Our second day started with a short ferry ride across the harbor to Regla, which is a municipality in Havana. We went to experience another part of Havana, but also to see the Santería church that’s located in Regla. Santería is a blended religion unique to Cuba. When the Spanish originally settled Cuba, Roman Catholicism was established as the only religion that was legally allowed to be practiced on the island. Once the Spanish realized they needed more labor to work the sugar, tobacco, and coffee plantations, they brought over slaves from West Africa. There were many attempts to assimilate/convert the slaves to Catholicism, but the slaves were not interested in converting or being converted to Roman Catholicism. They held tight to their own Yoruba religion. Over time, a melding of ideas occurred and Santería was born. Santería is polytheistic, and revolves around deities that resemble Catholic saints. There is a formal structure, but there is no central authority that controls the religion. As such, practice of this religion can vary based on the location or the local church. Some Santería churches will not allow practitioners who haven’t been baptized by the Roman Catholic church, and others will allow anyone to practice. We spent a couple of hours walking around Regla, and we saw several people dressed all in white. We learned that they were being initiated into the church and were wearing the traditional all-white garb. Even though Regla is part of Havana, it definitely felt like a smaller town than Old Havana.
After Regla, we went to Cojímar, which is a seaside town that inspired Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea. It was a beautiful town and as we arrived, we saw some fishermen coming in with the day’s catch. They were using pieces of styrofoam to sit on and they had flippers they would wear to navigate their “raft”. They sat on the edge of the styrofoam and used their legs for propulsion. It was very creative! These particular fishermen were spear fishermen and they fish by free diving with their spears. We ate lunch at a local home and they served the most amazing swordfish!
After lunch, we visited Havana House, which is a private club with an art gallery. The work of Cuban artist Kadir Lopez is on display – we met him the third day of our trip, so it was neat to see his art. The house had a super peaceful patio and a lush front yard. I wandered down the road a bit and saw a cat stationed in a doorway next to an empty plate. To my absolute delight, a bird landed on the plate and the cat pounced! The bird was too fast, but it was so fun to watch!
Our next stop was the Cristo de la Habana, which is a 66 foot tall marble statue of Jesus that overlooks the bay in Havana. Right around the corner from the statue is La Cabaña, which was used by Che Guevara as a headquarters and a military prison after the revolution. We ended the day at the Plaza de Armas, which is the oldest square in Old Havana! It was founded in the late 1700s and is also where the Castillo de la Real Fuerza is located. This fort was completed in 1577 and served to protect the harbor from entering forces. Our second day was packed full of sights, information, and history!