On our second day in Cuba, we awoke to an amazing breakfast buffet. My pregnant wife filled a bag with pastries to snack on throughout the day, and we were off. On the bus, our guide said we had, “a giant of a day.” We didn’t think anything of it at the time.
I expected the rum and cigars to be excellent, but I was not aware of how good the coffee would be. Espresso, cafe con leche, or americano, it was always surprisingly good. Add some Cuban whole beans to the list of things I’ll order the day the embargo ends.
I got a few mosquito bites the night before, but this is why I didn’t get eaten alive.
Our Cuban guide told us about the day’s events as we cruised down the causeway.
Our first stop was La Imprenta, a local print shop that was in the process of changing from a state run enterprise to a privately owned collective. Essentially, the shop was petitioning the Cuban government to allow it to privatize, with the end goal of increasing the salary of each of the employees, who would be equal partners. This was an example of how the Cubans seem to know that Communism has failed, and that they want something different, but what they want is not exactly or not always American-style capitalism. The government is allowing privately owned businesses that operate for profit, and this one just one of many examples. The restaurants were the first businesses to privatize (illegally, and then legally), and they seem to often be more capitalist in the way Americans think of capitalism. This print shop showed us that there is already a range of private business possibilities in Cuba on a socialist-leaning to full American-style capitalist spectrum. It makes one wonder what the future holds for business in Cuba. The manager was an interesting guy. He clearly wanted to improve his employees’ salary and quality of life. He also wanted to maintain the soul of his work, and not update the machinery or automate any processes. Its a romantic notion, but I’m not sure how it will work out long term. I hope they’re still doing well when I return.
Our next stop was Proyecto de Arte Por la Costa where we met with Madelin Perez Noa and her husband, Leo. They discussed their art and their community outreach in Caibarien, the fishing village in which they reside. My wife learned to make recycled paper, that they later use for art projects. My mom bought my future child his/her first toy. After the tour, the demonstrations, and some discussion, we got back on the bus and headed to a sugar museum.
We were greeted with some guarapo (fresh pressed sugarcane juice), which was surprisingly good and complex. We got to operate a hand car, and learned all about the history of sugar production on the island. After the tour, we boarded a steam train for lunch.
The train stopped and we disembarked for lunch.
After lunch we got to see a palm climbing demonstration. The climber was very proud of his work, and ability to harvest 100+ trees a day in his prime, but was sad that it was a dying art. After the meal and the demonstration, we got back on the train and headed back to Remedios. This time, we rode in the engine. Hanging off a moving train while branches go by, trying to get creative pictures is not particularly safe. I survived, unburned, uninjured, and this is the result:
In Remedios, we took a bicitaxi (pedicab/bike rickshaw) though town, into the main square, and to Remedios Cathedral. We got to speak to members of the church, and the taxi owners. With the help of my SpanishDict app (which works without a cellular connection), we were able to have an interesting conversation with a driver who’s brother left for Miami. I won’t get into the specifics, but lets just say it may be challenging for Cuba to create opportunity and wealth while also discouraging its newly upwardly mobile from immigrating to the US. Also, notice the baseball shrine in the Cathedral. They are quite serious about their baseball.
Despite our giant of a day, we got back to the hotel in the afternoon. I managed to get some beach time in, and then as it started to rain, I had my first real cigar of the trip, and Monte #4.
The cigar was not the cleanest most pristine stick I’ve ever encountered, but the taste and draw were superb. The view and company was even better.
After the cigar, we met my parents at the bar, and then we headed to dinner at the hotel.
The mojito was made with HC tres anos. It was great. Before I left, I read a book about the Bacardi family and company, and the history of Cuba. As far as I know, Bacardi does not make a three year old rum, or even an aged white. Maybe if Havana Club and Bacardi have to compete for the American market in the future, Bacardi will match its offerings.
Dinner was excellent, but the real surprise was on the apéritif and digestif table. Bourbon! I asked the guides about it, and they were unsure how this was possible. I had a glass poured and thought about how I was missing the derby. That evening I didn’t have much time to reflect, as I was exhausted.
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