Two Faces of a City #3: New Year in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba. A Photo Documentary

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Two years ago I was travelling in Cuba for four weeks. I have tried to experience Cuba as it really is using local transport, eating local food and talking to many amazing people. Today I want to share some of my favourite photos from Sancti Spíritus and some insights into the life of the Cuban people with you. While my last two photo documentaries about Cuba aimed to document the hard life behind the colourful facades, in this post I will show you how New Year is celebrated in Cuba.

If you want to know more about Cuba, head over to Part 1 of my series on Cuba featuring Havana or check out Part 2 about Trinidad.


Puente Yayabo

Sancti Spíritus is a beautiful colonial city that is often overlooked by tourists since most people only visit the smaller yet more popular nearby town of Trinidad.

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18mm, f10, 1/250; Click on image to enlarge.


Historic Centre of Sancti Spíritus

Just as Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus was founded it 1514 and therefore was one of the first European settlements in the New World. The colourful facades of the historic centre have been beautifully restored and contrary to Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus is not overrun by tourists.

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18mm, f8, 1/400; Click on image to enlarge.


Religion in Cuba

In the historic centre I came across this beautiful blue church. Despite the socialist government discouraging the practice of religion in the past, not everybody is an atheist in Cuba. In fact, there are quite a few religious people in Cuba and recently the government lifted restrictions that had previously banned religious Cubans from joining the communist party. When I was travelling in Cuba in 2015, Pope Francis had just visited Cuba and was welcomed enthusiastically by the people.

Christmas is also celebrated in Cuba, but very differently from the Western World: I spent Christmas Eve in the small Cuban town of Remedios, where Christmas is celebrated with a huge street party and fireworks all night long, so I was excited to find out how New Year’s Eve would be in Cuba.

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18mm, f9, 1/500; Click on image to enlarge.


Dancing on the Streets

When I arrived in Sancti Spíritus on December 31, everybody in the city already was in a great mood. On the central plaza some elderly men were dancing to the music. I have put together a GIF out of three photos I took, it does not exactly have the frame rate of a film but I think you get the picture.

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105mm, f5.6, 1/200; Click on image for large still image.


Cuba Libre

When the clock hit 6pm, I decided to drink a Cuba Libre by myself to celebrate the beginning of the New Year in Germany. The pocket knife you see in the photo was a present from my parents and after my phone had been stolen in Brazil and I decided not to get a new one, this pocket knife became my everyday watch for several months.
However, while Europe was already celebrating the new year, in Cuba there were still 6 more hours to go until midnight.

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24mm, f4, 1/60; Click on image to enlarge.


Traditional New Year’s Dinner

New Year’s Eve in Cuba is celebrated with family and friends, so I was very lucky to be invited by the family in whose casa I was staying at to join their New Year’s Celebrations. The typical dish on New Year’s Eve is roast pig cooked over the open fire. In this photo you can see a pig with a sign reading For Sale on the side of the street.

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35mm, f4.5, 1/60; Click on image to enlarge.


Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Luckily, the family had many relatives and friends over, so we managed to eat the whole pig, it was super delicious! Since they had invited me to join their celebrations, I decided not to take my camera because I did not want to be seen as a tourist. I may have missed out on some great shots, but meeting so many great people among the family’s friends made up for this.
At midnight, we headed to the central plaza where most of the town was gathering to celebrate the beginning of the New Year together. The family had told me not to expect too much from the fireworks since in Cuba fireworks are quite hard to get, but they assured me that nearly every year at least somebody was able to get their hands on some fireworks. Well, when the first ten minutes of the New Year had passed without a single rocket or banger, it was obvious that there would be no fireworks this year. Nevertheless, I enjoyed celebrating New Year’s Eve with this amazing family and their friends!

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40mm, f9, 1/320; Click on image to enlarge.


Hangover on New Year

Apart from my Cuba Libre I did not drink on New Year’s Eve, but these guys seemed to be a bit hungover on New Year’s Day…

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135mm, f9, 1/640; Click on image to enlarge.


Cerveza from the Truck

For those who had not had enough to drink the night before, there was a truck selling homebrew beer on the streets for 1 peso (about 0.04 USD) per 200ml cup. If this price seems unreal to you, be sure to check out my last photo documentary about Trinidad where I explained the Cuban currency system.
The beer might have been the cheapest beer I have ever had, but it was certainly not the best and might be another explanation for the hungover guys above…

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22mm, f8, 1/500; Click on image to enlarge.


A Tired Start into the New Year

At the place where the elderly guys had been dancing the day before, now some tired dogs were sleeping. Maybe they had also done a bit too much partying the night before.

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18mm, f6.3, 1/200; Click on image to enlarge.


Happy New Year to You!

As you see, I had a great start into the year 2016 in Cuba. I hope you also had a great start into a Happy New Year 2018 today!
After celebrating New Year’s Eve in Sancti Spíritus, I left the city for my next destination in Cuba: Camagüey. Stay tuned for the upcoming part #4 of my photo documentary series about Cuba and be sure to follow me to not miss out!

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26mm, f13, 1/320; Click on image to enlarge.
Also, check out my first two Cuban photo documentaries of my series Two Faces of a City if you haven’t already:

Please note that the information in this post is mostly derived from conversations and impressions I had during my stay in Cuba two years ago and may not be totally accurate nor up to date.

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18mm, f8, 1/400; Click on image to enlarge.
This post was first published on my Steemit blog.