Cuba: Travel among Saints, Magic, Tobacco and Rum

The first morning in Havana I wake up still dizzy for jet lag. The breakfast is inviting and refreshing. There is guava juice, hot butter and honey sandwich and a steaming omelette that gives me the energy to start the adventure. I arrive in the entrance hall of a building in Calle Concordia. I see a guy of color, more or less my age, with a huge belly and a very long cigarette in his mouth. He wears denim shorts, sneakers, sky blue t-shirt. He is surrounded by dozens of people waiting for him to observe him with admiration and devotion.

In short, the first morning in Havana is really folkloristic. I observe with amazement and curiosity all the people who are there. I think that the cold is the same. I am struck by some altars that I see from the open doors on the street. There are photos, fruits, flowers, candles, cigars, rum and the favorite foods of the Orishas, ​​the Cuban divinities. The santeros practice the prediction of the future and are the earthly voice of the Orishas.

W​hile the babalawos are more powerful oracles, a kind of high priests of the santeria. The santero is a healer, a character to be used to solve everyday problems but also when traditional medicine does not give hope. It is easier now to understand how the Santeria is married with the lifestyle and the Cuban mentality. It is a religion also made of rituals that give an important place to rum and tobacco!

Magic, mystery, superstition, filters of love and death characterize the Santeria, the true religion of Cuba, transported there by African slaves. The Orishas are the deities, to their origin real personalities endowed with "achè" (Power). They are then transformed into an immaterial force that is not perceptible to human beings except when it takes possession of one of them through the ceremony called hacerse el santo.

Among the best known Orishas there are Changò lords of fire and lightning, god of war, and Babalù Ayè, deities of lepers and skin diseases. Then there is Elegguà (lord of the streets), Obatalà (creator of the earth and of the human being) and Yemayà (mother of life). In Cuba, Ochùn is the goddess of love, femininity and the river. She has been identified with the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (patroness of the island) and plays a very important role.

To honor the Orishas, ​​the Cubans have parties with music and dancing and lots of food and drink. The most important day is December 4th when Changò is celebrated. In the booklet of Denise I am passionate about the myth of Ochùn, lady of love and femininity, divinity of the river, symbol of female grace, Changò's lover. He lived in the river and assisted pregnant women and pregnant women. She is represented as a mulatto beautiful, nice, good dancer and always cheerful.

Ochùn loved more than anything else to wear brightly colored robes, to adorn the feathers and to sprinkle the body and hair with fragrant oils. She also cared very much about her collection of bracelets and combs. "None of this is important, compared to the joy of holding a baby in your arms!" He said to himself as he stored his treasures in large baskets. Then he got rid of his colored robes, combs, bracelets and pearls and was content with a sober and peaceful life. So, after some time, he gave birth to a child and then another and another. There was no mother happier than her.

The tour of Havana is intense. The city is beautiful. At Plaza de Armas I discover El Templete. The neoclassical temple was built in 1828 to celebrate the foundation of the city, which according to Cuban historians was founded exactly in that place. Here is the Ceiba, the sacred tree for the santeria where the inhabitants of Havana queue up to give the vuelta a la Ceiba or make three slow anticlockwise turns around the tree while they touch the trunk expressing three wishes.

It is a good luck ritual that should not be renounced. By tradition, whoever performs this ritual the following year, everything will be perfectly fine. If one of the three wishes is fulfilled you must return to Havana within a year to thank and perhaps this is the hardest part for us tourists. In front of the convent of San Francesco there is a bronze statue depicting a beard with a thick beard and long hair, nicknamed "El caballero de Paris". Perhaps because as a young man he had worked in the "Paris" restaurant.

His real name was José María López Lledín, a gentleman from Spain, born at the end of the nineteenth century. He wandered the streets of Havana, accepting money only from acquaintances. El caballero discussed philosophy, religion and politics with the people he met and was a very kind person. They say that he was unjustly imprisoned in the Castillo del Principe and that after this bad experience he began to have mental problems. So it was that after fifty years of wandering he was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Havana and there, breathing his last breath, he said, "I'm no longer the knight of Paris. These are not times for aristocrats. "
The statue, which depicts him in his typical attitude, is photographed by millions of tourists who touch his beard as a good luck charm. The feeling, although not known, is to be close to a charismatic man and worthy of respect, someone with whom you would like to exchange a chat but now you can touch your hands and beard in a silence that tells everything.

From the plaza I head for the monumental Cemetery Cristóbal Colón, under a really hot sun. The cemetery is a real city with many roads so a guide is needed to know the stories of the dead who live here. For example, there is the tomb of Mrs Amelia Goyri de la Hoz, who died in 1903 at the age of 23 and was buried with the child at her feet. Legend has it that when the tomb was reopened to exhume the body, the child was found in the arms of the mother.

This whole story has made Amelia legendary who has been idolized as a woman of the miracle. The Cubans call her the Milagrosa. They offer her flowers and prayers every day. Her white tomb, with the statue that depicts her with her child in her arms, is now a destination for pilgrimages. It is covered with plates in marble or bronze that thank her for miraculously intervening in desperate cases of pregnant women and babies in danger. The Milagrosa receives flowers and invocations more than the other sacred figures.

The guide then tells of another tomb, this time of a rich man madly in love with his wife who had her build a funeral monument with roses inlaid in black marble and colored glass from which a ray of sunshine enters that falls right on the coffin of the woman. Love wins over everything, says the guide, even on death.


Viñales is the place where bananas grow. Viñales is also the town with its colored verandas, almost all accompanied by beautiful rocking chairs. It is an invitation to the sweetest idleness, in this valley that is an ode to slowness, for those arriving from afar, from frenetic rhythms. You can find yourself in this corner of the world where, if you want, you can pretend to have found a time machine somewhere and have planned it for a trip back a century.

Coming from Havana, you also notice that here there seems to be a higher standard of living than the capital. Perhaps because Viñales is the second most visited resort town in Cuba. However, the colors here shine with fresh paint. There are several bars and restaurants of good local cuisine, a cultural center, music and various events.

This town, which is located in the picturesque setting of the National Park of Viñales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an important center for the cultivation of tobacco and coffee. It is precisely the plantations, with the typical straw huts used to dry the tobacco leaves, to characterize the landscape of Viñales, with the green and imposing limestone mountains in the background, exaggerated in shape, like those that draw the children. Rural Cuba actually begins as soon as you leave Havana. The highway is covered by such a small number of cars that the autopista name seems inappropriate:

In Viñales, in addition to the landscape, I remember especially the golden light of the five, the best moment to walk, when the central square is in full swing and the rocking chairs, on the verandas of the houses, are occupied by little sisters with heads full of braids and big smiles, from grandparents with little sleeps, women who rest after work, mothers with young children. Or tourists, yes, because as we like to imagine having discovered a secret Cuba, only ours, a remote and unexplored corner, the reality is that you walk among many, many other foreigners, who come here for the same reasons, looking for the same things.

This does not mean that Viñales is a charming and still authentic place to relax for a few days. In addition, the colors of the houses, the American cars of the fifties, the men on horseback, the background of the valley and the plantations, are a real invitation to photography. Almost every corner deserves a shot. In the evening, on the main square, they often play live, an entertainment that we like adults, but that was particularly appreciated by our daughter, famous in the family for having started dancing even before she learned to walk and that in Cuba, in this sense, it was decidedly at ease.

When you come to Cuba it is also done for its sea and so, after Viñales, we moved to Cayo Levisa, a paradise with white sand and crystalline sea, which you do not need to describe, because it is the postcard that everyone they know. A place where the only Cubans they meet are those who work for the resort.

Upon returning from Cayo Levisa and before returning to the capital, we decided to spend a few days at the seaside, near a more "normal" beach, also frequented by Cubans. We chose a small resort south of Havana, which has a less postcard-like appearance than Cayo Levisa, but still with a beautiful sea and certainly with more personality.
Next Post Previous Post
  • Jeevan
    Jeevan September 15, 2011 at 6:53 AM

    Many more congrats Kalyan! I quite agree with your thoughts on blogging and I’m sure that nothing could stand alone for long without any support, and this blogging disclosed a world where we learn the significant of sharing what I believe as an essence of this living life.

    I’m glad meeting u here and blogging nearly along with u these days… I am just a year earlier than u in blogging. I missed u many time here, but every time I receive your mail I feel happy that I still remembered in your mind to call as a friend. Thanks so much for your friendship and support in blog. Keep sharing and let us share always :)

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous September 17, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Happy birthday to your blog!

Add Comment
comment url