Gibara had happened by sheer chance and it had turned out to be one of Cuba’s best kept secrets. I had left Trinidad gladly and had been on my way down south towards Guantanamo, when Pancho’s wily charms had seduced me. A very famous donkey, Pancho had been a celebrity in his own right and had shot to fame because of his beer drinking capacity. He had lived at resort Mirador de Mayabe in the outskirts of Holguin city and I had badly wanted to buy him a beer. Although my original destination had been Guantanamo, lack of direct bus connectivity had made a stop over at Santiago de Cuba necessary and the thought of it had bothered me.
Settled in the southernmost part of Cuba, Santiago de Cuba had the reputation of being the hottest and the most polluted city in the country. It also reputedly had Cuba’s most aggressive jinteros and after Trinidad, I had been looking forward to completely avoiding them The bus fare of 26 Cuc had guaranteed 8 hours of a picturesque drive through southern Cuba’s lush countryside and enough time for me to decide on my next move. The Cuban countryside had remained predictably pretty with mango orchards and occasional rain showers and lost deep in my confusing thoughts, I had missed them all. It had been during the midway stop at the intriguing city of Camaguey which had finally helped me decide and though badly tempted, I had given the puzzling place amiss.
Known as the Christian capital of Cuba, Camaguey had a sinister history and the seemingly nondescript looking city had been the pirates’ all time favorite hangout place. It had a historic city center, which was also an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the big bad boys of maritime route had plundered it endlessly for years. Eventually, the fed up residents had cleverly rebuilt the city in a series of maze and the confusion had waylaid the buccaneers so much that they had finally left the town in peace. It had been Camaguey’s labyrinth streets that had added the exotic Moroccan oomph to a distinctly Caribbean city and the effect of the combination had been very enchanting.
However its labyrinths had also nurtured the maximum amount of crime especially snatching in Cuba and most had been perpetrated against hapless tourists struggling to find their way back to their hotels. I had no reason to drift to Holguin except to avoid Santiago de Cuba and the decision had turned out to be a very favourable one. Holguin’s misty cool landscape had also helped in decision making and I had fallen in love with the province’s soft rolling hills. Often compared with women’s breasts by the locals, the hills had appeared misty green and groves of pine forests and orchids had dotted the meadows. It had looked like a pretty awesome place to be and had provided me with the perfect stop before venturing into the Moa-Baracoa Highway, which had been touted as Cuba’s wildest road. I had reached Holguin sometime around early evening and had immediately got swallowed up by hustlers. A fellow traveler had rescued me from the clawing bunch and we had managed to check into a homely looking casa particular, without much hassle.
It had been on the outskirts of the industrial Holguin city and for 10 Cuc a day, it had been clean, spacious and had included breakfast. The host Danny had been most chatty and had bombarded us with nearby places of interest. Evidently proud of his off the tourist trail province of Holguin, it had been upon his insistence that we had boarded a shared taxi for Gibara. It had been a grand old beauty and for 4 CUC return fare, the awesome ride on that sun splattered Holguin day had been completely worth it. Famous for the “poor man’s film festival”, Festival Internacional del Cine Pobre, every year Gibara had drawn global crowd in hordes. Its much faded beauty also had been of substantial fame and it had the reputation of being one of the most beautiful ghost towns in the world. It also had some excellent beaches nearby and with no train connectivity since pre Revolution, Gibara had been a black hole in already warped Cuban time.
I had fallen in love with Gibara at very sight and had been bowled by the empty town’s strong character. A strange haunting beauty had pervaded it like a nostalgic childhood memory and Gibara had touched my heart strings. Its old buildings with their larger than life sized peeling wooden shutters, stained glass windows and fading pastel colored walls had been picturesquely desolate and nature had played charming little miracles with the town. In 2008, Hurricane Ike had flattened the charming coastal town like a pancake and 2012 had brought Hurricane Sandy which had further damaged it into its present run down state. While the 2 powerful giants had trampled the once bustling place into a ghost town, they had also rendered Gibara its unique charm. Pretty, timeless even by Cuban standards and absolutely enchanting, Gibara had been a wonderful discovery.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE