Tired from three days of hiking in Sierra Maestra, we arrived at our new casa in Bayamo. Our host Vivian welcomed us and explained a thing or two about the city. When we realized it was 4pm and daylight became scarce, we hurried outside to make the most of it.
Actually there was no need to hurry at all. In Bayamo, almost everything happens in Calle General Garcia, a pedestrian street lined with colorful houses, shops and restaurants. It leads towards Parque Carlos Manuel Céspedes, a square where locals sit together talking and drinking. Despite this being the obvious center of Bayamo, it was lacking in outdoor terraces and restaurants. We had set our mind on a nice cocktail to celebrate our successful climb of Pico Turquino, but had to put that plan on hold.
’Plan Cocktail’ was set in action. After buying a bottle of brown rum in a local shop for a mere 100 CUP (4 EUR), we still needed coke. We headed to the supermarket where we faced another huge line. Having set our minds on that cocktail, we started queueing. After a while, a woman asked if I was ‘la última’ (the last one in line) and if they still had some left in the shop. Some left? Of what? I had no idea what she was referring to. She told me everyone was queueing for ‘aceite’ (olive oil). There had been a shortage and now it was available again, so everyone had come to the shop to get their two bottles per person. When I explained I just wanted coke, she felt relieved and even helped me to skip the line reassuring everyone that ‘it was okay to let me through, I wouldn’t buy olive oil’.
With a bottle of coke under my arm, I went back to thank the lady who had helped me, and realized I had caused a little tragedy. You should know that Cubans have a particular queueing system. Upon arrival, they ask who’s the last in line and remember that face. This happens every time a new person arrives. Now that the Cuban knows who’s in front of her and who’s behind her, she can leave the line, do a quick errand or find a more comfortable spot in the shade to wait. When they see that it’s the turn of the person in front of them, they come back and take back their place in line.
Well, I had joined the line without informing about ‘el último’ and had lined up behind -seemingly- the last one in line. It turned out that those were not queueing and when they finished chatting, they just left. The helpful lady who came behind me needed to know behind whom I had been queueing, so that she could take my spot. With a desperate look in her eyes, she asked if I remember who was standing before the group of chatting people. I was really sorry, but I didn’t know. When she let me go, I heard her asking around about ‘el último’. I hope I haven’t ruined her chance to get her ration of olive oil…
For dinner we checked out a local restaurant recommended by our host Vivian. ‘España’ is a state-run restaurant that serves seafood. We had lobster, rice, tomatoes, fried bananas and two beers for a total bill of about 90 CUP (not even 4 EUR). It’s a good place to eat, but if you want to go there, you need to know a few things. One is that you need to wear long trousers to get in. Not that it’s a really fancy place, those are just the rules. Another thing is that you need to know exactly where to look. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t look like a restaurant from the outside, they keep their curtains closed as well. It’s situated next to ‘La Sevillana’.
On our way back to our casa, a notice outside a little empty restaurant caught our attention: mojito, piña colada, ron Collins or daiquiri for just 10 CUP (not even 0,50 EUR)! Even though ‘Plan Cocktail’ was almost accomplished, we couldn’t let this bargain slip. Let’s consider it a starter. Apparently, the trick for offering such a low price is substituting the rum with vodka. Our mojito and piña colada weren’t bad, but we prefer them with rum.
After doing a quick hand laundry at the casa, it was time for the last phase of ‘Plan Cocktail’: prepare and drink them. Vivian’s son saw us going to the rooftop and quickly arranged everything to make it comfortable for us. He chained the dog, switched on the light, and brought up a table and two chairs. Seated on the rooftop, we observed the city from above and enjoyed our cuba libre. ’Plan Cocktail’ accomplished.
The next day was meant for sleeping in, which strangely enough failed. We must’ve taken too many naps during our Sierra Maestra trek. That didn’t stop us from taking things slowly. We returned to the city center, marveled at the street art in Calle General Garcia and wandered through the surrounding streets. Compared to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo is a very laidback city for walking around. People live on the street, talk with their neighbors, play football or dance salsa. We heard music in every street, and even passed a few houses where families were dancing all together in their living room. I cannot even imagine doing this at home with my family…
The sky was grey, but the houses added some color to this day. All the facades have different colors which turns the streets into a beautiful array of soft colors. Based on the beautiful interiors, it seems that Bayamese people are quite well-off. Or they just have a better taste than their compatriots...
A man in the street was selling nougat de Alicante and other candy. We’d been told ‘vasoco’ was the local specialty from Bayamo, and this man had it. Lucky us. We bought one to try. We didn’t like it that much because it was way too sweet. It’s basically sugarcane wrapped in banana leaves. We had also bought ‘coco con leche’ which we liked better, as it was slightly similar to Baracoa’s cucurucho from we had grown fond of.
We wanted a decent lunch before taking the bus to Camaguey, so we checked out the other recommendations we had received. La Cuchipapa looked way too touristy and La Bayamesa required long trousers, which I wasn’t wearing. Instead, we decided to just follow the crowds and they were gathering at a small place called La Tropical Pizzeria. Applying the ‘el último’ strategy, I joined the line and waited for my turn. The pizzas sold like hot cakes. It wouldn’t be long before mine was ready. At some point though, the ham had disappeared from the pizzas. Probably they had run out of it, which is not unusual in Cuba, but what struck me most is how no one seemed to care, even though they all had paid the same price (10 CUP). In any case, my pizza with cheese was really tasty, so I would recommend the place for a quick bite.
We headed back to the casa for one last cuba libre on the rooftop before leaving the city. We invited Vivian’s 82-year old father to share a drink with us. Although he had initially refused the drink, he changed his mind as soon as he saw that we were talking about rum. Still incredibly fit for his age, he quickly climbed up the stairs and offered us the two chairs available – he’d hop onto the wall. Feeling nostalgic, he started telling us stories about the revolution and produced a black and white photo of himself as a 22-year old man ready to fight for his country. We poured the glasses again. (This is how you befriend Cuban people.) Vivian’s father still had many stories to tell, but it was time for us to go. Our bus for Camaguey was coming!