Most tourists visit Ciego de Avila en route to Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo, two of Cuba’s most famous island resorts, and only very few stop to discover more of this north-centric part of Cuba and its rare jewels on the way. Granted that Ciego de Avila may not have much tourist appeal when compared to other bigger and more historic Cuban cities, but there is one small town who has more than enough charm to make the trip here worth your while.
If you happen to be travelling to Cuba’s blessed Jardines del Rey archipelago, on the island’s north-central coast and ever you get tired of the blissful remote offshore island appeal and the miles and miles of never-ending, crystalline white sand beaches, a day trip to Moron might be the invigorating pick-up you need to liven things up a bit and take home a more enriching cultural experience – beach-basking with an added dose of discovery.
The City of the Rooster
Luckily for those enjoying the pristine keys of Jardines del Rey, the town of Moron, a municipality within the Ciego de Avila province, is the one community found closest to the beach resorts of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, with daily organised excursions departing from the various hotels as well as buses and taxis. You could even hire a car and make your own way there from your resort.
The captivating charm of Moron (emphasis made on the second “o”, as per the accent, not to be confused or pronounced as the English word “moron”) lies as much as in its unassuming, laidback attitude as in its intrinsic beauty and the love its local profess to their native town. Such is their pride that a quite few times throughout its history Moron stood close to stealing the title of provincial capital of Ciego de Avila and despite not being successful it remains the province´s second largest and most important city, if not the most popular of all, especially among visitors. And, since we´re talking of pride, there´s nothing in Moron that awakens quite as much passion and pride in its inhabitants as its association with a particular rooster, known as “El Gallo de Moron”. This symbol of the city is represented by a huge bronze sculpture of a rooster that welcomes visitors in its eternal crowing pose, calling out to dwellers and foreigners alike. There are many hypothesis and myths surrounding the city´s name and its association with a rooster, but the most accepted version is the one that links this Cuban town to the Spanish city of Moron de la Frontera in Seville, where a popular legend exists about “El Gallo de Moron” (The Rooster of Moron).
A legend that lives on
The story goes that somewhere around the 1500s, the community divided into two groups of quarrelling neighbours. To put a stop to it, the Chancery of Granada sent a judge with a reputation for being bully to straighten things out. According to legend, the pompous judge incessantly repeated “where this rooster crows, no other rooster crows”. The moronese eventually grew tired of the judge’s bravado and one day ganged up on him and beat him naked in public. A saying was borne out of the incident with a rhyme (it rhymes in Spanish) that goes something like this:
“You’re going to end up like the rooster of Moron, featherless and crowing on the best occasion”
The story has been used in numerous flamenco songs and is a popular saying in Andalucia. In Cuba, the saying is also well-known and repeated, probably in Moron most of all.
The bronze rooster statue in Cuba’s town of Moron was sculpted by Cuban artist Rita Longa in 1982 and adjacent to it there’s a clock tower that makes a crowing sound every six hours with three repetitions.
The old train station and other city firsts
One of the most beautiful edifications your eyes will feast on during a visit to Moron is the Terminal de Ferrocarriles de Moron, an immaculately kept old train station dating back to 1923 and preserving its original features and style. Reminiscent of the first North-American train stations of the time, this beautiful building of delicate lines is another pride of the city, and with good reason too.
The exquisite use of wood and sloping French tiles, coupled with its elegant arches, its sequence of pretty balconies and its impressive main hall, crowned and lighted by a stunning stained-glass panel on the ceiling, adorned with flower motifs, make this old train station and outstanding marvel that still shines bright and is immaculately preserved today. Its highly polished dark wooden benches are a thing of beauty not to be overlooked, as is the fenced marquee welcoming the traveller.
Moron’s train station is a declared Local Monument and a vivid remnant of Moron’s days of glory, back in the early 1920s when the community was upgraded from municipality to “Villa de la Ciudad” because of its rapid economic, socio-cultural and technological development. By then the moronese had Cuba’s second library, “La Moderna Poesia”, the theatre-cinema Apolo (both can still be seen today right where they originally stood) the Niza theatre and the first public library in all of Cuba.
La Laguna de Leche
Perhaps one of Moron’s most famous draws among tourists is its peculiar freshwater lagoon, otherwise known as “Milky Lagoon” or Laguna de Leche, striking not only for the somewhat whitish look of its waters (an optical effect caused by the abundant calcification of the lagoon’s bottom) but also for the tranquillity of this waterscape, offering a rare glimpse into the life of local fishermen as they make their daily sailing trips in search of “patao” (Diapterus auratus), “lisa blanca” (white mullet), cubera snapper or the rarer biajaca criolla (Cichlasoma tetracanthus).
This massive lagoon (the largest natural reservoir of its kind in all of Cuba) is also host to an annual celebration for the moronese (or “moronenses”), El Carnaval Acuatico (The Water Carnival), a rather peculiar party where beautifully adorned vessels dress up to represent a variety of regional symbols. The carnival dates back to the 50s and was one of the main events of the year for a town that revelled in celebrating its identity and for the curious visitors that wanted to be part of it all.
Surrounding the lagoon you’ll find a variety of restaurants and seafood shacks serving all kinds of produce from the sea, from shrimp to lobster and everything in between. The most famous of all is La Atarraya, found some 30 metres in the lagoon, seemingly floating in its waters and accessed via a long overwater bridge. The nearby club La Cueva is also a popular nightclub frequented by the local youth.
The archaeological remains of the military trocha from Jaruco to Moron
Also in the vicinity of the lagoon, archaeological evidence has been found dating back to Cuba’s first War of Independence in 1869, when the town of Moron became the northern end of the line of forts, culminating in the San Fernando fort, one of the biggest in the region. Built by the Spaniards to contain Cuban rebels on the eastern end of the island, the Trocha from Jucaro to Moron also included the first government railroad line Cuba, moving troops and supplies during the war. Consisting of a long and complex chain of forts set up as a means of defence, this trocha was the main barrier keeping the creole troops from advancing to the island’s western side. It extended over 17 leagues and by 1872 had 33 forts in total, most of which have been lost over time. The archaeological remnants of a few do remain and one has been recreated and can still be seen in Moron.
There’s more natural beauty to Moron than Laguna de Leche, namely another lake and a stunning rural town worthy of a visit. Both of the natural attractions I’m about to introduce you to are found some 8 km north of Moron’s city centre, but they’re most definitely worth the journey.
Found half-way between Moron and Cayo Coco and part of the Moron municipality, Turiguano is a former island that was linked to mainland in the 1960s, when a ranch community for the rearing of livestock was set up, along with the building of a small village with only 59 houses, each as identical as the next in picturesque Dutch style.
A land of large expanses of plains, dominated by tall palm trees and surrounded by hilly elevations, the vegetation here is varied, with three different types of natural landscapes: calcareous plains on the northeast, naked and semi-naked karst with evergreen forests to the centre and sludgy, inhospitable coasts to the south. Carbonated, sedimented rocks sit on red and brown soil, covered by pasture and mogote-style vegetation in the centre while swampy mangroves line the coast, with banana plantations. Fauna is also varied, with a significant population of deer, jutias, flamingos, farm horses, cattle and migratory bird species.
There´s a strong rodeo culture here with many years of tradition. Dancing, singing and all manner of lively serenades are frequent to celebrate locals´ birthdays, weddings and other national and local festivities, with bongos, maracas, guayos and claves joining forces to play sones, guarachas, boleros, and ranch-style Mexican tunes. Only recently has the region opened up to tourism, with some bus routes dropping visitors here, though Turiguano it´s still nowhere near as popular as it could one day be.
An unexpected Dutch village
The Dutch town (Poblado Holandes) in Turiguano is a one-of-a-kind in Cuba, where the distinctive red-coloured, peak-shaped, sloping roofs of the two-storied white houses are a marvel seen nowhere else on the island. This is why, despite being little-discovered by tourists, those who do make it here never fail to take a picture of this unusual Dutch townscape at the heart of rural Cuban countryside.
La Laguna de la Redonda
A pretty lake that extends for over 5 square kilometres, this is also the place with the highest trout population in all of Cuba, where you´ll find the headquarters of the International Fishing Centre (Centro Internacional de Pesca). Back in 2012, this lake was selected as the location for the sustainability project being developed in the Sabana-Camaguey archipelago, sponsored by the UN Environment Programme as a guide for the strengthening of sustainable tourism in the region.
A sweetening touch to wrap things up
If all the above wasn´t enough to lure you to the whimsical town of Moron on your next holiday to Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo, then let me sweeten the deal for you even more. One of Cuba’s most popular desserts was actually invented in Moron, the city to which a chunky Cuban biscuit owes its name – “la tortica de Moron”. Similar to shortbread but with a different twist in taste and shape, try and see if you can get your hands on one during a visit to Moron and enjoy the island´s most famous biscuit right at its birthplace.