First City or ciudad primada as BARACOA is called was inhabited by Taino Indians, thus the name, before the arrival of Europeans in 1493 and settlement by them in 1511. Poor geography of the time necessitated moving the capital of Cuba from Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba in the early years of colonization. Isolation and an injeection of French Creole refugees gave Baracoa its unique charm and its eclectic architecture and cuisine. Surrounded by mountains and cradled by thirteen rivers, the nature resonates here and visitors feel the impact of so much greenery and pristine tropical vegetation. There were no slaves here but the Indians whose culture is completely dead harboured runaway slaves and the racial mixture of the locals speak of this in their smiling faces.
Baracoa has always attracted unique individuals to its bosom, starting with La Rusa, a russian beauty married to a turkish jew who made Baracoa her home and played hostess to the revolutionaries at her modest hotel which still is there; then there is Kayamba, the trovador whose voice once was heard all over this coast; Pelu with his curse for Baracoa, most Baracoans still believe in that curse, and the curse hangs over this beautiful coastal city like a menace..
The most interesting person currently residing in Baracoa has to be the local poet, the spiritual guardian of the place, founder of the Museo Matachin, none other than Miguel Angel Castro Machado, simply known as Castro. A story teller extraordinaire, with flowing poetry and excellent command of the spanish language ( somewhat of a rarity in Cuba where they take pride in murdering the language of Cervantes!), befriend him if you can in this city of kind and gentle and affectionate people. In Baracoa we say, we are not interested in meeting people who want to meet us.. but Castro welcomes friends to his ecologically correct house in Cabacu where he lives with his aging mother. Other characters of note include: Ruso and his band who could be heard playing late into the nights at the various venues; Mario Luis the hairdresser cum cabaret singer; Pimienta and his wife Madre Teresa and daughter Pocahontas; the rapper Ernesto and his good looking brother Luisito; Tanya who is vice director of Culture; Beatriz and Clarita who work at the Museo Matachin; the painter Cabo Verde and his compatriot Piedra the painter; Miguelin the chef extraordinaire who retired froma five star hotel in varadero after 23 years of service and who got his advance degree in no other place than Moldavia!; Giovanni the fantastic choreographer among many many others.
Stay in Baracoa for a few days and please dont overstay your welcome. In the central park there are many hustlers waiting to welcome you and you would soon know them. The people worth knowing you will have to go look for them. Good Luck!
If you need any more information about this loveliest of all towns in Cuba, you can email me.. or visit my virtualtourist.com site under the member name of cochinjew