Day 8 December 12, Saturday
I knew a big day of sightseeing was planned and I didn’t want to miss it. How far from a bathroom did I dare to venture? I acquired three maxipads and I was ready.
Our first stop was the local history museum in Ciego de Avila. The first room had a prehistory display with a real shrunken head.
The second room covered the Colonial Period. We saw a model of the Spanish fortifications. They were built a kilometer apart to keep the Cuban army from the eastern territory. Cuban Colonel Simon Reyes Hernandez was called “The Eagle” because her crossed back and forth across the fortifications without being detected.
The next room showed the implements of slavery. On October 10, 1868 Carlos Manual de Cespedes declared the slaves free. At the end of the Ten Years War, in 1878, salves who fought on either side wre freed. However, slaves who did not fight had to endure ten more years of slavery. The guide told us that was the beginning of the fight for independence which ended in 1959. He implied that the United States was a colonial power in Cuba after the Spanish American War.
The next room described the role of Jose Marti in the Cuban Revolution.
The next rooms were about the religions in Cuba: Protestant, Catholic and Santeria (a mixture of Catholicism and the African gods.)
The last room was filled instruments and artifacts that showed the African influence on Cuban culture.
After touring the museum, we were treated to a performance of a traditional group of dancers and musicians, Rumbavilla. At the end of the show they got the audience up and dancing.
We got on our tour bus and drove passed sugar cane field and banana tree farms. In about thirty-five minutes we arrived at Rancho Palma, a restaurant on the outskirts of Moron, a city of 60,000. It’s a lunch spot leased to the employees. There were hammocks for the guests to relax in. I was amazed at the banana tree flower.
Two men were making sugar cane juice by sending a stalk of cane through a grinder. The first time broke the plant’s fibers. It’s sent through six more times, then folded and sent through another six times, then folded again and juiced some more. The juice was sold for $1.50 plain and $1.75 if rum was added.
We ate at long picnic tables. Eduardo had called our orders ahead, chicken or beer. My plate of chicken overflowed, way too much for me to eat. Of course there was shredded cabbage surrounded by tomatoes and rice and black beans. The bar had many flavors of soda pop. Below are rice and black beans, cucumber-tomato-shredded cabbage salad and sautéed vegetables.
We traveled on to the Moron Theater. The government gave the building to the troupe, its director, and the stage crew. The theater was built in 1922 but was heavily damaged by a hurricane. In the ensuing years it was used as a venue for boxing matches and duck races as well as a storage facility for fertilizer. The actors, director, and stage crew cleaned it up and renovated it in five months, clearing out sixty truckloads of garbage. They got a box car, cut it in half, and added one side of it to the back of the building for dressing rooms and used the other half for the front lobby and ticket office. They completed the work in five months. We watched an amazing video chronicling the renovation. The theater now has a full schedule of performances each week including classical, contemporary and children’s plays. The admission price is five CUP’s, about twenty cents.
There are several troupes of actors from the company that entertain at the beach resorts of the province. Since many of the tourists do not speak Spanish, they put on variety shows. The theater company is known for their clay-brushed characters. They presented Medea in that form as street theater.
Another amazing part of the theater company is their outreach program. They send a troupe out to isolated areas and stay for ten days, teaching the local people how to put on their own shows. The video we saw was about the program was truly heartwarming.
We were treated to a performance that included mimes. Huge puppets, dances, singers, and acrobats. After the show the actors came on stage and answered our questions.
Then we all got on stage for a Cuban salsa dance lesson. The first steps were right foot out, step on the other foot and put the right foot back. Three beats done eight times. Next was the same but to the right front, step on the left foot and put the right foot back, again three beats. Then do the same with the left foot. Repeat four times. The third set of steps is right foot crosses behind the left, left foot step, next right foot back. Do the same thing with the left foot. Got it? Lots of fun and laughs.
When we left the theater we were invited to stroll among the street merchants, and some of us made purchases.
We walked around the corner to the Nicholas Guillen Foundation. The foundation was formed in 1991 under the auspices of the Uniion of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC.) It’s mission is to preserve and encourage the study of the poet Nicholas Guillen, the national poet of Cuba (1902-1989) and to contribute to knowledge and values of Cuban culture. There is a subsidiary of the nonprofit foundation in each Cuban province.
It was odd that the band played many American classic rock songs (Sweet Home Alabama, Proud Mary and We Don’t Need No Education) and just a few Cuban songs. We did practice the Cuban beat, three then two beats. I found out that Guantanamera means a girl from that province, Guantanamo. The second word, jajira, means “farm girl.”
They asked our Global Volunteer Sandy to “sit in the hammock” to honor her lifelong service.
The band invited Dexter, our youngest Volunteer, to play two of his songs on the electric guitar. He was uncomfortable at first, but I was thrilled to hear his compositions.
We got back on the bus and drove to Don Pap’s for dinner. They had flags displayed from several countries, including the United States. That flag had been given to the restaurant by the last Global Volunteers team that ate there. We ate fried fish (delicious,) thick and huge pork chops which I didnt taste and of course the ubiquitous rice and black beans and plantain chips.
We were serenaded by a band that played all Cuban music until they asked Dexter to play some of his songs on an acoustic guitar. He was far more comfortable, perhaps with a few run drinks or beers in him. He sang one about his mother, who had died two years before, that brought tears to my eyes.
On the way out of town we saw the statue of The Rooster. It was the symbol of the city. After 1959 it was taken away as a symbol of colonialism. The town protested to Castro and he had it reinstalled, saying it was a symbol of the city and their tradition.
The team’s spirits were high. It was the best day yet.