Photographs by Gonzalo Vidal (all rights reserved).
Gibara sits on its bay, on the north coast of eastern Cuba, not far distant from the city of Holguin. Some say it was named after the jiba, a bush growing abundantly along the banks of the Rivers Cacoyuguin and Gibara, which flow out into Gibara Bay. Others believe it came from the guibara, a common shrub found along its coasts. But whatever the origins of its name, it was here that Christopher Columbus first set foot in Cuba, his ships finding shelter. Amazed by the richness of the vegetation, the proliferation of bird song and the framing of the hills, it was here that he exclaimed “this is the most beautiful land that human eyes have seen”.
It was here on 28 October 1492 that Columbus became the first European to encounter a native Cuban, which he erroneously called “Indian” due to his belief that he had reached the edge of Asia – a label that came to stick, for all natives of the Americas. The Cuban, no doubt a Taino, was sat by the sea’s edge, completely naked and smoking a large cigar. Not so different, except for his nudity, to those who still pass the day sat on the coast, contemplating the sea with a fishing line in their hands.
It has been said that while neighbouring Holguin moves with the boisterous rhythm of the Cha Cha Cha, Gibara revolves with that of a melodious waltz. But the town was founded by the people of Holguin during the nineteenth century, on cattle ranching land, first with its fortress, and then with the quickly growing town. The Villa Blanca, Pearl of the North. Town of the Crabs, for the thousands that inhabit her rocky shores. This was the port through which Holguin was fed, but the two cities were ever rivals, fighting out their competion on the baseball field.
Gibara Bay, with its clear waters surrounded by stunning coasts, at one time was filled with trading vessels of all manner of nationalities. The port was one of the island’s foremost, with cargo and passenger ships docking. All the more so when the city was connected by railway to Holguin in 1883. But now it sleeps, with just the small boats and improvised rafts of the prawn fishers. On her dark sanded beaches roam the crab catchers and cockle pickers, though the hunger of recent times has sadly depleted the fruits that the sea has left to offer.