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The Cuban Beats of Holguin

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Climbing the 465 steps to the Loma de la Cruz (‘Hill of the Cross’) is a pilgrimage worth its weight in effort. Grace awaits the walker at the top, where Cuba reveals its most spectacular urban panorama. Surrounded by green hills, Holguin offers itself in its entirety. Time to catch your breath, and you’re in. Slowly.

This isn’t Havana! It’s calm; I need this atmosphere,” says Saime, a forty-something resident of Holguin.

In this discreetly charming ciudad, nicknamed the “city of parks”, life happens to the beat of son, a slow rhythm descended from the mountains and the backcountry. It’s the music of The Buena Vista Social Club and its late guitarist and singer, Compay Segundo, a true son of this region. In the evening, son’s melancholy tunes fill Calixto Garcia Square. At Casa de la Trova, the sonero Gilberto Candela passionately serenades an adoring audience. But soon, the rhythm speeds up, and it’s time for some salsa! People begin languorously dancing between the tables as they prepare to take over the small stage. Unable to resist the rhythm, Saime cries out, “Here at the Casa, we can be ourselves and dance the way we want!” It turns out this laid-back town also knows how to party, especially at pelota games at Cachorros (Puppies) Stadium. Even though the local team doesn’t quite play like the mighty Industriales of Havana–or so says the former Holguin player sitting next to me–it’s clear that baseball is the national sport. The bleachers are packed with thousands of men and women, young and old, shouting “Viva!” and sounding their horns.

If you want to slow things down a little, head further out to sea. Beyond the hills and villages, half an hour’s drive will take you to Gibara, a modest fishing village where time itself seems to have taken an extended break. Modest boats bob gently on the waves in the harbour, while the sea breeze slowly erodes the cement walls of the village. It’s hard to imagine that Gibara was once known as La Villa Blanca for its gleaming white façades. Yet in this small town, the red-tiled roofs and crumbling fortifications hint at a time when Spain still ruled Cuba.

Sipping a Cuban coffee in an outdoor café, you can watch the world go by… and experience the sensation of time standing still.

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