This morning we had an extra hour to sleep in, so we didn’t have to meet our bus and guide until 10am. We went to the nearby Museum of Fine Arts. I am not an art expert, but there are several on our tour. They re-assured me that this museum indeed had a high-level collection of fine art from around the world.
We also returned to Revolutionary Plaza to visit the historical museum located in the base of the 350-foot monument to Jose Marti, the nationalist hero of all Cubans, including the exile extremists living in Miami. We took the elevator to the top of the tower for a 360-degree panoramic view of Havana and the surrounding countryside.
We had lunch in the garden restaurant at the beautiful, iconic Hotel Nacional, where we enjoyed more Cuban music and views along the coast, far out to sea. I remembered that Key West , Florida, is only 90 miles north of where we sat—90 miles and another world away. After one of our best lunches on this expedition, we toured the military bunkers dug deeply into the front lawn which were hastily created in response to an expected full-scale invasion by the United States. Not everybody in our group knew that this invasion was more than just a contingency plan. Recently-released documents proved that the U.S. was very close to carrying out these plans. The only thing that could have stopped a bloody, protracted war against Cuba was Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles. Fifty years ago, the world waited in terror as the Soviet Union (Russia) and the U.S both elevated their defense systems to the highest level just short of all-out war. The crisis was mostly resolved when the U.S. agreed to not invade Cuba, but since most Americans were unaware of the very real invasion plans, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. There was also a secondary agreement, not made public, for the U.S. to remove similar missiles from Turkey six months later.
The bunkers contained photographs and diagrams of the crisis, which is known only in the U.S. as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” Since there never were any nuclear-tipped Cuban Missiles, this frightening period in world history is known elsewhere simply as the “Missile Crisis” or the “Caribbean Crisis.” There were newspapers displayed from around the world which were printed during this period from October 14 to 27, 1962. Reading them now, fifty years later, was a gut-wrenching experience.
We visited the celebrity bar at the hotel, which has been the temporary home for presidents and celebrities from around the world since it opened in 1930. It always amazes me to realize that movie stars, athletes, musicians, politicians, and other Americans secretly and openly visited Cuba during the height of the Cold War, and continue to do so today. My personal message to my fellow Americans is that you have the same rights to visit Cuba as Michael Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Backstreet Boys, who have all visited in the past. Their photos are displayed at the bar, along with those of just about every other celebrity you’ve ever heard about.
Later we visited the large crafts market at the harbor. I reminded everybody that with our licenses, we are allowed to bring home various types of artwork and musical CD’s. However, certain products such as coffee, rum, and cigars are not allowed and may be confiscated in U.S. customs. These regulations make about as much sense as the entire 80 pages of restrictions involving travel to Cuba. Go figure.
Tomorrow we travel southwest to Visit the infamous Bay of Pigs, an important place in American history. We plan to stop at a clinic in the area to talk with the staff and make medical donations. After that we will cross the island to the north and arrive at Varadero Beach in late afternoon. We are really looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure.