Teresa Bevin's Cuba Blog


Teresa will be in Camagüey, Cuba January 13 - 22, 2004

Week ONE in Camagüey, Cuba

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Camagüey Weather



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Saturday, January 17, 2004 - The beach at Santa Lucia was fantastic.  The weather perfect.  I hope you folks in the states get a reprieve from the cold.  Last night Burlington, VT was featured on Cuban TV.  They said 40 below and a Civil Emergency.  Geeze.  Here it couldn't be more ideal.

We met some people from New Zealand who had fallen in love with  Santa Lucia. Most people do. The water is completely clear.  You could see your toenails against the  bottom. I tried to be moderate and did not get sunburned.  We ate a great lunch of perch, salad, and rice. We swam a lot and enjoyed the view.

Returning back to the city of  Camagüey, we drove through several little towns.   The "traffic" on the roads consisted of  people who were hitchhiking, and  trucks of all sizes, loaded with passengers on the truck beds.  Everywhere there are horse-drawn carriages with signs that read  "CUBA TAXI."

There aren't as many cows as I remember.  Neither is there any sugar cane.  The fields are dry because this place has seen no rain in a long long while.  On the way to the beach we stopped at the ruins of an old sugar mill that used to be operated by slaves.  The wheel is still there, and it says "New York."  There was also the biggest bee hive I've ever seen.  Millions of them.  I took pictures of three little girls who were playing around it!  The hive was near a cafeteria where we stopped for coffee.  The attendant was playing Celia Cruz's  last CD.  Very odd.  People love to play Celia.

The beach was full of tourists, mostly German and Canadian, it seems.  But we found a nearly empty spot and rented chairs that cost a dollar each.  Comfy though.  After a long swim, we had lunch and were serenaded by a group of musicians.  No. It wasn't a group,  it was a crowd.  Loads of guitars and bongos.  But not pushy people.  Just nice guajiros with a great sense of humor who did not expect five bucks.  They were great.

The way back was adorned by a sunset to die for.  And a traffic jam of cows and horses.

Now we are home.  The church is chiming.  I'm dusty and gritty and need a shower.  Ah yes, the water came back yesterday!

Cattle Blocking Road in Camaguey, Cuba

Traffic jam, Camagüey countryside


Santa Lucia Beach
Camagüey, Cuba

Horseback Riding, Santa Lucia Beach, Camaguey, Cuba

Beach Facility - Santa Lucia Beach, Camaguey, Cuba


 Camagüey Market

Camaguey Outdoor Market
Shoppers at Camaguey Market
Selling at Camaguey Market

Friday, January 16, 2004 - A low-keyed, but intense day.  I'm tired.  Lots of walking.  That's the way in Cuba.  The time I spent with my cousins and their families was intense.  They've had a very difficult go at life but seem contented.  Thin, tired and contented.  Adriana adores her first grandchild and I can see why.  The baby is a cutie -- the product of Adriana's son (who's a family member and therefore very  handsome), and a gorgeous woman who is the Cuban version of Queen Latifa.  The kind of baby that makes you act the fool performing "goo-goos," tickles, and non-descript noises that would embarrass you at any other time.

I went to a local produce market, and a few other stores today. The fruits and vegetables are now grown and sold by local farmers (unlike years ago when all farming & produce sales were nationalized).  I was able to get lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and garlic that were all robust and fresh.  The fruit, however was heavenly.  There is no comparison in the states.  The guava was as creamy and smooth as  pudding.  The red papaya was sweet and meaty and succulent.  Although the cost of everything was far less than I would pay for produce in  Washington, D.C., the prices were much too high for any camagüeyano to pay except for special occasions.

And all this has led me to wonder about the import and export business.  My little shopping trip exposed me to name-brand U.S. goods for sale at various locations.  Items such as Hellman's Mayonnaise (Regular & Light), Frito Lay potato chips, organic fruit juice (I don't remember the brand), spaghetti, Selsun Blue Shampoo and other products from the U.S.! I don't understand how these things can be here if Americans are not permitted to do business with Cuba? Am I missing something here?  It boggles my mind to think about it all, so I won't...for now, at least.  Tomorrow I'm going to the beach and thinking can wait  until I get home.


Fresh Cuban Fruit
Cuban Fruit

Links to the Very Odd Business of US-Cuba Trade Relations (in no particular order):

Food & Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council

California-Cuba Trade

Dominion Web (U.K.)

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U.S. Apple shipment to Cuba

U.S. Apple Export to Cuba

(Havana, 2003)

Thursday, January 15, 2004 - Being away from my calendar is liberating, but can cause some confusion.  Yesterday I thought today was the day I was to see my cousin and more family, but that will happen tomorrow.  I'm beginning to measure the passage of time by events, not by dates....

The art show last night was exciting and was attended my many local people and some tourists, I suspect.  Julio Enrique, the artist, put together a beautiful exhibit of his work.  We go back to childhood together and I am so proud of his accomplishments. He is a talented multi-media artist, sculpture, illustrator.

His exhibit also served to put me in touch with many artists and friends and I spent most of today  meeting with them, sharing lunch or coffee, visiting their homes.  Camagüey has always been a city filled with art, artists, writers and musicians, and now is no exception.  I think many of these people are on the leading edge in their fields.  Several years ago I renewed my acquaintance with Ileana Sanchez and Joel Jover, a fascinating couple, each an artist and each having a very unique style. They've exhibited their work throughout the world, including the U.S.

I also briefly met up with Juan Antonio García Borrero, a film critic and writer whom I'd met while attending a conference for Artists and Educators in Havana last year.  I'm hoping to spend some additional time with him to discuss what's happening  in Cuban film and literature.  The creative electricity here is palpable!   Camagüey is cookin!

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Camagüey is the largest province in Cuba, and the city of Camagüey is the third largest on the island. One of the oldest settlements in the Caribbean, it was originally named Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe and was situated on the coast.  The capital was moved inland to is current location, possibly to avoid pirates and marauders that were commonplace, and eventually the name of both the province and the city were changed to Camagüey after the indigenous people of the region.  

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Some Sides of the Debate:

Net for Cuba

Wednesday, January 14, 2004 - Today in Camagüey there was a sprinkling of rain for an hour or two, then the sun promptly returned.  The temperature was in the high 70s Fahrenheit.  I don't feel guilty about hearing that my friends in the Washington, D.C. area are experiencing cold weather, or that those in Burlington, VT were enduring weather of -7°F!  But it would be nice if they could join me here.  

The city is in a hubbub, sprucing up in preparation of the 490th Anniversary of the province on February 2, 2004.  Buildings that have been neglected for ages are being patched up and getting new coats of paint -- a mixed blessing since some of the very very old classic structures are being treated with plaster and paint over old stone masonry or adobe.  The Iglesia de la Merced is one example.  It is the church in which I was baptized and in which many family events took place.  I don't even recall how old it is, but there are subterranean catacombs that are open to the public.  The passages are narrow, so some people turn back before the tour is over.  But back to the paint job, which is almost a desecration of a beautiful structure.  The painting is halfway complete so the difference between the pale flamingo pink paint on the lower half and the aged, stately stones on the upper portion of the church is glaring. 

Ten years ago I lamented over how the church was left to go into ruin, with crumbling steps and masonry, and a roof that leaked so much it might as well not have existed.  Since the Pope's visit, more care has been given to Cuba's churches. La Merced's roof has been patched and her bell is once again ringing.  And ringing.  And ringing... The place where I am staying in Camagüey is  next to the church.  The bell rings once every 15 minutes, and tolls on every hour (unless the electricity goes out).  Somehow, though, I slept through the ringing of the bells last night.

The Plaza de los Trabajadores off which La Merced  is located, also hosts the Gran Hotel, a notable structure as well, and  popular with tourists, perhaps in part because it has a swimming pool with live music that drifts up to the balcony of my host's apartment.  Cubans have never been a quiet people, and have always expressed themselves through music.  So in addition to the poolside concert during the early part of the night, I was treated to the musical expressions of the youth of  Camagüey as they serenaded each other (and me) from the steps of Iglesia de La Merced through the night until four a.m. There is little other distraction for young people, so they create their own -- and most of their music sounded better than the amplified poolside entertainment. 

I really wanted to e-mail my diary and digital photos for posting on a daily basis, but the cyber café on the corner is nearly impossible to access.  The lines begin before it opens at 7:00 a.m. and continue all day until closing.  I don't know if there's another one in the city, but maybe I could find a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who has one of the rare government-approved computers that I can use.  I also have to remember to re-charge the camera's battery tonight because tomorrow the electricity will be shut off while the apartment building is being painted for the Anniversary celebration.  Why do they turn off the electricity to paint a building?  But I hope they don't make everything look like the wedding-cake church.  Maybe there's only two colors of paint available?  But now I'm sounding sour, and I don't mean to be.  It may be that the years have enhanced my memories beyond the truth of the matter.  I'm just happy that efforts are being made to preserve these architectural treasures.

I know this is sounding like a reality series, but I am determined to report my experiences as they occur:

There has not been any running water for 5 days

We drink bottled water and use rain water for "other" things.  I'm told that water is pumped periodically through the old aqueduct and can be retrieved and carried to the apartment.  No one seems to be suffering, though, and I really can't say that I am either, but I am amazed. I remember what it was like during Hurricane Isabel this summer, and Cubans live without public utilities all the time.  But I don't feel inconvenienced, not even by the lack of e-mail access, because my web person and I planned for that possibility, and I'm dictating this diary to her by telephone.  Which is why there's no real-time photos or Spanish version -- she doesn't know the language well enough to do the transcription, so the translation will have to wait until I return to the states.

Again and again, I never cease to be amazed at my people's resiliency.  In spite of living in conditions that we Americans might consider as lacking, the Cubans seize the enjoyable parts of their lives and relish every little pleasure.  My cousin was so pleased with the prescription eyeglasses I brought for her that you'd think I gave her a Mercedes Benz.  Tomorrow I'll spend much of the day with family members that I haven't seen yet on this trip.  Tonight we go to an art show of a friend's drawings, and I've asked my web person to locate and post some photos of the drawings that were sent to me a few months ago.  I hope the show has good attendance, but access may be difficult.  It seems that the street in front of the gallery was torn up today as the first stage of repaving in preparation for the Anniversary Celebration.  There is no street, just mounds of rocks and rubble.   But Cubans are used to that. 


Iglesia de La Merced

Iglesia de la Merced


The Catholic Church in Cuba


 Architecture of Camagüey



Cuba Trivia

Ylang ylang tree

     The Ylang-Ylang (Cananga) Tree, also called the "Perfume Tree," which thrives in Cuba, was brought there  from the Oceana region of the world. Its blossoms are used to create delicate and expensive perfumes. 


Street repair, Havana, Cuba 2003

Street repair, Havana, Cuba 2003

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Map of Cuba

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 - I arrived at the airport as prescribed, 4:00 a.m., and located the gate and sign that read "Departure 8:00 a.m. Camagüey, Cuba." The line at the gate was already long, and it was 6:00 a.m. before I got through check-in. But at least I had time to relax for a couple of hours. The length of time in line appeared to increase to the extent that some people who arrived at 5:30 were worrying about whether they'd be done in time to board at eight.

Both the flight and the man who sat next to me were delightful.  I learned that he came to the United States on the Mariel Boat Lift and this was his first trip back to Cuba in 20 years.  Now living in Wisconsin, this guajiro,* filled with excitement over seeing a drove of grandchildren for the first time, was funny, gentle and thoroughly charming. There was no doubt that he was Cuban, with his dark hair still visible under layers of gray, his accent thicker than cane syrup. His slightly nervous chatter kept me happily occupied and his enthusiasm was infectious.

Bleary from lack of sleep, my first glimpse of the island from the window of the airplane filled me with adrenaline.  I was not the only person affected by the view.  As we decreased in altitude, one woman questioned any who would listen, "I don't see any sugar cane?!"

The anonymous response came, "There isn't any!"

"But why?"

"Because it's not important anymore."

Someone else exclaimed, "I don't see any tinajones*!"

The answer came back "They're not important either."

Wry Cuban humor endures.

By the time we finally landed, the cabin was filled with cheers, applause and screams of excitement.  The prevailing emotion was an odd combustion of joy and sadness.  We strained to be polite, when in truth we were bursting with the desire to shove each other aside like children pushing through the just-opened gate of an amusement park.  A very unique place. 

Illustration of Airplane
*Guajiro - a person from the Cuban countryside
There are many documents and viewpoints about the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift. 

General Chronology

*Tinajon - a large earthen jar used to collect rain water

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Monday, January 12, 2004 - Today the trip begins. I am relieved to have the preparations completed. Packing was only a part of the pre-planning scenario. As soon as people in the states who have family in Cuba  learned that I was planning a trip there, they began requesting that I courier letters, money, books, clothing and other essentials to relatives for them.  Perhaps refusing most of them is the hardest part of preparation.  I already was at my limit with items for my own people.  Then there was coordinating flight plans.  Normally there's no problem synchronizing a plane to Miami with a Miami-to-Havana flight schedule since there are several flights daily to Havana, five or six days a week. This time I opted to try the direct flight to Camagüey so I wouldn't have to drive there from Havana -- a trip of about eight hours with good conditions. There are only a total of  two flights to Camagüey each week, leaving at 8:00 a.m. and requiring passengers to be the airport by 4:00 a.m.  So I am staying overnight in a Miami hotel close to the airport, and by the time this gets posted on the internet, I hope to be sleeping so I can be at the airport before the sun rises.  I don't need to dream tonight because tomorrow I will be in a place that I've dreamt about for months.

Teresa Bevin ready to depart for Cuba
 Ready for Camagüey


Map of Camagüey

Camagüey Weather

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Teresa's collection of
 Cuba photos



Sunday, January 11, 2004 - "My bags are packed, I'm ready to go..." to quote an old Peter, Paul & Mary song.  I think I've managed to get the weight down to 2 pounds under the maximum limit.  Now my worry is that maybe I've left something out that I should be taking ...

Going to Cuba always prompts a mix of emotions for me, and this time, the emotions seem stronger and more complex.  The fact that my mother died last month is undoubtedly a major influence on my state of mind as I prepare for the return to my place of birth.  My mother left Camagüey in 1979 and never returned.  On this journey, I'll be taking a few of her old possessions to distribute to family and friends as remembrances of her, so in some physical way, she'll be traveling with me, visiting all the old places, greeting all the people left behind.  

I feel that I'm learning about the country that I took for granted as a child, and know that I possess this rare opportunity to go back to explore those places of my youth.  Not everyone can or cares to go back. I see it as an adventure of rediscovery. There's a nature reserve  in the mountains of Camagüey that I'm looking forward to visiting next week, that is accessible only on horseback.  My remembrance of being there as a child is pleasant but vague.  I can't wait to test my new camera on the scenery.

Teresa Rodriguez Larrua, Teresa Bevin's Mother

Teresa Rodriguez Larrua
1916 - 2003

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Saturday, January 10, 2004 - The trip to my home town of Camagüey, Cuba is now only a few days away.  I've re-packed my luggage so many times, I've lost count. By law, we're only allowed to take 44 pounds into Cuba without additional charge, including carry-on luggage. For anything over that, there's a charge of $2 (US) per pound up to a maximum of 20 pounds -- and that 20 pounds can only be of a medical nature.  I don't know whether the U.S. or Cuba initiated those regulations -- though I suspect it's some mutual agreement since we usually get charged twice -- once before we leave the U.S. and another time when we arrive in Cuba.  Only in Cuba it depends on the agent inspecting the luggage.  Sometimes materials are even confiscated.  I've heard stories from people I trust, but I've never experienced anything but polite and unquestionable treatment.

So I'm packing again, re-weighing the luggage, removing unnecessary packaging materials, taking tubes of ointment, cream and toothpaste out of their little cardboard boxes, placing CDs in paper sleeves instead of plastic cases, reducing weight bit by bit.  My good, sturdy suitcase was too heavy, so last month I bought a cheap, light-weight suitcase.  I hope it doesn't fall apart before a get there.

Packing for trip to Cuba

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Although support to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba for non-Cuban born Americans appears to be growing, it is still illegal for most U.S. citizens to travel to that island.  The U.S. Department of State website and the U.S. Treasury website contain regularly updated guidelines for the public.  

NOTE:  The U.S. Interests Section, Havana lists the latest U.S. Government Statements and News on U.S. Policy toward Cuba.

©Teresa Bevin 2010
Updated 05/15/2011