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Week Two in Camagüey, Cuba

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Friday,  January 23, 2004
- Estoy cansada.  I am tired. Mentally and emotionally, more than physically.  I am finally back in the United States. There is much to say-- when my head stops swimming with this montage of images, sounds and impressions.  I was prepared to see changes in Camagüey, though that would mean I might lose some physical evidence of my past life.  What I hadn't anticipated was how so much there still  remained the same. It was a pain I could not share with those who were living it.

More tomorrow.

Thursday,  January 22, 2004 -  My face is much better today, thank you.  The redness and swelling from the dermatitis has subsided and I'm not consuming as large a dose of antihistamine.  I'll be departing from Cuba in a few hours, filled with ideas and memories -- happy to return home, but sad to be leaving my old homeland, friends and family.  I've learned some lessons over the past few weeks and want to write more about this journey after I get back to the states. This little web site does not have enough space to express what I hold in my heart.

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August 2004-May 2006

February - April, 2004

January 17-23, 2004

January 10-16, 2004


The road from Camaguey
The road from Camagüey

Julio gave me one of his drawings as a gift.  I was very touched.  Although he is artistically adept, creation does not come easily for him. Parting with even one drawing is like giving me a jewel.  Much of yesterday was spent preparing for my departure, including registering with the government my intent to take the drawing out of the country.  Apparently the loss of artistic and historical patrimony in Cuba rose to scandalous levels after the revolution, and depleted the country's cultural inventory.  Now the government is recording and tracking the movement of art (new and old) and historical objects.  Not a bad idea.  But the process took 45 minutes of answering questions, measuring, describing, writing, measuring, describing and answering questions.  The clerk certainly earned her entire month of 200 pesos with my little drawing.

I distributed whatever toiletries and medicine I brought, and decided to leave my light-weight $8 bargain suitcase -- it didn't fall apart in transit as I feared it might.  As I packed the small carry-on bag with my remaining possessions, I couldn't stop thinking about the bittersweet existence of the population and what might be seen as Job-like patience with situations that would push people from most other countries over the edge.  But is it patience or a resignation to a life of extreme contrasts? Hard to tell. There are many things that go unsaid here. A country of silent philosophers.  All I know is that tears will flow before the day is over -- but the music will continue.

Outdoor Concert - Camaguey, Cuba


Mural commemorating victims of September 11 attacks

Camagüey artists paint mural commemorating victims of September 11 attacks in the U.S. 

Contemporary Art from Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island = Arte Contemporaneo De Cuba : Ironia Y Sobrevivencia En LA Isla Utopica  

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Tinajone in the courtyard of Iglesia La Merced - Camaguey Cuba

Tinajone in the courtyard of Iglesia La Merced, Camagüey, Cuba.
January, 2004


Wednesday,  January 21, 2004 - This is ridiculous.  I'm nearing the end of my visit and I have contact dermatitis!  I am not feeling pretty.  Yesterday, just before I went out to meet with more friends and relatives,  I applied cream to my face because my skin was dry.   I did not consider that the cream contained vitamin A.  I did not consider the caution on the tube of cream that stated users should stay out of direct sunlight after application.  Remember, walking is a way of life in Cuba.  So is the sun. Within a few hours after walking through the streets of Camagüey , my face was flushed and warm to the touch.  I thought it was the less-than-gourmet (but generously offered and only available) beer my hosts had served me.  It progressively worsened throughout the afternoon.  Today, a doctor confirmed my ailment to be from the face cream, not the beer.  He said he could see the edges of the swelling around the sides of my face where I didn't spread the cream.  Something to be thankful for -- I spread the cream evenly so I'm not striped. 

Tomorrow is my last day in Cuba.   I really don't want the people here to remember me with dermatitis.  

Oh, and again today we have no electricity.  Something happened when they were fixing something somewhere in preparation for the 490th Anniversary of the founding of Camagüey, Cuba.  And because there's no electricity, there's no water -- each building has its own electrical pump bringing water into the building.  Even the hotel, the cyber café and the church are without power.  It is dark and the only lights to be seen are on the occasional bikes and scooters and cars on the street -- and in the bank on the other side of the plaza.  The bank still has electricity.


Trio, Havana Cuba
El Trio, Havana 2003

Listen to Sabor a Mi 
performed by the Havana group El Trio and reproduced with the permission of the artists. (High speed internet connection recommended)

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La Soledad Church, Camaguey, Cuba

Kitten - Camaguey, Cuba



Cuban Woman


Tuesday,  January 20, 2004 - The Andalusian poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, after his visit to Cuba in the thirties, said:  "En Cuba, no os sorprendais de nada."  ["In Cuba, do not be surprised/alarmed for any reason."] This continues to be true. 

Here, heart transplants are performed for free, while a broom costs $1 USD. (25 pesos).  The average salary is 200 pesos.  One pound of plaintains for cooking (10 plantains) cost 2 pesos, a head of garlic anywhere from 2.50 to 4 pesos.  Remember that the average salary is per month. Cuba used to produce anywhere between 7 and 8 million tons of sugar each harvest. Now it cannot produce 3 million.  

The fields between the city of Camagüey and Santa Lucia beach are invaded by a thorny bush known as marabu -- Impenetrable, thick, difficult to eradicate. Why? "Do not be surprised..."  Nobody knows.  On the final stretch toward the beach, there is a horrendously huge sign in red print that says "Traffic signals are deficient." I never saw one single traffic signal the rest of the way.

People drink more rum than water. Water is scarce, especially in Camagüey, where the aqueduct has always been deficient -- probably due to the flat land. The rum that people buy in the regular store is not Havana Club or Cubay.  It is turpentine. I have not tasted it and won't. 

This is the age of cloning.  It is done here with certain farm animals. Technology is on the leading edge. People understand computers easily, readily. They use homeopathy, aromatherapy, hypnosis, behavior modification.  Everyone has pampered dogs that eat the same food as their owners. Veterinary medicine is limited to cows, pigs, and horses. 

The beauty is breathtaking, the love is overwhelming, the music is catchy, youth is gorgeous and aging comes quickly.



Statue of Jose Marti, Havana, Cuba

El Encanto, Camaguey, Cuba



A street in Camaguey, Cuba

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Monday,  January 19, 2004 - Today four buses pulled up in  front of the church La Merced and on their heels pedaled an army of Bici Taxis.  The buses let loose a babble of tourists who dispersed on foot and in bici taxis to take in the sights of Camagüey City.  Bici taxis are 3-wheeled bicycles with a bench attached to the rear axle.  Some have a canopy that covers just the passengers, other have larger, extended canopies.  Bici taxis are everywhere in Cuba.  When I was in Havana, I was enthralled by the Coco Taxis -- little yellow fiberglass shells propelled by a 3-wheeled scooter.   They're cute, comfortable and zippy.  They haven't made it yet to Camagüey.

I think that if I lived here, I would feel like I'd been shipwrecked and adrift at sea -- surrounded by water, but with none to drink.  That's how it is for Cubans -- surrounded by technology and other aspects of modern society, but with few exceptions, unable to drink of it.  Many people in the city still don't have a telephone, much less cell phone.  The cyber cafés are closed at least 25% of the time due to technological failures of some type.  Few private citizens have computers, and those that do can't access the internet, only e-mail.   Fresh food and quality supplies are available for American dollars.  The average Cuban earns 200 pesos each month, which is the equivalent of $8.00 US.  I hesitate to consider what a computer costs.

Cuban Taxis

Bici (Bicycle) Taxi in Havana, Cuba
Bici Taxi


Coco (Scooter) Taxi in Havana, Cuba
Coco Taxi

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Camagüey Weather



My father, Perfector Rodriguez at work - Empacadora La Unión
My father, Perfecto Rodriguez, one of the owners of Empacadora La Unión, a meat packaging company

Sunday, January 18, 2004 - In spite of the thriving art communities in the city of Camagüey, daily life still borders on the provincial.  There is no comparison to Havana where, even in the worst of times, something is always going on.  I guess that since there's no sugar being produced anymore, and the cattle industry has been greatly decreased -- two products that made Camagüey a center for trade and commerce -- the city needs to reinvent itself.  Like the rest of Cuba, the city of Camagüey is looking to attract tourism, but it still has a way to go.

I am impressed by the amount of people visiting Iglesia de La Merced.  Because the church is right next door, I can hear every word of the music and service.  Because today is Sunday, the sounds of the priest, the congregation's prayers and singing drifted into the apartment throughout the morning.  I could even listen to the sermon while in the bathroom.

I went to the cemetery today to visit my family's crypt.  In Cuba, as in many European countries, cemeteries do not contain separate graves for each individual, but have ground-level crypts for many generations of  one family.  There are also special crypts for workers' organizations, military units, etc.  My grandfather is buried in the crypt with the postal carriers.  When I last visited the cemetery ten years ago, the graves bore signs of vandalism.  As a result of severe shortages, metal ornamentation and fixtures had been stripped from the markers to be used by the living.  There were no fresh flowers to be seen, only meager and worn plastic imitations.  Today I saw many fresh flowers laid in remembrance throughout the cemetery, and although the hardware has not been replaced, many crypts were patched or whitewashed. 

Camagüey Cemetery

Postal Workers' Crypt in Camaguey Cemetery

Typical grave marker in Cuba

See other Cuba photos
Early Cuba
Cuba 1991
Cuba 2003

Saturday, January 17, 2004 - The beach at Santa Lucia was fantastic.  The weather perfect.  I hope you folks in the states get a reprieve from the cold.  Last night Burlington, VT was featured on Cuban TV.  They said 40 below and a Civil Emergency.  Geeze.  Here it couldn't be more ideal.

We met some people from New Zealand who had fallen in love with  Santa Lucia. Most people do. The water is completely clear.  You could see your toenails against the  bottom. I tried to be moderate and did not get sunburned.  We ate a great lunch of perch, salad, and rice. We swam a lot and enjoyed the view.

Returning back to the city of  Camagüey, we drove through several little towns.   The "traffic" on the roads consisted of  people who were hitchhiking, and  trucks of all sizes, loaded with passengers on the truck beds.  Everywhere there are horse-drawn carriages with signs that read  "CUBA TAXI."

There aren't as many cows as I remember.  Neither is there any sugar cane.  The fields are dry because this place has seen no rain in a long long while.  On the way to the beach we stopped at the ruins of an old sugar mill that used to be operated by slaves.  The wheel is still there, and it says "New York."  There was also the biggest bee hive I've ever seen.  Millions of them.  I took pictures of three little girls who were playing around it!  The hive was near a cafeteria where we stopped for coffee.  The attendant was playing Celia Cruz's  last CD.  Very odd.  People love to play Celia.

The beach was full of tourists, mostly German and Canadian, it seems.  But we found a nearly empty spot and rented chairs that cost a dollar each.  Comfy though.  After a long swim, we had lunch and were serenaded by a group of musicians.  No. It wasn't a group,  it was a crowd.  Loads of guitars and bongos.  But not pushy people.  Just nice guajiros with a great sense of humor who did not expect five bucks.  They were great.

The way back was adorned by a sunset to die for.  And a traffic jam of cows and horses.

Now we are home.  The church is chiming.  I'm dusty and gritty and need a shower.  Ah yes, the water came back yesterday!


Santa Lucia Beach
Camagüey, Cuba

Horseback Riding, Santa Lucia Beach, Camaguey, Cuba

Beach Facility - Santa Lucia Beach, Camaguey, Cuba



Cattle Blocking Road in Camaguey, Cuba
Traffic jam, Camagüey countryside

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Although support to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba for non-Cuban born Americans appears to be growing, it is still illegal for most U.S. citizens to travel to that island.  The U.S. Department of State website and the U.S. Treasury website contain regularly updated guidelines for the public.  

NOTE:  The U.S. Interests Section, Havana lists the latest U.S. Government Statements and News on U.S. Policy toward Cuba.

©Teresa Bevin 2010
Updated 06/17/2011