March 5, 2013

Havana: Hamel Alley

With its colorful buildings with peeling walls and American cars from the 50's, Havana take us to the past as if we were on a movie. This city has so much to tell that every traveler visiting the capital of Cuba takes a bit of it in their hearts.

Today I won’t write about my visit to the city, accommodation where I slept or famous monuments I knew. Today I will write about a spot that I can’t forget since I was there: Hamel Alley.

Located in Cayo Hueso, close to the famous “Malecon”, we found a small place of worship. If you do not know where you're headed, doubts whether to enter or not, thinking that is part of a complex with extravagant apartments. At the entrance there is a wall made of stone and metal, where you begin to sense that what you are getting into is not like anything you've seen before.

Founded in 1.990 in honor of one of the first settlers, Fernando Belleau Hamel, this alley became famous for hiding the first urban mural of Afro-Cuban culture. Painted by Salvador Gonsalez Escalona, who decided to change the neighborhood when he was painting a friend's house and watched all the damaged fronts of the buildings. Thanks to him, the walls are lined with murals and the image of this neighborhood, which has totally changed, will endure over time.

Over the years, this hidden corner of Havana was filled with colorful paintings, original sculptures, poems written in stone, and Santeria. This amazing place has a special balance. For paintings, Salvador used car varnish and for sculptures, recycled materials. We could say that creativity reaches its peak when the artists are able to reinvent a wall decorating it with bathtubs and columns and making it work of art.

Currently, the alley is full of workshops for young Cubans who want to learn about Afro-Cuban culture. Visitors have the opportunity to meet some of the artists and take home a souvenir painting.

But this place is not just painting and sculpture. Weekends are crowded, Cubans and tourists, and Hamel Alley becomes an outdoor stage where rumba, son and drums flood everything. The dancing is amazing and you can enjoy a different day with Afro-Cuban rhythm.

Inside this magical place, we can also see clearly African influences. A worship center where Santeria is the protagonist, brought from Central Africa and associated with Palo Monte religion. I didn’t know about the existence of this branch of the Afro-Cuban religion until I reached Hamel Alley. More than a religion, it is a witchcraft based on the powers of Nature and ancestor worship. Sticks are sacred objects with powers infused by  the spirits. The practice of Palo is made at the altar or Nganga and in the alley you can see one of them, where believers make its offerings.

If you go to Cuba, do not forget to look for this little corner that pays tribute to Afro-Cuban culture and is unique in the world. You won’t be dissapointed.