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February 8, 2017

Our evening ended early, and we planned to awake at 6:30 for breakfast and our 8am departure. The loud diesel trucks were the first alarm, and the barking dogs and rooster were the second. Page’s phone alarm was the third. Our bus drove us back toward Havana past fog covered farm land our next stops: a break at rest stop, lunch at a paladar, a cultural visit to an arts project, a swim in a sink hole, and history lesson at a museum about the Bay of Pigs.

I don’t have much to say about the rest stop except we paid our token twenty-five cents to the attendant to use the facilities. Many of them place a $1 on the plate to encourage a bigger contribution, but Valeri told a small donation is fine. Of course, I’m not so sure this is just for tourists, and locals don’t contribute. Anyway, some toilet we’ve used of late require water buckets to flush them, so I suppose attendants are necessary in some cases.

There were two accidents on the highway today…likely due to fog. The traffic just drove over the center median of the highway and continued the wrong way in the oncoming lanes. As we entered oncoming traffic, this traffic exited the highway and reentered at the next ramp. Unfortunately, the scenes of the accidents looked rather grim. All things considered, the police orchestrated a relatively efficient method to redirect traffic.

On the bus alot today!

On the bus alot today!

After short delays considering the severity of the accidents, we reached the paladar for a late lunch. The restaurant was out in the middle of nowhere on farm land. The patio was nice, the outhouse entertaining, and the food good. We had pork, chicken, beef, fried plantains and the like. We were beginning to learn, that our meals would be somewhat similar day to day. The rooster, birds, dog and tired worker seemed common place to us now as well.

From the paladar, we drove to the Korimakao Cultural Project in Ciènega de Zapata, an area famous for its wetlands. The nature lover in me probably would have rather visited the crocodile farm and look for birds at the national park, but the Korimakao project was interesting. At first I couldn’t understand the arts complex as I understood it be a place where students get paid to study the arts. That’s not a bad gig. Then I realized it is another government sponsored project like the reforestation project at Las Terrazas only this project was designed to bring theatre, music, art and dancing to remote areas of Cuba.

The project began in 1992 and students, many of whom had little experience, auditioned to get accepted. The students’ ages range from 16-30. Some stay for years while others move on to new opportunities. They travel around Cuba to perform. After we learned a little about the program, we watched a few performances. The first was by a band that composed its own music. Then we walked across the way to see two dance performance in the theatre. Finally, we stopped into a small gallery with a variety of art. Unfortunately, with the traffic delays and long lunch, our visit was brief as it was already late afternoon and we had two more stops before getting to dinner and our home stays in Cienfuegos.

Dance Recital Video
Band Performance Video

After our visit to Korimakao, we raced off to the sink hole which is located across from the coast still in the Parque Nacional Ciènaga de Zapata. While I may have swam in a limestone sinkhole unknowingly, I can’t recall doing so, especially with tropical fish. With only fifteen minutes to swim, I can’t say the mossy rocks, twenty feet of visibility and a few fish were worth the clothes changing, brackish water stickiness, and the drying off, but I marked something off the list, and it could have been quite enjoyable had we had the afternoon to relax on the beach across the street and visit both places.

From the sink hole, we made it to Museo Girón just before it closed. Our guide had to talk our way in, so we had to speed through the museum which wasn’t too hard since all the signs about the Bay of Pigs invasion were in Spanish. I suppose I could have gotten the gist had I read them, but I certainly wasn’t going to be able to do it in five minutes. It was probably interesting as well, as we were repeatedly warned that the exhibits were from the Cuban perspective and celebrating the defeat of the Americans! Outdoors the were some tanks and planes and remnants of an American plane which was shot down, proof the US was involved in the invasion despite the initial denial.

The history of the Bay of Pigs Invasion is as follows:
On April 17, 1961, a group of 1,400 Cuban exiles and mercenaries trained by the CIA landed on Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs to invade the island. Castro caught wind of the planned attack, and he along with his men who had support of the local population stopped the invasion in its tracks. The fighting lasted just three days. The US denied being involved and to avoid an international crisis, the US withdrew its air support and abandoned the mercenaries who were imprisoned for twenty months until the US agreed to a trade for medical supplies to Cuba.

The invasion failed so badly that eight days later President Kennedy declared a trade embargo against Cuba which created a boycott among most other countries which resulted in closer ties between Cuba and Russia. A year later, the US discovered the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba, thus Kennedy ordered a blockage of the island which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. While a Caribbean War between the Soviets and US was averted at the 11th hour with the agreement that the US would remove its missiles from Turkey and promise not to invade Cuba in exchange for Russia dismantling its missiles in Cuba, the Cold War ensued and continued for decades.

On our way to Cienfuegos, we stopped in the country side where both kids and adults were playing baseball. We had read to bring pens, pencils, first aid kits, and even used clothing to give out. While most of us did this, Frank brought a suitcase of baseball gear! This was definitely a hit. I kind of felt silly handing out pens afterward!

Upon arriving in Cienfeugos, known as the “Pearl of the South” at dusk, my first impression of the city was “meh”. It seemed drab and dark. Even Erin asked, “Is it safe?” It’s unfortunate because the wide boulevards and elegant columns could have been charming just with some added bright paint and street lights.

Our home stay this time included a TV in our room. We unplugged it to charge our devices though there were few more outlets available. There was water pressure in the shower, which was most appreciated, and it got hot! There was even a wrapped bar of soap. It was so big, for one night, we felt too guilty to use it and used our own. The toilet on the other hand took a few flushes. We had quite a colorful room with Mexican style bedspreads and a curtain hiding a fake window. Our hosts greeted us with a frozen, welcome drink! They were quite lovely, though we didn’t hang out long as it was time for dinner.

The restaurant, Bahía, smelled like fish when we entered. Fortunately, the smell dissipated over time, the service was fast and the food was good. There was even some variety on the menu! After dinner, we ditched the bus and walked back to our homestay so we could stretch our legs and enjoy the cooler temperatures. The city seemed quiet and dull this Wednesday night. Perhaps in the daylight, it won’t appear so dreary. We’ll see tomorrow. ETB

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