Author’s note: This is post is part II of a two-part series. To read the first post, click here.
After our glorious mouth-watering lunch at Palador Enriques in Playa Larga, it was time to board the bus again and continue along south to Trinidad. We were all extremely full after our lobster and seafood feast but there was no time to snooze. We only had a short drive until we arrived at our next destination before reaching Trinidad: The Bay of Pigs Museum. It was time to soak up Cuban Propaganda to the fullest extent.
The Bay of Pigs or Plaza Giron is the famous beach site in Cuba known for the final battle between Castro’s armed forces and the counter-revolutionary army on the 17-19 of April in 1961. Known in Cuba as the Playa de Zapata, Castro became keenly interested in helping this depopulated pristine area of Cuba that was home to many underemployed, uneducated Cubans. Castro spent time in Playa de Zapata and his unique knowledge of this remote part of Cuba greatly assisted him during the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco.
As US-Cuban relations quickly deteriorated after the 1959 Cuban Revolution and resulting US embargo, US Special Forces worked covertly to undermine Castro’s regime. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion was the ultimate attempt to assassinate Castro and overthrow his regime.
On April 17, 1961 a brigade of 1,400 Cuban exiles trained by the US in Nicaragua and Guatemala, attempted to land in the Bay of Pigs but the operation was a complete failure. The Cubans sunk two of the supporting ships assisting with the invasion and the invaders had none of the promised American reinforcements thus had to surrender. The fighting lasted all of 66 hours and was a huge failure and embarrassment to the US. Although it was supposedly a secret that the CIA was involved, eventually the truth came out.
The streets surrounding the Bay of Pigs are dotted with memorials for the heroes who defended Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion and lost their lives. Billboards of Castro and Che Guevara depict el Triunfo de la Revolución and large posters proclaim this as the “first victory over American imperialism”.
Inside the museum, it was hard to not see Castro’s Propaganda machine at full force. I snapped a few pictures of the translations about the evil Yankees (I’m not taking sides here but it was fascinating!). What blew me away about Cuba the most is that over 50 years after el Triunfo de la Revolución (as the Cuban revolution is called “The Triumph of the Revolution”), there still remains a huge amount of Communist propaganda everywhere in Cuba. It is so utterly ironic that it is mind boggeling.
I found the entire history of Cuba so fascinating that I have read as much as possible to try to get a full picture of what the revolution meant and what its implications were. As an American tourist, you are fed a lot of propaganda like what we saw inside the museum. All our visits were to the good parts of Cuba and focused on the wonderful things Communism brought such as universal health care, education, and basic needs. Although I don’t agree with our imperialistic intentions, I don’t honestly think one can argue that Cuba is better off after el Triunfo de la Revolución. Poverty, lack of freedom, and lack of basic needs are rampant in Cuba. What did the revolution truly change?
Although Castro did fulfill his promise by educating his people, especially Cubans living in Playa de Zapata near the Bay of Pigs, what has that education done when doctors, engineers, and professors are either leaving the country or moonlighting as taxi cab drivers to put food on the table? When people live crammed together in buildings that are falling apart?
Our drive south was absolutely stunning. We passed beautiful, lush farmland and mountains off in the distance. I tried my best to capture the glory and nostalgia of the Cuban countryside throughout the window of my bus. If only I could have had the freedom to tour on my own. Thanks to the American government, we don’t.
We passed Cubans waiting in vain to hitch a ride.
And took a quick rest stop at a countryside gas station.
All of which reminded me that I was still stuck in time. In a place that is frozen to 1959.
As we neared Trinidad, we had one of those surreal experiences where you feel like it was all a dream. The bus slowed and we heard a loud, popping noise. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Suddenly the driver slammed on the brakes. I got up to look out the window and was stunned to see the entire road covered in red. I wondered what on earth this could be?
As we came to a stop, I saw that some of the reddish objects were moving sideways at rampant speed and were alive. They were crabs! Thousands and thousands of crabs, racing sideways across the highway in a mad kamikaze dash from the mountains to the sea to get to the beach. Sadly, the majority of the crabs were flattened and killed by the rolling cars. Others were grabbed by Cubans who tried to sell them to googling passerby.
I tried to take a video of the crabs to show my kids but it didn’t turn out. To this day I have never seen anything quite like this in all my travels.
Finally, as it neared four o’clock we arrived at our final destination: Las Brisas del Mar resort on the Caribbean Sea near Trinidad. After a long day on the bus, the first thing I did after checking into my 1970s Soviet-style room was hit the beach and take my first swim in Cuba’s warm, soft waters.
It was hard to believe I was still in Cuba. This place of so much juxtaposition and irony. So much beauty. So much luxury and so much poverty. All wrapped together in one place.
Although by Western standards, our hotel rooms were just mediocre there were no Cubans there. It was an all-inclusive resort with all you can eat and drink, built by the Soviets in the heydays after the revolution. My room was falling apart a bit but the view of the beach and the sea was serene.
I sat on my chair and watched the sun slowly fade away.
It had been quite an exceptional day. I was looking forward to the next. We would rise early and spend the entire day exploring Colonial Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could hardly wait!