CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles
It is the largest of all islands in the Caribbean Sea. Here are some interesting facts about this fascinating island.
Christopher Columbus reached the island of Cuba on October 27th 1492. He believed that he landed in the ‘Kingdom of Kublai Khan’ as described by Marco Polo as Columbus was very familiar with Marco Polo’s journeys. It is also documented in his dairies that when he saw the island of Cuba, he stated “ It is the most beautiful land the human eyes have ever seen”.
The original inhabitants consisted of several tribes which included the Guanahatabeyes, Tainos and Ciboneyes who lived n harmony with one another. These peace keeping tribes originally named their land as “ Caobana”. Some cities also bear their native dialect names such as Camajuani, Guanacayabo & Baracoa. The official language is Spanish, though some residents speak Haitian Creole.
Pope Benedict XVI visited this land in 2012. His three day visit included the meeting with the top leadership and holding an outdoor religious service in the city of Santiago De Cuba. Pope John Paul II had visited Cuba in 1998.
It is the only country in the world to have two distinct indigenous official currencies- Cuban Peso & Cuban convertible Peso. The convertible Peso was first introduced in 1994 but commonly used from 2004. The Cuban Peso is used for the purchases of staples and other necessary items. All tourist related and luxury items must be paid using convertible Peso.
Well known sprits company Bacardi was founded in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. This family owned company shifted its head quarters to Bahamas in the 1960. Currently it is head quartered in Hamilton, Bermuda.
In Havana, one may be surprised to see the city full of Vintage cars. ‘Yank Tank’ is the slang term used. They are also known as ‘maquinas’. Buses are the main mode of transportation. These buses are named after the animal- Camel ( Camello in Spanish). This Cuban invention is a combination of a truck and a bus.
The city of Matanzas has bene nicknamed “ Athens of Cuba” because of the large number of poets and writers who had lived there. It is also called the “ City of Bridges” or “Venice of Cuba” as seventeen bridges cross three rivers. The city derives its name from the word ‘massacare’. According to a legend, a band of Spanish soldiers were trying to cross one of the rivers to attack the natives of the island. As they had no boats, they got some local fishermen to ferry them across. Aware of their intensions, the fishermen overturned the boats in the middle of the river and the heavy armour worn by the Spanish soldiers caused them to drown to death. It is home to a few cave systems, the famous among them being the Bellamar Caves. They were discovered in 1861 and in 1987 they were declared as a national monument.
Interestingly, the Plaza de la Libertad in the city of Matanzas has a statue of the Roman Goddess of Liberty ( Libertad). It also contains the statue of Jose Marti- a national hero. He led the nation in their struggle for independence against the Spanish rule. He was a poet and an important figure in the Cuban literature.
Cueva Grande de Santa Catalina is one of the most unique underground limestone caves in Cuba. It contains giant mushrooms that can grow up to a metre. This species of poisonous mushrooms grows no where else in the world. The caves were declared a National Monument in 1996.
Cuba houses many wonders of the animal kingdom, and the ‘manjuri’ is no exception. This creature managed to survive since pre historic times. It is an alligator headed fish roaming only in Cuba. It is the home to the smallest bird in the world- the ‘bee hummingbird’. It can be found only in Cuba. It weighs only 2 grams!!!.