Museum Cave Exterior


It was a low key day.  Once in a while you need that: hair, laundry, suitcase — they need a bit of extra time here and there.   I was not even sure if I would leave the casa at all today.  Celibeth had gone out to the local beach.  I was determined to catch up on the blog and other things.  But finally, in the early afternoon, I had some bees under my bonnet and looked for something to do: the Museo Arqueologico Cueva del Paraiso seemed a good choice.

In any other country this museum would be closed as an embarrassment.  In Baracoa it passes as one of the cultural highlights of the town…  The other is a cross displayed at the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion.  It is believed to have been brought here by Columbus from Spain. It is indeed that old, but it is made out of indigenous wood, so you be the judge of what that means.    

The museum is unique; I grant it that.  An NGO team worked on excavating and displaying some artifacts of the region; particularly those related to pre-columbian Taino culture which is prevalent here.  For a long time this culture was believed to have been eradicated completely by the colonizers.  But as in other parts of the world (Indonesia comes to mind), a substantial number of indigenous people managed to escape into the mountains, out of the reach of the New World rulers.  Baracoa is ideal for that and these artifacts corroborate the fact that some Taino blood survived.

At the museum it is hard to tell which artifacts are authentic and which are reproductions.  Once again, information in English is nonexistent.  When the museum was set up, it may have been impressive.  About a dozen display cases are filled with bones, tools, and small sculptures.  They are nestled in the nooks and crannies of a Taino cave which once also served as a burial ground.  Mind your head.  Neon lights illuminate the now dusty objects in the now somewhat clouded glass cases.  Is there no upkeep?  The location of the museum is its greatest asset.  The caves are located high above ground and from the burial chamber one has a view across town and the bay.  The climb through and up is precarious.  The final wooden bridge and staircase would pass no safety inspection anywhere.  Make sure you have insurance before you climb.

The best find at the museum was its door-keeper Alexandro.  He had a good command of English and was obviously bored and eager to talk.  I was in no hurry and sat with him, sharing my newly acquired Baracoa chocolate bar.  He is not happy in Cuba, not happy with the lethargy surrounding him and with the omnipresence of the government.  He lamented the fact that no private initiative worth anything survives — if discovered by the government it will be usurped and killed.  As an example he pointed to the museum.  But he also mentioned a woman who started private English lessons at her home, free of charge.  She was forced to close shop and to offer her lessons in the public school.  She also had to obtain a license for her work and charge.  That was not what she had in mind.  I wonder, does the government have nothing else to do?  I had looked forward to chatting more with Alexandro, but after I had successfully managed the downward climb from the graveyard, there had been a shift change; he was gone. 

I knew Celi had spent the day at the local beach near the end of the malecon.  I headed in that direction wondering if I would find her.  But half way there, the Marco Polo restaurant beckoned with a 2 for 1 Happy Hour and I stopped for a break.  A few minutes later five Dutch ladies sat down at the next table and only a few more minutes, before all of us were engaged in a heated political discussion over Trump, Obama, Islam, and the world.  That felt weird.  We had left this world behind us over 3 weeks ago.  But it seemed to still exist out there, unbeknownst to us, and mainly unchanged.  It is unbelievable how far removed you can be from it all just 100 km off shore from the US.  I am not looking forward to returning to that world, soon. 

Celi found us.  She was on her way home from the beach hearing the chatter of female voices in English.  As we made good use of the Happy Hour, one of the Dutch ladies had by now become quite lubricated and passionate.  With Celi’s arrival it all turned fun and games again.  These ladies were a hoot! 

When we finally were on our way home, who did we run into?!  But the German couple Bernd (better known as Wulf) and Karin whom we had met on the bus from Cienfuegos to Camaguey.  We never saw them there and now we found out why.  Wulf, who had not been feeling well during that bus trip, was so dehydrated that he had become deadly ill.  A doctor came and gave him an infusion, but a sister from the convent also came to sit with him…  Karin must have been beside herself.  Wulf and Karin are almost 80.  Getting this sick is no joke and getting this sick far away from home is devastating.  We were overjoyed to see them and they immediately joined us in the search for a dinner place.

Baracoa is known for its unique cuisine.  We were hoping to replicate the delicious experience we had at our casa last night, but this restaurant only lived up to a mere memory of that great dinner.  Nonetheless, we had good food along with some uninvited musical entertainment.  It is hard to avoid around here and overall good fun, unless you actually want to carry on a conversation. The three of us kept falling from English to German, so that Celi excused herself after dinner in search of more fun company. 

We found her shortly after at the main plaza, surrounded by a crowd of youngsters from the broken-down Viazul bus.  They were drinking an unaccounted number of Cuba Libres (rum and coke) before the end of the night and were acting accordingly… Celi swears that it cured a stomach ache she had.

What started as a boring laundry day ended as a fun day in laid-back Baracoa.  This is a nice way to spend a few days away from not only the world at large, but also the rest of Cuba.  Baracoa marches to its own drum.  You can feel that.   

Good night.