Having packed last night, Liv and I head back to the beach for another look and dip our feet in the Caribbean before heading to breakfast.
Today we are off to Camagüey. Referred to as the "City of Tinajoines," because of the city's trademark of oversized jars that adorn interior courtyards — some over 6-feet tall! The city lies in the heart of cattle country. So much cattle country that I have a hard time keeping my eyes open as we drive hours across flat range and agricultural land — lots sugar cane!
After checking in and settling in our room, we are off to the Plaza del Carmen at the heart of the historical City Center. Our guide Héctor tells us that not long ago the Plaza was a ruin, but is now restored to a state better than the original. The cobbled plaza has been decorated with giant tinajones (clay pots), nice lighting. At one end is Iglesia del Carmen church with its pale pink facade and twin bell towers dating from 1825. It is a gorgeous church inside though the lighting was too dim to get any good images, except for a side chapel.
In the center of the plaza are a number of life-size ceramic figures of locals depicting their daily pursuits . . . a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper; a pair of lovers in an embrace; three women gossiping over coffee . Some of the locals like to "hang out" with their sculptural twins, which is quite wonderful to behold!
We immediately bee-line to Restaurant El Ovejito ("the lamb") for lunch. We learn the name references the restaurant's specialty. Furnished with wooden tables and leather stools, the walls of are covered with ceramic murals made by renowned artist Oscar Rodríguez Lasseria. There are ceramic vases made by Navario Jimenez Salazar, another prestigious local artist. The restaurant is managed by the office of the Camagüey City Historian. Many of us pt for the house specialty: stuffed lamb blade, prepared boned and larded with carrots and bacon, rolled and toasted, then sliced and served with mojo (garlic sauce) and tomato salsa. My apologies for being so hungry that I didn't take one photograph of the restaurant or the food. Suffice it to say lunch was yummy!
Martha's husband, artist José Jimenez was not able to be with us as he teaches at the local university.
In a country where most employment is through state-sanctioned enterprises, artists are more free to open their studios for visits and sales. In addition to free education, there are multiple government programs assisting the arts. Slowly, we are discovering that various cities we will be visiting in Cuba are centers for specific art forms. How refreshing . . .
The technical base of the dancers training, we learn, is classical and supplemented with modern dance training and experimental and improvisational exercises. The company performs throughout Cuba and internationally in competitions. The company's aesthetic is to transmit through dance symbolic visual messages that express the spirituality that drives all humans to find themselves. From time to time, the company has invited international choreographers to enrich the company's repertoire and their artistic and aesthetic sensibilities.
During a question/answer period with Tania Vergara Perez and company, I am astounded by some in our group who are unable to appreciate and experience this company without bringing up US comparisons, as if everything in America is superior. This dance company is phenomenal! Besides, Cuba and its government, quite unlike the US, actually fund the arts, provides space and financial support to its artists with education and wages. In its support of the arts, Cuba has thus far demonstrated its superiority to the US.
Restaurant 1800 is located in a circa 1800s building (as are the furnishings) and the food is by far the best we've had thus far on this trip — locally sourced! Besides its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, which provides it excellent lobster, shrimp and fish, we learn that Camagëy is known for its dairy production and the churned butter and homemade cheeses don't disappoint. In fact, their thick natural yogurt is served along side a bowl of sugar so you can decide for yourself how sweet you want it!
After selecting our rum cocktails and entree, we are directed to a buffet for our starters, side dishes, and eventually, dessert. After dinner, we tour their impressive wine cellar before saying good-night to the chef and heading back to the Gran Hotel for a much anticipated night sleep!