Santiago: Dance Party, Paladar, Marti, & The Fortress

June 17, 2016: Santiago, Cuba

With a slightly later arrival (9am) into the port of Santiago de Cuba, this provided enough morning sunshine to catch an amazing sail in towards today’s full day port of call.  As we wound our way though many twists and turns in the 6 miles from the channel entrance, we had the fortune to see the Castillo (the fortress) from the water and eagerly anticipated visiting it in person later in the day:

Santiago, Cuba
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca — Santiago, Cuba

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Continuing further inland towards our cruise port, we passed by many waterfront buildings (and even a few islands) where the locals were out in numbers waving, saying hello, and fishermen pulling their rowboats up towards the ship at a furious pace, just to show off their catch to those of us on balconies and watching from the open decks:

Santiago, Cuba
On Our Way to the Port — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Beautiful Scenery on our way to the Cruise Port — Santiago, Cuba

Once docked in Santiago, we made our way to the small terminal building, where once again, we passed through customs and screening. This time was a bit different as our Cuban Tourist Visas were taken from us and replaced with a plastic “transit” card.  As this was our last port of call for our Cuba cruise, this was essentially code for “we’re so glad you are here, but you will return to your ship to finish off your itinerary…”  Without the Tourist Visa, our time in Cuba was quickly counting down to zero, so we decided to make the most of the day.

Once through security, we arrived in a small parking lot where waiting buses were parked and ready to take us for the day.  In addition, a small set of shops were set up to offer us plenty of opportunities to spend the last of our CUCs and a small set of CADECA exhange booths (5-6) were in place.  While this was more than sufficient for the start of the day, these booths would quickly become a choke point in the afternoon as nearly 600 passengers worked feverishly to get their dollars, euros, and other currencies back from the CUCs that would be worth absolutely nothing the moment we set sail.

A bunch of us from the ship had formed a loose collective of like minded passengers that were interested in spending the day together and using our similar interests in Cuba, music, food, and our port day to make the absolute most of our People 2 People interactions, so we all commandeered one of the buses for our group and headed out for an amazing day of sightseeing and Cuban life:

 

Santiago, Cuba
Santiago had a much stronger government/military vibe than our other ports

Our first stop (and it was only 10am) was a very small outdoor music club near the Plaza de Marte called El Patio de los Dos Abeulos where a wonderfully loud and energetic band of retired gentlemen played for more than an hour on a terra cota colored tile patio that barely contained enough small tables and chairs for the 20 or so of us from our tour bus. The local couple below shared Cuban dances with the crowd, and then, with the help of our dance leads, turned our morning into a non-stop sweat fest of dancing, fun, smiles, and laughter.  It was a blast and connected us as passengers, as new friends with our Cuban musicians and dancers, and even our Havanatur guide got in on the experience:

Santiago, Cuba
Our Dance Experts at the Club — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Showing Off Their Moves — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
And Then We All Were Dancing — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
And Then The Party Never Stopped — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
The Music Was Loud, It Was Hot, & We All Had So Much Fun!
Santiago, Cuba
El Patio de los Dos Abuelos — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
How Low Can You Go? — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Vocals and Guitar from the 7 Member Cuban Band — Santiago, Cuba

 

Santiago, Cuba
If You Get The Chance To Come Here, Embrace The Music!

From here, we arrived at Parque Cespedes, the main plaza of Santiago de Cuba.  The towering cathedral kept watch on the square below, and we were allotted some time here for pictures and to meet some of the locals.  I met a chef who knew 6 languages and so desperately wants to see the world and expand his culinary skills, but “that is just not possible — not with the Cuba we live in today… ”

Santiago, Cuba
Parque de Cespedes — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Catedral Nuestra Senora de la Ascencion — Santiago, Cuba

 

Santiago, Cuba
The Hustle and Bustle of Santiago de Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Inside the Catedral — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Parque de Cespedes — Santiago, Cuba

From here, we headed towards lunch at an exceptional paladar (private restaurant).  A Paladar is a restaurant owned and run by a family or sole proprietor without governmental ownership.  These enterprises are some of the most thriving in Cuba at present as the laws begin to ever so slightly soften for individual ownership of these businesses.  As we arrived and made our way up the the tile staircase to the 2nd level restaurant (the family’s home is on the first floor), we turned the corner at Restaurante Italiano Marino and looking through the window, the smells of fresh and fragrant Cuban food immediately stopped me in my tracks.  The kitchen staff and chefs all asked me if I wanted to take a look at today’s menu and we got to talking immediately about their love of food, how this job and this restaurant has opened their eyes to so many new paths that their careers can take them, and it was evident in their energy, their responses to my questions and their love of this work:

Santiago, Cuba
A Truly Happy and Amazing Kitchen at Italiano Marino — Santiago, Cuba

Soon, we all settled into a room not much larger than your kitchen at home (20 of us) for a sit down lunch of Cuban specialties.  While the room was cramped, the conversation was fun, the food was exceptional, and then an amazing guitarist came in and she performed the most amazing music (which with our group quickly became a sing-a-long) as we feasted on shrimp, fish, pork, chicken, rice, beans, bread, potato, and salad.  Dessert was a coconut ice cream with fresh tropical fruit.  It was an epic lunch with some of the most humble, generous, and warm people we have met during our visit to Cuba.  We were truly lucky to have had this experience and to be able to share it with such amazing people:

Santiago, Cuba
An Amazing Cuban Lunch — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Beautiful Guitar, Singing, and a Sing-A-Long, Too!
Santiago, Cuba
The View from the Rooftop Restaurant — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
This is the Future of Cuba — Santiago, Cuba

While no one wanted to leave the amazing paladar lunch, we had so much more to see and do today, so we headed back to the bus after many thank yous and good byes to our new friends at Restaurante Italiano Marino, and made our way to nearby San Juan Hill to see the location of one of the decisive battles of the Spanish American Cuban war at the turn of the 20th century:

Santiago, Cuba
San Juan Hill — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
San Juan Hill — Santiago, Cuba

Making our way back towards Santiago center, we found a number of buildings, flags, and callouts to the great leaders and actions within Cuban History…  It seemed that Santiago provided many more of these displays than in other cities we have visited:

Santiago, Cuba
Por Cuba, Con Fidel — Santiago, Cuba

One of our next stops to view was the Cuidad Escolar 26 de Julio, formerly the famous Moncada Barracks and now a local school:

IMG_7611

Santiago, Cuba
Ciudad Escolar 26 de Julio — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
They Left The Bullet Holes and Mortar Marks — Santiago, Cuba

Our last stop in the city was the Mercado Plaza de Revolucion, with its massive monument of Antonio Maceo Grajales:

Santiago, Cuba
Plaza de Antonio Maceo Grajales — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Public Buses — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Inexpensive but Hot, Local Buses  Leave A Bit To Be Desired — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Displays of Cuban History and Political Power — Santiago, Cuba

From here, we made our way to the Masoleum de Marti, where the guards are constantly watching over one of Cuba’s greatest historical figures:

Santiago, Cuba
Cemetario and Mausoleo a Jose Marti — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
El Mausoleo — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
The Changing of the Guard… Every 30 Minutes — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
“Don’t Think I Don’t See That Camera” — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
Marti’s Resting Place — Santiago, Cuba

Taking the Outer Highway Loop (Circunvalacion) we hopped around the outside edges of the city and made our way 6 miles towards the coast and to the edge of the Bahia de Santiago, where we visited the Castillo (The Fortress).  It was an amazing sight and presented many moments to capture:

Santiago, Cuba
The Castillo — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
The Castillo and Cuban Coastline — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
What An Amazing Way To End Our Day — Santiago, Cuba
Santiago, Cuba
At The Edge of Cuba — Santiago, Cuba

Returning to our ship, we had a tremendously enjoyable day in Santiago de Cuba, doing and seeing more than was ever thought possible in an 8 hour day…  As our ship sailed away, the experiences of the last 4 days in port were almost too many to count, and so we did our best to document as much as we could for this travel log and with the photos and videos taken along the way.

We have one more day at sea before we return home to Miami and will do our best to bring one last entry for this travel log together, rounding off an amazing cruise with #FathomTravel and look forward to more opportunities in the not too distant future to #TravelDeep.

Ready to #TravelDeep with Fathom to Cuba or the Dominican Republic?
The Next Journey & Cruises, Inc can help you plan these amazing itineraries!

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