East­ern Cuba

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Contents - BY AN­DREA C. SANABRIA PHO­TOS FERVAL, ALVITE, DANY, PU­JOL & JAVIER VAZQUEZ

A Chest of Emo­tions

Dark-green moun­tains that seem to scratch the sky, the long­est and most plen­ti­ful rivers of the en­tire in­su­lar Caribbean, beaches of white, brown­ish-gray, pearly or even black sands –other full of peb­bles– that can only be seen in this part of the coun­try, a re­gion teem­ing with dis­tinc­tive fea­tures, peo­ple, ge­og­ra­phy and very tra­di­tional cities where what eth­nol­o­gists call the Cuban iden­tity ap­pears to be stronger than any­where else on the is­land, a re­gion in which, as a mat­ter of fact, the con­cepts of his­tory and home­land were re­fined. or any­one look­ing for cer­tainty that hap­pi­ness can be shared and be­come a gen­uine re­al­ity, for those ea­ger to meet kind­hearted and ex­pres­sive peo­ple, to dis­cover charm­ing cities from yes­ter­year, to learn how to dance with the heart up in flames and laugh nat­u­rally as pos­sessed by a huge de­sire to live, to get basked in the peo­ple, to en­joy the soli­tude of an un­tapped beach un­der a row of co­conut groves and taste a sweet mango only to then take a swim in spring of fresh, crys­tal-clear wa­ter that falls down the rocky slopes and gives out foam ev­ery­where, east­ern Cuba is the way to per­fec­tion. The secret is to give free rein to your im­pulses, to let the light and the warmth of his land sprin­kle you all over, a land where all these gifts are just within reach like a bless­ing scat­tered all across a sur­face of 3,3 square miles and in which it’ll be im­pos­si­ble not to find –or give your­self– a huge dose of emo­tion. That’s any trav­eler’s golden dream, no mat­ter what part of the world he or she must be in.

The en­chant­ment of east­ern Cuba can be seen as soon as you get there. And the first hu­man who ever re­al­ized that was Christo­pher Colum­bus, who wrote these words in his di­ary when he landed there in 12: “This is the most beau­ti­ful land hu­man eyes have ever be­holden…” Many of the en­vi­ron­ments de­scribed by the Great Ad­mi­ral –this sole phrase of his di­ary per­fectly sum­ma­rizes that beauty– have lived out to date de­spite the pas­sage of time.

On this side of the is­land, the first Euro­peans landed in Cuba, thus be­gin­ning the con­quest of its ter­ri­tory and the foun­da­tion of the first vil­lages: Bara­coa, Bayamo and San­ti­ago de Cuba

Hol­guin, with its lovely beaches –Guardalavaca, Pes­quero, Cayo Sae­tia– and its fer­tile coun­try­side, is part of this grand par­adise; and so is the tra­di­tional city of Bayamo, a Na­tional Mon­u­ment and cap­i­tal of the Granma prov­ince, a gen­uine as­sort­ment of con­trasts scat­tered through­out vast val­leys, steep moun­tains and a shore­line jam-packed with tan­ta­liz­ing get­aways and dream coves like Marea del Por­tillo.

San­ti­ago de Cuba, Cuba’s sec­ond-largest city, is an ideal lo­ca­tion to be ex­plored by the hand of its in­hab­i­tants –by far its most cher­ished trea­sure. The grand tour can start from the Ce­s­pedes Park, the heart of this jaunty and quirky city whose dwellers swarm over un­der the swel­ter­ing sum­mer sun as an ef­fi­cient way of re­lax­ation. And the place al­ways has some­one strum­ming a gui­tar, oth­ers shak­ing mara­cas and shots of rum to get car­ried away.

San­ti­ago’s ur­ban am­bi­ences are es­pe­cially at­trac­tive be­cause the streets show off steeps and slopes as they border the edge of the to­pog­ra­phy the city was built on, fea­tur­ing a well-pre­served his­toric cen­ter. The bay around San­ti­ago de Cuba and the moun­tains of the Sierra Maes­tra in the back­ground pro­vide some breath­tak­ing views.

In the out­skirts, the beaches stand tall, and so do the Ba­conao Na­ture Park –a World Bio­sphere Re­serve– Gran Piedra and ru­ins of its French-owned cof­fee plan­ta­tions –de­clared World Her­itage sites by UNESCO– next to the Morro de San Pe­dro de la Roca and the French Cotil­lion danc­ing and singing group.

The peo­ple, the colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment are three great fea­tures of East­ern Cuba

Bara­coa, Cuba’s first-ever vil­lage also known as the Land­scape City, is a gem from the colo­nial times and a must-see for to­day’s tourists, no mat­ter how far­away it is. The town is a com­pi­la­tion of rem­i­nis­cences of long-gone sto­ries, a patch­work made up of dregs from a past that re­fuses to be­long to yes­ter­day and whose na­ture re­mains in­tact, as well as the many relics it trea­sures, like its rivers of crys­tal-clear wa­ters that re­flect the ex­act scenery the first ex­plor­ers saw as a spec­ta­cle of fic­tion re­al­ity Cuba emerges from as if it were just a dif­fer­ent land, now de­signed to be en­joyed with quiet­ness and with at­ten­tion to each and ev­ery de­tail.

It’s a hum­ble and beau­ti­ful city in the same breath, bathed by the At­lantic Ocean and a trop­i­cal jun­gle like the ones de­picted in Tarzan movies, but without lions or tigers, just with gi­gan­tic trees, co­conuts, lianas, mot­ley birds and ju­tias. Some Span­ish fortresses have sur­vived to date and the Par­ish Church of Our Lady of Asun­cion of Bara­coa is still stand­ing, as well as the so-called Cruz de la Parra (Vine Cross), the only one of over thirty that Christo­pher Colum­bus brought to the New World to mark the com­ing of the Gospel to these lands.

El Yunque, a pe­cu­liar peak of ver­ti­cal hill­sides and a flat top just five miles from the city is a town hall­mark. The strolls down the Duaba Farm­house –a trib­ute to the lo­cal co­coa cul­ture– can’t be passed up ei­ther. Ran­cho Toa is the right place to kick off a boat ride down the name-like river, while the Alexan­der de Hum­boldt Na­tional Park –a ge­o­log­i­cal gem of the Caribbean and Cuba’s largest pro­tected area, de­clared World Her­itage by UNESCO in 2001– boast a to­tal sur­face of over 270 square miles.

Though this is the best place in Cuba for na­ture lovers –by and large the number one rea­son that lures most visi­tors to this neck of the woods on the is­land na­tion– Bara­coa has such beaches as Yu­muri, Duaba, Miel, Macaguanigua, Barigua, Maguana and Ma­purisi that also wel­come sun­bathers with open arms to his re­mote piece of land blessed with abun­dant wildlife and flo­ral species.

East­ern Cuba of­fers visi­tors these mo­ments of plea­sure all across its vast ge­og­ra­phy and that ca­pac­ity to stun and cap­ti­vate trav­el­ers, like a huge chest of emo­tions, makes it a ter­ri­tory that will never stop amaz­ing trip­pers in search of the free­dom and grandeur of the known, the hu­man warmth and the de­sire to live life at full throt­tle

East­ern Cuba will never stop amaz­ing trip­pers in search of the free­dom and grandeur of the un­known, the hu­man warmth and the de­sire to live life at full throt­tle

38 des­ti­na­tion

Fi­esta del Fuego, San­ti­ago de Cuba.

Cayo Sae­tia, Hol­guin.

Cruz de Parra, one of the old­est Catholic relics in the Amer­i­cas and the Caribbean.

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