Thursday 2 February 2012

A very Cuban New Year

The cries of pigs in peril echoed around the hills of Santiago de Cuba, as they realised their fate a little too late. Animal lovers, look away now. For all over the city, Cubans were preparing to celebrate New Year, with traditional roast pork washed down with rum. We saw squealing hogs loaded onto ferries en route to island celebrations, and families preparing their pigs over fires in the streets. They’re then buried in pit, covered with banana leaves, a wood-fire lit on top, or spitted. 

We’d chosen Santiago de Cuba as our New Year destination not for its pork, but for its music, which is legendary. New Year in Cuba is a massive celebration, because January 1 is also Dia de la Liberacion, the anniversary of the triumph of the revolution. On New Year’s Day in 1959, Batista fled the country, and Castro rocked up on the balcony of the town hall in Santiago de Cuba’s Parque Cespedes to deliver his victory speech.

On New Year’s Eve, Parque Cespedes was hosting a big fiesta of traditional Cuban dance and music. We went down early, and thankfully ran into a few drinking buddies for the evening. We’d met Sam and Jon, an English couple, on the 15-hour bus ride from Havana. Sam and I had bonded at 3am as we were trapped in probably the most stinking, filthy toilet I’ve been in in my life. Sam had no money for a tip and the attendant had wedged her foot against the door. I paid for our escape.

But I digress. As midnight approached, we headed to the roof of the Hotel Casa Granda, overlooking the square. We had a birds-eye view of the stage, where dance troupes and opera singers performed. At the countdown, an enormous Cuban flag was marched in to the sound of the national anthem, and unfurled, flying several storeys high.  All very patriotic. 

As the clock struck 12, fireworks went off – most of them exploding pretty much by our heads...

We retreated downstairs to practise our salsa steps with the locals....

The fiesta continued for days.  The main street was lined with stalls, selling beer, popcorn and pulled pork. People salsa-ed to sound systems blaring from the middle of the road. We watched a folkloric dance troupe (a form of dance to keep the slave culture traditions alive), the men bobbing their straw hats, the women sashaying in the colours of the Cuban flag.  

Everyone was dressed up:  small girls flounced around in bright tiered ra-ra skirts, women wore strappy dresses and gold heels, teenagers touted their best Eurotrash: with tight sequined t-shirts, white jeans, an extra helping of hair gel.

In another square, possibly the saddest fairground I’ve ever seen was in place. The rides looked like they had been transplanted from 1920s Brighton and left to age. Two children bobbed up and down in peeling sailboats on a seesaw. A goat, hooked up to a small cart like a horse, pulled children along. These kids wouldn’t know where to start in Disneyland.

But Cubans know how to party, no matter what their circumstances, and while we couldn’t get over our New Year hangovers, locals were still drunk by the time we moved on, to Baracoa. 

No comments:

Post a Comment