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The Pinar del Rio province in the far west of our mystery country is the country’s prime tobacco growing region. Tobacco has been a major segment of the country’s economy since it was first discovered by Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Prior to colonization, natives knew the plant well and used it for medicinal and ritual purposes. Today, most tobacco is produced on small private farms and exported in the form of premium cigars.

 

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Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba

Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba, photo credit: trabajadores.cu

Fire Festival, Santiago de Cuba, photo credit: trabajadores.cu

Santiago Fire Festival, June 30-July 7, 2018

Since 1980, for one week every year in early July, Cuba’s 2nd largest city, Santiago, erupts in a wide-ranging celebration of Caribbean culture and history. The festival, known as both the Fire Festival and the Caribbean Festival, brings together artists, dancers, musicians, academics and partiers from around the world. The streets rock with revelers, while music, dance, and theater performances, art exhibitions, religious ceremonies, seminars and workshops take place at venues across the city. Food stalls and pop-up bars and restaurants fortify the crowds with traditional and nouveau Caribbean fare. Street markets feature regional art and crafts. The week of daily parades peaks with the Fire Parade on the last night, which ends with the burning effigy of the Devil.

The Fire Festival is certainly a carnival, but it is not to be confused with The Carnival, another annual summer festival in Santiago, but with more specifically Cuban themes (taking place this year July 18-27, 2018).

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The Malecón is the famous waterfront boulevard in this capital city of a large island nation. From the Malecón one looks out at the mingling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Lovers love the Malecón at sunset. Fishers gather along the Malecón at dusk, not for recreation, but to put food on the table for their families. Tourists and locals alike enjoy a stroll on the long promenade that stretches five miles along the coast line from the harbor in the Old City to the Vedado neighborhood.

 

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The Argentinian Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a hero of our mystery country’s revolution, which claimed victory on January 1, 1959. In this picture, Che watches over Revolution Square from the Ministry of the Interior in the capital city. Other government buildings are on or near the square. At 72,000 square meters, Revolution Square is one of the world’s largest city squares. Most of the city’s major public events take place here. Also memorialized in the square are Jose Marti, a leader of the fight for independence from Spain in the 19th century, and Camilo Cienfuegos, a leader of the revolution in the 1950s.

 

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In the small, colonial city of Trinidad, the austere (yet pleasing, I think) Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima, or Church of the Holy Trinity, surveys the main city square, Plaza Mayor. The church’s humble Neoclassical façade belies an exultant Neo-Gothic alter inside. Trinidad was a wealthy center of the sugar trade in the 18th and 19th centuries and its cobbled streets are lined with faded, grand villas and public buildings from that era. A few miles outside the city, over 50 sugar plantations operated in Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), powered by the labor of tens of thousands of slaves. Trinidad and Valle de los Ingenios are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 

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