Santa Clara, Ten Years Later

Photo feature by Isbel Diaz Torres

Glorieta of Santa Clara

HAVANA TIMES — I returned to Santa Clara Province after a ten year absence, yet the city remains as beautiful as when I was there for the wedding of my best friend from college.

I’ve always said the best thing about that place, right in the center of the island, is its people. Of course I’m aware that’s a cliché, but I certainly don’t have any other one to express my experience.

Many of my friends from the university — studying biology, microbiology and biochemistry — were from that province. Then I got to know the tenderness that emanated from these simple, beautiful and intelligent people with whom I entered adulthood, and as many of us know, university friendships often last for a lifetime.

Since then, whenever I’ve returned to Santa Clara it has been to receive even more affection and to get to know these pleasant people even better.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s a perfect place. It’s full of contrasts, inconsistencies and the usual nonsense of those who the poet Eliseo Diego called “the strange peoples.”

The preeminence of two central figures are disputed there in the popular imagination: the great Ernesto “Che” Guevara (I can only imagine what children must go through when they find out that Che was not born in Santa Clara), and Mrs. Marta Abreu de Estevez (1845-1909).

Live music every night at El Mejunje.

Che is known for having waged the famous “Battle of Santa Clara” in this city. For her part, the wife of the vice president of the republic (“the sublime incarnation of charity and patriotism,” as is stated on the monument to her in centrally located Vidal Park), through her donations and acts of charity she founded many of the major institutions of the city during the second half of the nineteenth century.

As for the city itself, one can find eclectic architecture, like in nearly every city here on the island, a beautiful mix of colonial mansions, stained glass, ceramic floor tiles, period streetlamps, red roof tiles, the historic center and gray post-revolutionary quarters with buildings like the ones known as the “Russian Block.”

People on the street constantly talk about the bad transportation situation. However, unlike the capital, they don’t have the long Yutong buses; instead, they travel in horse-drawn carriages (for 2 pesos), motorcycles (3 pesos), or tri-cycles, which are a little bit more expensive.

Many people prefer to use their own bikes, and though they don’t do this out of any environmentalist sentiments, the reality is that this is contributing greatly to having spaces that are less contaminated by toxic gases and disagreeable noises.

Places not to miss:

– Parque Vidal (the cultural hub of the city, with its library, cafes, museums, hotel, theater, and other sites)

– El Mejunje (every day with a different cultural event offered – from folk music to rock. Currently they’re presenting a photographic exhibition entitled “Gay Life: From Hamburg to Santa Clara”)

– El Coppelia (with many more specialties and better treatment than at the giant ice cream shop in Havana, but with less flavors and more red tape).

But if you go to Santa Clara, the best experience will always be talking with its people.

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