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Friday, June 5, 2015


Museo de Artes Deorativas displays interiors from the 18th century
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015.

DAY 4, Sunday Visit to Historic Santa Clara
This morning, the troupe April 23rd departed by motor coach on a countryside drive to the historic city of Santa Clara, in the geographic center of Cuba. The city's fiery personality has been shaped over time by the presence of the nation' s most prestigious university outside Havana, and a long association with Che Guevara, whose liberation of Santa Clara in 1958 marked the end of the Batista regime.

Che Guevara's Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara
Bruce Henderson photograph
Begin the day with a visit to the Monument, Mausoleum and Museum built to honor Ernesto "Che" Guevara; the imposing "Che" statue can be seen for miles around the city.  Today, was un dia muy caliente!.

Trio from the Catedra Studio plays Renaissance music   Phyllis Shess photo
We continued our visit in central Santa Clara at the Museo de Artes Decorativas, an 18th-century mansion, now a museum, filled with Baroque desks, art nouveau mirrors and art deco furniture that emphasizes the country's diverse architectural heritage. Here we enjoyed a performance by the Catedra Studio group playing traditional and old Spanish Renaissance music. At the end of the performance, we have the opportunity to interact with the musicians and purchase a CD.  Most of the musicians, who performed for us on the tour offered CDs 

Greeters at Allegria de Vivir, a community project for seniors  Phyllis Shess photo
Continued the day with an extraordinary visit to Allegria de Vivir, a community project for seniors. We were greeted warmly by four of our hosts dressed in everyday garb to holiday dress.  We were entertained with various dances of Cuba and the women offered an explanation of how the hand fan plays a role in Hispanic courtships.  It was done sincerely, but with coy smiles.  Our hosts were all in their 70s.  They had goods for sale that were better than any of the crafts we saw on the streets.  I purchased two bracelets for only three CUCs and the work was impressive.

The senior men challenged the visitors to a game of Quimbumbia, a street game with a short wooden stick and a tapered wooden peg.  How to play Quimbumbia is explained in detailed later in this blog.  At bat, I struck the “ball” the farthest and won a knitted sombrero pin for my efforts.

The winner was asked to pose with the ladies before we hugged our way back to the bus and to our next stop: lunch at the Hotel America, downtown.

Winner of the Cuba/USA Quimbumbia 
match poses with the senioritas.

We walked off a delicious lunch with a stroll to the center of the city, view the Parque Vidal and the Teatro de La Caridad, the Plaza del Mercado Central and Hotel Santa Clara before returning to Cienfuegos for the evening.

Back in Cienfuegos
The trip back to Cienfuegos was hilly and we crossed many rivers flowing out of the nearby mountains.  It was the same mountains, where Fidel Castro’s band of rebels staged many of their raids against Dictator Batista’s army.

Concert by local music teachers wowed visitors inside Cienfuegos Museum   
Tom Shess photo
We arrived in the center plaza of Cienfuegos and were ushered into a public building across from the Theatro Terry.  To our absolute delight, a happy and enthusiastic ensemble of young Cubans entertained a collection of very road weary tourists.  But by the end of the performance, musicians and audience were dancing with each other.  We learned that the orchestra, are made up of area music teachers.  For openers, the group surprised us by playing a beautiful and haunting rendition of “Shenendoah.” To standing applause, the ensemble followed with classical pieces interspace with lively Cubano numbers.  Yes, I have a CD.

Even with the best intentions, the tour encountered schedule changes.  Our free evening on the town was after tonight.

April 23 Brigade was warmly greeted by the owner of Finca Del Mar, a popular restaurant along the malecon in Cienfuegos.  In honor of our visit, he flew the Stars & Stripes for the evening.      Mike Shess photo

More than a dozen of our tour went to Finca Del Mar, a restaurant across the malecon on Cienfuego Bay.  The owner was so happy to have new American friends dining with him that he unexpectedly hauled out Old Glory and proudly let it wave next to the Cuban flag at sunset.

We all walked back to the hotel very tired and content with another remarkable lobster feast.
Lunch at Santa Clara's Hotel America 
Breakfast:  Special breakfast buffet for our tour next door at the Casa Verde, a reconverted home by the Hotel Jagua operators.
Lunch:  Buffet of salmon and beef at the Hotel America restaurant
Dinner: Finca del Mar restaurant, half a mile north of hotel La Perla del Mar.  View the YouTube video:

Finca ("farm") Del Mar Restaurant half mile north of the Hotel Jagua, Cienfuegos, Cuba

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