Happy April Fools Day! Unfortunately, it is no joke that Liv and I are up early this morning to pack, have breakfast, and be ready to leave by 8 AM. A very short sleep last night!
Today’s destination is Bayamo, which is located about 4 hours drive, in southeastern Cuba. It is the capital city of the Granma Province and one of the largest in eastern Cuba. Founded in 1513 by Diego Velázquez, it is Cuba’s second oldest city. Our route takes us past agriculture and ranch land and in view of the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains,
After being dropped off by our driver Hector, we walk to the main square, Plaza de la Revolución, which is a central meeting point and surrounded by pedestrian-only streets, making it very quiet and peaceful. Bayamo is recognized for its outdoor music venues, many of which take place at this plaza.
We meet with and learn more about the history of Cuba with a local historian who shares that education was conceived as the fulcrum around which the Cuban Revolution’s economic, political, social and cultural programs would turn. On January 1, 1961, a National Literacy Campaign was launched sending 235,000 volunteers throughout the country. In just one-year they reduced the country’s illiteracy rate from 25% to 3.9%. Wanting to capitalize upon this wave of popular mobilization and eduction, Fidel and Ché launched the idea for art schools that would serve Cubans as a center for the education of artists and instructors and from which cultural literacy could be disseminated. Because of Ché’s international interests, the program drew students from Africa, Asia and Latin America in service of the creation of a “new culture” for the “new man.” In this way, the art schools would have the political objective to educate those artists who give socialism in both Cuba and the Third World its aesthetic representation.. They would also be experimental centers for intercultural educate and exchange.
Here, we also are treated to the beautiful voices of a local choir that has performed throughout Cuba and abroad.
The faithful come from across Cuba on pilgrimages to pay their respects to, and ask for protection from, a black Madonna — the Virgen de la Caridad (Virgin of Charity). She is nothing less than the protectress of Cuba, and her image, cloaked in a glittering gold robe can be seen throughout the country. According to legend, Cuba's patron saint was rescued bobbing in the Bay of Nipe in 1611 by three young fishermen (or miners, depending on who's telling the story) about to capsize in a storm. The Madonna wore a sign that read: "Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad" (I am the Virgin of Charity). With the wooden statue in their grasp, they miraculously made it to shore. Pilgrims, who often make the last section of the trek on their knees, pray to her image and place mementos (votos) and offerings of thanks for her miracles; among them are small boats and prayers for those who have tried to make it to Florida on rafts. Ernest Hemingway, whose fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea made a promise to visit the shrine if he could only land his marlin, donated his Nobel Prize for Literature to the shrine, but it was stolen (and later recovered, but never again exhibited here).
Her parallel figure in Afro-Cuban worship is Ochún, goddess of love and femininity, who is also dark-skinned and dressed in bright yellow garments. In 1998 the Pope visited and blessed the shrine, calling the Virgin "La Reina de los Cubanos" (Queen of Cubans), and donated a rosary and crown.
The Virgen sits on the second floor, up the back stairs, encased in glass. When Mass is said, the push of a button turns the Virgin around to face the congregation. The annual pilgrimage is September 12, and the patron saint's feast day is July 25.
It is after 7PM when we arrive at Hotel Mélia Santiago — just in time to leave our things in our room and head to the hotel’s bar to order a drink and then hit the hotel's buffet. A very, very long day!