We were picked up by Tony and Pedro (our driver) at 9.30am and made a couple of stops in Havana before we set off for Las Terrazzas. The first port of call was at Hamel Street, where the artist, Salvador Gonzales Escalona, had decorated the walls and created art installations in the area. Originally, they had just been art but had gradually developed into the theme of Afro-Cuban religion.
A local guide show us around and explained something about the religion itself as we went but, as he said, ‘I can only tell you about the ‘A’ of the A to Z’, as it would take hours. It was quite complicated and he mumbled somewhat, which made it even more difficult to understand. However, as I understand it, members of the religion pray to the gods of earth, water, forest etc. and believe that the spirit is within them and needs to be protected. This may be done in a number of ways including sacrificing chickens and wearing bracelets, the colours of which vary according to which god they want to protect them.
I had seen ladies in town all dressed in white and I now discovered this was part of the initiation into the religion, which included such strict rituals as keeping their heads protected, wearing white for a year, not going out of the house after 6pm or letting the sun shine on them at midday. Both Deb and I felt uncomfortable in the street as the whole concept of the religion was quite alien to us.
The next stop was at the artist, Furster’s, house. He had created mosaic murals, inspired by Gaudi, all around his house and in his neighbourhood. The result was quite fantastic and surreal and the garden bore a resemblance to an amusement park. Many of the murals show elements of the Revolution as Furster is a strong Castro supporter.
The interesting part of both these areas is, according to our guide, the fact that they have actually been allowed to exist, particularly in the case of Hamel Street, as religion had been banned in the early days after the Revolution, as the Revolution itself was regarded as the ‘religion’. No open display of religion would therefore have been permitted. It was only recognised following the visit of Pope John Paul.
We finally got on the open road and Tony suggested we stop at a typical Cuban restaurant for lunch. The first one we tried had changed its menu since he was there a month ago, with CUC prices and was very expensive (by our standards), so we drove to another where it was full of Cubans and the prices were ridiculously cheap and in Cuban pesos. Unfortunately, my stomach was feeling a little odd so all I could eat was some very tasty bean soup but Tony and Pedro tucked into enormous plates of pork, plantain, yucca and tamales.
It was a short drive after this to Las Terrazzas, which is a National Park and, to us, very disappointing. We were supposed to stay in the hotel, which had been built around the trees growing there, but it was full and we had to drive on to Soroa and stay there instead. The houses in Las Terrazzas are all occupied by workers in the park and it seemed quite an artificial sort of place. The Cubans love it though. We had a walk down to the waterfall, (which was small) along with a coach party or two, and also viewed the most interesting part of the whole place, which was the cabins that could be rented for the night, and which looked quite appealing!
Another short drive took us to Soroa and the hotel, which is very like a resort. Apparently, we are being compensated with a free dinner for staying there. How hard! The rooms (admittedly not exactly luxurious) are set around a beautiful swimming pool and unlike anywhere else we had been.
We met Tony and Pedro again in the evening for a drink and then dinner in the restaurant. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was extremely tired so just had soup and ice cream whilst the men ate vast amounts from the buffet. I’m not sure how they fitted it all in!