Wednesday, 27 May 2015
In 1961, Playa Girón—also known as the Bay of Pigs—was the site of an attempted military invasion of Cuba by a counter-revolutionary force that was backed by the CIA. The invaders were rounded up in three days by Cuban forces under the command of Fidel Castro. On our second day in Playa Girón, we set out on pushbikes provided by our hosts and spent one and a half hours at the local museum, which is dedicated to this infamous event.
The Museum is divided into two rooms. The first room includes a display that portrays life on the Zapata peninsula before the revolution. The main industry was charcoal production. The wages were low, the work was hard, and the living conditions were appalling. It seems that this part of Cuba had been largely ignored by the pre-revolutionary government. A second display focuses on the benefits that the revolution brought, which included universal access to education and health care, and a lot of new housing.
The second room of the Museum is dedicated to the attempted invasion and the battle of resistance that Castro led from the farm called Central Australia further north in the province. The displays are much better than those we had seen in the Museum of the Revolution in Havana: they are more informative, better mounted, and better laid out.
One whole wall was dedicated to the Cubans who fell in battle or who died as the result of wounds sustained there. There is a photo of each combatant with some personal effects and a brief biography. There is also an organisational chart of the invading force, a copy of the plans for the invasion, and a day by day schematic diagram showing where the forces landed, where they encountered resistance, and how they were forced back into Playa Girón, rounded up, and put on public display. There are English translations of most of the information, but we frequently found the Spanish text more informative.
The central aisles of the Museum are dedicated to displays of large military hardware such as machine guns and mortars. Out the front of the Museum there are a couple of tanks and a Sea Fury fighter plane.
The museum emphasises the role of the people’s militia in defeating the invading force. Despite the fact that the marine geography of the bay made it an ideal location to bring naval craft right up to the shore, it was also a poor choice in that the revolution had strong support in this area. This was the point of the first part of the display: those who had so much to gain from the revolution were particularly willing and able to defend it: patria libre o morir. And indeed there were a great many casualities among the defending forces.
After we had taken in all of the exhibits, we cycled to the hotel to try out one of the local beaches. There was an uninspiring beach behind the hotel with a seawall around it. We tried out our snorkelling gear there, but the water was murky and there was not a lot to see. So we moved on quickly to the next beach, which was called Playa los Cocos.
One end of the beach was cordoned off for fishing boats, and the other end had the ruins of a coast guard building. In between lay a sandy beach and a shallow swimming area protected by a reef about 50 m offshore. There was ample shade on the beach provided by the eponymous coconut palms. There was even a bar on the beach in a diminutive hut with a thatched roof. We spent most of the day there, snorkelling and reading in the shade of the coconut palms. The water was crystal clear, and tropical fish hid among the coral outcrops near the reef. It was not possible swim over the reef because the water was too shallow and the waves were breaking on it.
Later in the afternoon I walked to the ruined Coast Guard hut to take photographs while Susie finished reading Che Guevara’s reminiscences of the Cuban revolutionary war. About 4 p.m. the weather started to close in, so we cycled back to the casa, freshened up, and later sat down to a dinner of prawns cooked in pineapple and garlic with Moros y Christianos on the side. It was delicious, but we struggled to finish it even though we’d had no lunch and we had been swimming on and off all day. In the late evening, I finished reading the book by Che Guevara, and we turned in early.