ABOARD LOUIS CRISTAL — Awoke to the ever present clear skies and 90-degree temperatures I’ve come to expect in Cuba. We are anchored in the Bahia de Nipe in the Province of Holguin. It was here that Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, declaring Holguin “the most beautiful land ever seen by human eyes.”
The shore excursion today is a unique one for me and matches perfectly with my interest in politics and history – a trip to Biran, the birthplace and childhood home of Fidel Castro and also, of course, of Raul who has taken over running the country for his ailing and aged brother.
The trip begins in Antilla, a small town where everyone travels by horse and cart. It’s busy today as tonight is New Year’s Eve and it is the tradition in Cuba that families and friends get together for a big feast, usually roasting a pig and celebrating for hours.
I was a bit shocked to see, on the main street of town, a pig being slaughtered and butchered on a table. We’re so used to getting our food wrapped in plastic that seeing the process of killing and preparing the pig so openly is a shock, but it’s the unvarnished reality of the food chain!
The drive to Biran is a long one, almost two hours, but the countryside is beautiful, with rolling hills and green forests. I noticed that the country homes were very poor, small and simple but invariably immaculate. Gardens were carefully tended and there was no sign of litter.
As we approached Biran a convoy of cars passed us. In one, an elderly man in the front seat waved and smiled. Later we learned that this was Raul Castro. He had come to his family home to bid farewell to the old year and to lay flowers on his father’s grave.
To learn that Fidel was born on a prosperous estate and that he was raised in privilege is a revelation for me. The 23,000-acre estate has several homes, a cock fighting arena, a hotel, houses for workers and a school where Fidel was taught in the early years.
It was also the first property that was seized and nationalized when Fidel came to power.
There are pictures of Fidel as a child and a young man, and with his family. It’s an intimate look at a man about whom the world, and even the people of Cuba, know little.
Later we visited a farm to meet the farmer and to sample hand-ground and fire-roasted Cuban coffee, and to taste all the fruits grown there – sugar cane, coconuts, star fruit, bananas, peanuts.
The finale was a visit to a ranch where we had a typical Cuban meal, with roast pork, rice and beans and dessert. A trio of Cuban musicians entertained us during our meal. Some passengers went horseback riding while others relaxed beside a stream under the trees.
We returned to the ship as the sun set, and enjoyed dinner and a celebratory evening of dancing and music to greet the new year. I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion, although I have more questions and curiosity about the Castro family now than before. I am going to do some reading when I get home and find out more about this country and its leaders.
One thing about traveling – it makes you realize how much you don’t know.
Other excursions, in addition to the trip to Biran and Alcala, ranging in price from $57 to $174, for this port included:
- A trip to Paradise Island
- A Tour of Cuban Life
- Swimming with Dolphins and Beach time in Guardalavaca.
- Antilla Countryside