Moa to Baracoa

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 11 May 2011 14:04
The guide books warn travellers about visiting Moa. The whole area including the town itself is covered in a layer of red dust as a result of the open-cast mining carried out there which is part of the process of nickel production by a Canadian company.  There is absolutely no reason for any tourist to stop there and we didn't, but its on the way to Baracoa with no alternative route so we closed off the air-con intake vents and proceeded with maximum possible safe speed.
We arrived in Baracoa in the afternoon  and set about finding accommodation. Our friends had recommended a Casa Particular (Cuban B&B) worth staying at but with tricky one-way signposting, narrow streets and the odd horse and cart to contend with it took a while and a couple of in-car 'domestic discussions' before we eventually found where we were looking for, however, being Easter weekend it was fully booked. The proprietor said she knew of another place across town and jumped into the back seat of our car to show the way through the narrow streets. We were in luck and were soon offloading our bags into a narrow old building with a light airy wide passageway where the family sit and watch their colour television with two bedrooms accessed off the passage through doors over 10 feet high. For once Phil had no need to duck. Ours was the only car in the street and the owner of the house who had very little English vocabulary helped us park the car more closely to the very high curb so as not to block or hinder through traffic. Whilst there we feared for the condition of the car and our $311 deposit as huge open trucks packed with people, a common form of transport in rural Cuba, rumbled past with inches to spare.
Baracoa on the northeast coast is Cuba's oldest city and was only accessible by boat until as recently as 1964 when finally a road was constructed linking it with Santiago da Cuba in the south. Because of this isolation the town has retained much of its history and charm and is a 'must-see' on any tourist's itinerary.  Large sections of the town lay in disrepair with no money available to help save many fine old buildings from capitulation. But the Baracoans are very welcoming and with plenty of pavement cafes to sit at, especially in the vicinity of the ancient Cathedral which is undergoing renovation tourists can watch the locals going about their business or in this case enjoying their Easter festivities which seemed partly to comprise of staggering around with huge pink cakes in their arms. and we mean huge!
Baracoa highlights for us were the Trova (music) Bar with nightly live music including a host with a very outgoing personality and just enough English to poke fun of the visiting tourists between songs from the musicians. All in good taste with a twinkle in the eye although one Dutch couple sensed they were being short-changed and promptly walked out. Most of the music in Cuba, and there is a lot to be enjoyed, is performed by local groups whose only source of income is to pass round the hat. The bar or restaurant merely provides the location to play in.
Our other interesting visit was to Las Cuava del Paraiso which was once a Taino Indian burial ground situated high above Baracoa. Many relics of this long lost tribe have been gathered in the museum set in the caves of a mountain overlooking the town. Remains of ancient skeletons can be seen lying curled up where they were excavated covered over by glass sheeting set into the cave floor. From their bones they appear to have been a small tribe in stature although this may be an illusion due to careless excavation. When they invaded Cuba the Spanish reputedly made pretty short work of the Tainos with those not contracting European illnesses succumbing to the brutal tactics of the invaders including the odd burning at the stake for those not willing to convert to the Catholic faith.
The approach to this interesting site was along some steep roads before finding a path through a very poor area of tightly packed shanty huts made from anything that would keep water out with a cacophony of sounds from the chickens, cockerels and pigs kept close-by . Our self conducted tour lasted an hour or so and involved some challenging climbs up and down rustic ladders made from twigs and thin branches that seemed to be nailed into the surrounding tree limbs or jammed into orifices in the rock. Health and safety in Cuba is not quite what it is elsewhere! The views over Baracoa from the cave entrances were excellent but crumpled evidence discovered by the 'Admiral' lying on the cave floor would certainly not have pleased members of the Catholic church and indicated that local youths meet in the caves after closing time not to study the remains of the dead but to grope and fondle very much alive specimens of the living. The security did seem rather lax!
After a walk round the harbour to view the beach with its backdrop of palms overlooked by the hulk of a merchant ship rotting in the shallows we left Baracoa for the long drive to Santiago and a region of Cuba surely most people on the planet have heard of - if not for the infamous presence of alleged enemies of the USA  then maybe the famous love song played by musicians the world over  -  Guantanamo - or in the latter case Guantanamera.