a propaganda film when I see one.

I don't know about you but when I visit a place previously  know to me only through historical news footage I expect to find it in a similar state.  I remember being surprised by what a large, modern, fully developed city Hiroshima was when I visited.  The same went for Darwin, previously known to me through footage of the terrible Cyclone Tracy of 1974.  Somehow I was expecting a dusty, scruffy, mangled town, not the lovely, fresh, tropical city it is today.  Silly of me, I know! 
The Bay of Pigs, peaceful and beautiful

I'm not sure what I expected to find at The Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos) the location of the USA's ill considered and ill fated attack on Cuba in 1961.  What we did find was a large, sleepy bay its turquoise waters filled with bright tropical fish. On a hot day it was just calling out for us to dive in.  The coastline is rocky and steep so a dip requires climbing down a ladder into the sea.  Despite the glorious weather the sea was turbulent, five minutes in swimming and we had had enough so spent the next half hour lounging in the warm tropical sun. 

A relaxing day in the tropics at the Bay of Pigs

Giron Museum (photo: Diana Kim)
 Refreshed we continued our journey, past large billboards bearing propaganda messages, to the Giron Museum.  This museum displays artifacts and photos from the Bay of Pigs Cold War skirmish with the USA.  It is quite moving to see the photos and ages of some of the Cuban casualties and there is a film entitled "The First Defeat of US Imperialism in the Americas" on show.  It is interesting to learn of the clever  tactics used by the Cuban Air force as the battle progressed. We had a Spanish speaking guide and although our guide translated her words it came across clearly that this recent history is still very raw and that the Cubans' triumph over a super power is a source of great pride to them.

A British Hawker Sea Fury, used by the Cuban Air Force
In pensive moods and pondering what we had seen and heard today we continued on towards our next destination, Cienfuegos.  We passed through a large village as the day turned to dusk.  There were no cars in the village, just horses and carts, children were playing in the street, women were gossiping, men were returning home from work in the fields and the nearby power plant.  I wondered about their lives, how they viewed the revolution and whether it had improved their lot.  There was a lot to think about as the day drew in.

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