Ben Howe
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Travel, videos and music written, filmed and photographed by Ben Howe.

Gibara, Sleepy Backwater in Cuba

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Gibara is a sleepy town on the north coast of Cuba, Holguin province. Located on the entrance to a small harbour, the settlement is surrounded on three sides by water. To the south, distant low green limestone hills rise above the glassy inlet. On the ocean coast, small waves break on a narrow sandy beach. Apparently, when Christopher Columbus landed near here, he commented: “it is the most beautiful land that human eyes saw.”

Aside from an annual Film Festival, Gibara is a sleepy and forgotten backwater. Slumbering in baking Carribean sun, the dusty grid of streets and run down plazas are mostly deserted. The architecture dates from not long after the town was founded, in 1817. Many buildings are dilapidated, presumably collapsed following one of the significant cyclones that hit. Others are beautifully restored, painted bright, in the colours that Cuba knows how to do so well. Few buildings are modern or deviate from the old local Spanish style. 

The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Ordono, is one of the grandest in Cuba. Painted a fresh peachy orange, old photos in its grand lobby show its transformation from an almost ruined condition. When we stayed ourselves, and an older German-speaking couple were the only breakfasting guests in the large dining hall. Relaxing on the roof, which had panoramic views around the area, we had the place to ourselves. It was one of the highest points in town, you could see both the beach and the harbour - just beyond terracotta roofs of the cathedral spires.

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There isn’t a lot to do in Gibara. Apparently, there are some large caves and more beaches nearby, but we choose to unwind by walking the streets, sitting in the plaza and reading on the roof. One evening we climbed the hill to a small outdoor bar. Here a few locals were drunk as the sunset and birds swirled around over the city. Later, we moved to the La Casa De Los Amigos restaurant and sat in the courtyard. Surreal coloured paintings, pirate sculptures surrounded us as we ate a seafood banquet. We were the only people there. 

One evening we climbed the hill to a small outdoor bar. Here a few locals were drunk as the sunset and birds swirled around over the city. Later, we moved to the La Casa De Los Amigos restaurant and sat in the courtyard. Surreal coloured paintings, pirate sculptures surrounded us as we ate a seafood banquet. We were the only people there. 

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