Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Great Cuban Things – the story continues

Check out part one.

9. El Parque Prehistorico

This is possibly my single favourite Cuban thing. It is a garden set up by this guy Jesus Arencibia Coro in the little town of Viñales. The garden contains fossils, local medicinal plants, models of prehistoric people (including the Flores hobbit), a giant model dinosaur, and other amazing things. Mr Arencibia shows you around himself and should be a national treasure if he is not already. He also runs a casa particular with his wife, one I wish I had stayed in (not that there was anything wrong with the one we were in, but hanging out with Mr and Mrs Arencibia would be most excellent).

10. El Hotel Inglaterra

I am not loaded so I could not afford to stay in this place, but we spent a lot of time drinking mojitos here. It is one of those delightfully atmospheric old hotels, but it also has working Internet and left luggage facilities we were able to use (unlike the more modestly priced hotel in which we stayed for our last couple of nights in Havana).

11. Ballet

It was only when I started learning Spanish that I discovered how big ballet is in Cuba. I think a lot of this might be down to the influence of Alicia Alonso, the glory of Cuba as I saw her described somewhere. We went to the ballet ourselves on our last night in Havana, catching a ballet that told the story of some exciting mixed race Caribbean fellow from the 18th century who composed music (to which the ballet was set) and raised a regiment to fight for the French Revolution. I have never been to proper ballet before, and it was very exciting stuff.

12. The Terry Thomas Caves

OK, so they are actually the Santo Tomas Caves, but as we had already visited the Terry Thomas Theatre (or Teatro de Don Tomas Terry) we started imagining that everything in Cuba had been renamed after that gap-toothed bounder. If you have ever been in caves you will understand in broad terms what these ones, near Viñales, were like, but they seemed a bit rougher round the edges than others I have visited. We went in as part of a tour, but I would love to know how many people injure themselves there every year.

13. El Museo de la Revolución

Situated in the former presidential palace, this museum is dedicated to the Cuban Revolution, telling the story of Castro's guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra and then the achievements of the revolutionary regime. It is all very one-sided – everything is one bout of successful progress and unfortunate occurrences (like the fall of Communism abroad and the economic collapse of the early 1990s) are only mentioned in passing, if at all. But it is still a fascinating window into how the Cuban regime portrays itself. If there is ever a political transition in Cuba then this museum should be put in a museum.

As well as the exhibits inside the former presidential palace, the museum also includes various bits of military hardware outside – a T-34 and a light aircraft used against "los mercenarios de los Yanquis" at the Bay of Pigs, some home-made tanks used during the revolution, and the Granma yacht in which the Castros, Che, Camilo Cienfuegos and the others travelled from Mexico to start the war against the Batista dictatorship.

An inuit panda production

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