No visit to Cuba is complete without taking in the Catedral de San Cristobal. Its baroque façade will leave you breathless. Pope John Paul II visited this magnificence place of comfort and worship in 1998.
Our visit coincided with the Cuban National Series. Several in our group went to a game.
Los Industriales, Havana’s favorite team and winner of 12 of the 52 series, made it to the semifinals. Dave, seen here and kindred baseball soul, was in another group that paralleled ours. He went on the first night. Several folks in our group went to a game and enjoyed seeing the passion in the stands.
As someone who recalls a golden age when ball fields dotted the landscape in America and soccer fields did not, it did my heart good to be in a country that cares only for baseball. It’s the official sport of the country and the only game in town. Looking out the window on our bus, I saw boys tossing balls around and organized games being played in the middle of the day on well-worn diamonds.
Cuba (pop. 11M) has produced 181 major league players, including Hall of Famers Martin Dihigo, Cristobal Torriente, Jose Mendez, and Tony Perez. Active players include the Reds flame throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman, SS Yunel Escobar with the Rays, and Yasiel Puig, outfielder with the Dodgers who is learning that “Cuba time” does not cut it in the big leagues. The Braves manager also hails from Cuba.
(A brief aside, because I have to mention Los Gigantes. The New York Giants legendary manager John McGraw spent time in Cuba. He first went there as a scrawny shortstop in 1890. The locals dubbed him “El Mono Amarillo.” The fiery skipper returned in 1911 with his National League champs in tow to play exhibition games in Havana. McGraw also took regular winter trips to the island to soak up the sun and bet on the horses. His biographer, Charles Alexander, points out McGraw frequented Dos Hermanos, a seaside watering hole).
For me, the highlight of this tour came in the town of Cardenas, known for its horse-drawn carriages and being the home of Elián González.
We visited Arte Urbano, a community center where children performed a play based on the Wizard of Oz. Afterwards, we interacted with the children and parents. Not sure who was happier, the kids or us!
Fully sustainable was the word at this community garden.
Cuban School of Chinese Martial Arts (Wushu), headed by a Chinese Cuban.
The better half and her two friends walked around “El Barrio Chino” to discover what was distinctly Chinese in the area.
We ate lots of fruits, these grown on Coincidencia Farm near Varadero.
A year or so after the Cuban revolution (1959) overthrew the Batista regime, the U.S. Embargo against Cuba began. A visible remnant of the days prior to this are the bulky cars that still motor along. This one is a ’48 Buick.
Mariela Aleman Orozco
In Matanzas, award-winning textile and fashion designer Mariela Aleman Orozco showed us how she makes fabric.
Her studio also supports this professional photographer.
We spent our final morning walking the beach in Varadero.
Here in Washington, a $2B redevelopment of the southwest part of the city will soon take place. The transformation will draw in visitors in numbers never seen before in this underappreciated part of the city. On their waterfront stroll, they will perhaps encounter the Cuban-American Friendship Urn, a marble statue originally located in Havana. It commemorates those sailors and Marines who lost their lives on board the USS Maine in 1898.
Cuba, too, is poised for big-time redevelopment. From what we saw, all signs point to a rekindling of the friendship between these two neighboring countries.