Callejón de Hamel - Voices in Colour
In my first blog post about Cuba, I went into "What you should know before you go" in great detail. I noted that after extensive research, I picked the places I definitely wanted to visit, and found a tour group that could accommodate these experiences.
Check out the first post right here: http://www.fairytalekindagirl.com/travel/2017/8/21/cuba-what-to-know-before-you-go
One of these places was Callejón de Hamel. It translates to Hamel Alley, but Callejón de Hamel has a better ring to it. It's located in the neighbourhood of Cayo Hueso, in Havana, and is known as the place to go for an Afro-Cuban experience. It was started in 1990 by the artist Salvador González Escalona when he painted a single religious mural on the street. The street at the time was nothing special in that it was crowded, dirty, and in a struggling neighbourhood. It was definitely a far cry from what it is today. At that time, it was not common for murals that were non-political to be showcased in Cuba, so this was a definite milestone on the part of Salvador, as he is known. Cuba has a deep history with Africa, as in the time of slavery, over a million slaves were brought to the island from different parts of Africa. There are hundreds of African religions, but in Cuba today, there are four major ones which are practised, with Santería being the most popular. Santería worship is often associated with witchcraft and spells. I can't comment on that as it may be true, or it may be very false, and a perception due to the few rituals which are viewed by the public which can be interpreted as frightening. We are simply accustomed to a certain type of religious practice, one that we can explain, and as such when we see a practice of something different, it's easy to fear or misinterpret without the proper information. Now, I don't have the proper information, and based on research Santería is a religion that is kept very close to the flock, in that it is learnt through the rituals being passed down, and practised, as opposed to books and such. You do not need to subscribe to others' beliefs and way of life, but I believe that as long as those beliefs do not harm, or wish ill on anyone, they should be respected. I choose to respect them. This alley is an ode to their religion, but more so, the African culture that forms a part of the people who are Cuban, but have not forgotten their African roots.
Now, let me say that there was a definite energy about this place. I won't say it was good, or bad, but being quite superstitious myself, I chose to be cautious. This means that I did explore at leisure, taking my time appreciating the works of art. It's truly amazing how creative people are in this world. I did choose to not, or rarely touch anything. We saw a group of tourists who had a tour guide that encouraged them to ring a bell in the shrine of something he said the worshipers believed was alive. Now, that I wouldn't do, because I'm hella grumpy when someone wakes me up for no reason. So, why would I want to engage the wrath of a supernatural in that way. So, things like that will always be a pass for me, while giving the group a wide berth as well (so the spirit doesn't think i'm associated with them). I don't even have a picture of it because again...I can be paranoid.
As you enter Callejón de Hamel, you pass through an entrance and an arch with the name, so there's no doubt that you're in the right place. Your eyes will immediately be pulled in every direction as there is vivid colour, design and text on every inch of space. The art is not like anything I've ever seen before. The sculptures are made from old items, trash even. They include old bicycles, bath-tubs, mailboxes, etc. and the transformations are astounding. There's just so much to soak in, and it needs to be appreciated at a leisurely pace. Give yourself time to pause as long as you need to while staring at a mural on a wall, or a sculpture made from the most basic of household 'trash' that is now a piece of art that speaks volumes. The art is not all or mostly religious. As with everything in Cuba, there is a huge emphasis on patriotism, with the Cuban colours and flag being prominent, and very present. The alley grew from one mural on a wall to a defining community area. Everything in this area from the paintings, to the sculptures are the work of the artist Salvador. That in itself is amazing. He actually lives in a house on the compound. There's also a restaurant, and a workshop, and every Sunday from about noon there's live performances by rumba groups, with dances and true expressions of the culture, and Santería religion. This alley is the hard work of one determined artist, but it was done with the support and love of the community. This support, portrayed through his art has strengthened the bonds of community, enriching the lives of those who live there. The foreign interest has allowed the culture to be kept alive and appreciated both at this location, and others as it has created opportunities for Salvador to paint murals in the United States, Canada, Venezuela, and other countries.
I especially enjoyed the experience with our guide because while he did tell us about the place, and answer questions, he let us explore on our own for as long as we wanted. He always made it clear that it was our experience, and there was no rush and as you will see from the many, many pictures in this blog (which is only a small percentage of what we actually took), we definitely took our time. I think this is a place that should be visited when you visit Cuba. You can simply tell any taxi where you want to go, but please agree your fare beforehand to avoid surprises. You can go with a guide, or you can explore yourself. The time spent here can be anywhere for fifteen minutes to hours. It depends on the visitor. I hope to visit again to experience the true Sunday experience, and I definitely recommend it.
Have you ever been? Let me know in the comments below.
Light and love always!
Enjoy the experience through the photos until you visit yourself!