Cuba Day 4 – El Cobre

Day 4 started out with the same breakfast I have had for the past two days; an omelet with onion, cheese, lots of fruit, juice and tea. Then I packed up and moved to a new casa which turned out to be 2 ½ blocks from the old casa. The room was a little nicer and bigger, the stairs a little wider but just as steep. You may be wondering why we had to change casas. Well, originally, we were supposed to be moving on to Baracoa on this day but hurricane Matthew threw a wrench into those plans. So, the idea was we would stay at a hotel in Santiago the first three days then move to casas. Because the second set of casas had been prearranged and paid for before we lost the hotel rooms we had no choice but to move. I mentioned to someone at my first house that we had been meant to go to Baracoa and he said “Oh, Baracoa is so beautiful, you must go, the hotel is fine now.” But alas, it was out of my hands.

Once settled in our new casa we piled into the van (a 12 passenger Mercedes Benz if you really want to know) and hunted down the cigar factory we were to tour only to be told that no pictures were allowed. But we took the nickel tour anyway and learned how cigars are made. The nice thing about cigars is that they are pure tobacco with no additives, unlike cigarettes. The whole leaves are sorted then pressed together in a round press, then a tobacco leaf wrapper is added to make it look pretty. It seems to be a very labor intensive process, at least here.

BasilicaNext, we went to a town called El Cobre, the name of which has something to do with its history as a copper mining center. But its real claim to fame is a cathedral that is dedicated to the patron saint of Cuba and a popular site for pilgrims with and without religion. The full name of the chuSancturaryrch reflects its Spanish heritage: The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre. The church was not that impressive (austere says my
 guide book) thoug I did manage to eke out a few interesting images. The community was down a steep flight of steps that I didn’t want to have to Crosscome back up and it  seemed to consist of a lot of vendors intent on selling flowers and trinkets to tourists so I don’t know that the photography would have been very satisfying. And, as there was no place to eat lunch we soon headed back to Santiago.

This would be a good place to say a word about religion in Cuba. Because Candlesone cannot be a member of the communist party and be an active participant in religion there are not a lot of overt signs of religion as might be experienced in other former Spanish colonies. On the other hand I did not get the sense that religion was banned outright either. Churches remain as churches and there were certainly plenty of pilgrims at the Basilica. Papal visits have been allowed and I spotted a nun reading on the balcony of a building nearby. Our driver was the son of a Seventh Day Adventist minister and he owns his own van and tour company as well as a farm so having a religious background does not seem to be a deterrent to success in the new relaxed economy. I also understand from my reading that vestiges of African religious practices brought in with slavery are still alive and well in Cuba.

Lunch turned out to be more grilled chicken at Dona Martha Restaurante. Our Spanish speaking guides were not too helpful at explaining the menu choices so I sort of went with what I recognized, “grille” means grilled, this much I know and pollo of course is chicken. Lately all meals have been served with rice and sweet potatoes. So I am having no trouble sticking to my high protein, low carb diet.

Art_GalleryAfter lunch we were turned loose to explore the local neighborhood but the directions for the meeting point and time were not clear. We found an art gallery just around the corner. I’m always hesitant to photograph other peoples art and call it my own but I tried to transform this piece enough to at least make it a shared effort.

I knew I should stay with the group but they were moving so slowly I decided to head out on my own. How hard could three blocks further on be? Well, pretty hard when the cross street does not go through. Of course, when I got to the place I thought I was supposed to be at the time I thought we were supposed to meet there was no one there. I waited fifteen minutes then decided to head back to the restaurant and see if I could find anyone. I was about to panic (OK, cry)Shadow when I finally spied the van, everyone aboard except our guide who was out looking for me. I still don’t know where they met up or how long they were looking for me. Of course, I had money, I knew where I lived and taxis were abundant so I don’t think it would have been a complete disaster even if we hadn’t connected. On the upside, I got some of my most interesting images during this episode.

FishermanWe then headed back to the waterfront for sunset. A few nice silhouettes and color on the water pictures. Well, that might be an understatement. I kind of had a field day with the sunset. And finally, back to the casas for a rest before regathering at one of the casas for a “family dinner” which ended up costing more than any of our Pilingsrestaurant meals so far. Once again I had grilled chicken, not much choice this time, accompanied by rice and sweet potato fries. I went off the reservation and ate some of the salad because the guide and the doctor sitting next to me thought it might be OK. Lionel, our local guide, brought a bottle of rum which he said was the best you could get in Cuba. I enjoyed it but after two beers did not feel like indulging too much.


Today’s field trip really put the icing on the cake for me.  I have been yearning to have a chance to wander around a cemetery and photograph old headstones and celtic crosses and today my wish came true. Glendalough is an ancient monastic site that was active from the 7th to 12th century. That’s 500 years folks.

St_KevinsHere is a picture of St. Kevin’s Church which was the main place of worship prior to the building of the Cathedral in the 12th century. And here is another view from closer in. The cemetery does not seem to be as old as the monastic buildings as many of the graves date from the 19th century and some further out are even from tSt_Kevins_withcrosshe 20th. One of the challenges today was the flat white sky.

Round_towerThe round tower was a bell tower and landmark to help visitors find the place. Occasionally when marauding Vikings struck it was also used to protect supplies but not, as was earlier thought, the people of the community.

A word about the Celtic cross. We had an archaeologist talk to us early on and express the opinion that the term was a misnomer as the Celtic period in Ireland dated from about 500 BC to 400 AD and the Celts were pagan so had nothing to do with the crosses which generally date from the 8th to 12th century. However, it has also been indicated that the whole idea of the Celtic Cross was to make Christianity less threatening to the pagans by adding a Crosscircle representing the sun to the Christian cross.

In any case, I have a fascination with Celtic crosses and Celtic inspired design and the notion of a brand of Christianity that is closer to nature and less dominated by imperialism. Some of the older “High” crosses date to the 8th century and may have been used by the monastics to mark their boundaries. But just because they were not cast in stone until then does not mean they did not exist until then. There apparently was a renaissance in the 19th and 20th century as the cross was embraced anew and became popular for grave markers.

I now have over 1800 images in my Ireland file so if you have been following along you know that you have seen only the tip of the iceberg so far. Not that they are all worthy of further consideration but there certainly will be more to come once I have time to sit down and work with the images. So look for at least one more posting on Ireland but not before the middle of next week as I have to travel home, recover from jet lag, and celebrate my birthday before I can finish editing my pictures.

Killarney and Blarney Castle

StMarysIt was another lovely day to be in Ireland today. We had free time in the town of Killarney this morning so I set out to see St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is very impressive with lotsDawn2Dusk of stained glass and ornate mosaics. I was particularly impressed, though, by this modern stained glass
window entitled Dawn to Dusk. At the bottom it says “Why is there anything, instead of nothing?” I’m a little surprised the Catholic hierarchy let that one slip by.

OrganThen I swung back around to the Anglican Church which was nearer our hotel but not yet open when I set out. It was smaller but beautifully decorated inside. I had never before seen a painted pipe organ and this stained glass window was more to my taste than some of the more biblical ones.Window

After checking out a few shops and buying a few souvenirs I was all walked out but still had an hour before the bus was due to leave so I indulged in a horse cart ride through the National Park parts of which were donated to KillarneyNP2the country on stipulation that only foot, bicycle or horse traffic would be allowed. I got one last look at the McGuillycuddy’s reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland at around 3500 feet.

On the road again we proceeded through county Tipperary, seeing more Blarneyhorses and dairy cattle than sheep now, to County Cork and on to Cork City with a stop at Blarney Castle. Even if the cruise ship had not just dumped thousands of people on the place I would not have stood in line to bend over backward and kiss a rock. It’s a little too late for the gift of gab to do me any good anyway.

Armagh and the Cathedrals of Saint Patrick

We started the day today with a lecture which tried to stuff the history of Ireland into one hour. I gained more insight into the troubles and the Scotch Irish immigration to the U.S.  Our lecturer agreed with my driver Seamus that Northern Ireland would probably someday join the Republic “but not in my lifetime” he said. He pointed out that the Catholic population of Northern Ireland is outpacing the Protestant and eventually they will become a majority allowing for a referendum to leave Great Britain and join the Republic of Ireland. Meanwhile, everyone seems shocked and and confused about how Brexit might complicate already strained relations.

Then we traveled about an hour south of Belfast to Armagh which is the home of not one but two cathedrals dedicated to St. Patrick. One is Catholic, the other Anglican (or Church of Ireland as they like to say here).

Exterior_CatholicWell it was raining a little heavily when we got to the first church (the Catholic one) so my outdoor pictures leave something to be desired but I tried.

This cathedral was built between 1840 and 1870 and is very ornate inside with many stained glass windows and mosaic tiles on all of the floors and walls.Stained_Glasswall_StPats




The next church was much older, dating from 1268, witExterior_Anglicanh updates and changes since then of course. This church was less ornate but had stained glass that was more to my taste and seemed a little brighter. There was also a lot more statuary in this one, including this reader that Stained_Glass2I especially liked.Reader





Upon returning to Belfast we had some free time. So I went shopping, having heard nothing from the airlines about my bag. I scored a new bag, two pair of jeans, a sweater some shirts and underwear, and an electrical adaptor so I can keep taking pictures and posting blogs. What won’t be so easy to replace are the charging cords for my phone, Nook, and Fitbit. There is probably a message in here about what we really can live without.

I also had my first Guiness this evening, well and my second too. And with that it is time to bid you good night.