A myriad of reggaeton and salsa music entered my apartment. My Cuban alarm clock had gone off. Apparently, this is how Cubans begin their mornings and I was totally here for it. I had finally gotten some sleep, even if just 4 hours, and I was ready to take on the day. Gwanz and I met up at our central location, the Melia Cohiba Hotel, and headed to Café Mamainé to begin our Afro-Cuban Religion Airbnb Experience.
Adriana, an esteemed professor throughout Vedado, had arranged for us to meet in the upstairs loft area to share a snack and signature morning coffee beverage with the other members of the group. I’m not typically a coffee drinker when I’m in the states, but international coffee is a must. It’s much, much stronger which was just what I needed to keep me alert throughout the tour.
We traveled for about 30 minutes to the town of Guanabacoa. Adriana, being a native of this town for 15 years, was the perfect guide in providing us with a true, authentic experience. Guanabacoa is known as the heart of Afro-Cuban culture in Cuba. It is a beautiful, lively town filled with beautiful people and buildings that I gawked at in amazement as we casually walked through the streets.
Adriana led us to Meseo Municipal de Guanabacoa where she spoke about the ancient Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. The African American cultures’ influences on the rest of the world will never cease to amaze me. There were so many exhibits that were relative to a lot of the things that we, as Americans, practice today. From Christianity to Masonic practices, African culture cannot be denied.
Learning about the Santeria religion was quite memorable. But the best part of the experience was actually meeting with Damien, a “babalawo” of Santeria, at his altar. Damian provided a very brief explanation as to how he looks into people’s future and gives advice based on what he sees. I participated in a cleansing ritual performed by Damien. I didn’t have any objections nor did I once feel as if I was going against my own beliefs. That’s the beautiful part — learning about different cultures, customs, religions and being able to embrace and appreciate them.
Another part of the experience was to understand the sacredness of the Ceiba Tree. We learned about all of that while feasting on the deliciousness prepared by Damien and his family. We all sat around basking in each other’s presence. It was confirmed that we had all traveled from all around the world with the same logic for visiting Cuba: To get a first hand experience of this beautiful, breathtaking, once-forbidden country.
I love to eat and I appreciate when someone prepares food for me. So to express my gratitude, I ate as much of the food that was prepared before trying to consume the most potent fucking vodka I have ever tasted in life. I didn’t even try to be brave and finish all of the sin-cleansing liquid that Adriana had poured into my coconut. I tried to add more coconut milk & water to it to make it easier to drink, but was quite unsuccessful. I know my limits. And the little I did consume, permeated on through to my soul. I would swear that if there was any evil spirit dwelling within the depths of my soul, it was exorcised and cast into the deepest depths of the abyss’s abyss of Hell.
Damien also allowed us to view a building structure behind his home that was sacred and primarily used for rituals. I felt privileged to be able to see this structure and even tried to envision the ritual taking place as Damien went on to explain it’s importance. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of this place and I had absolutely no problem with that. The memories are still quite vivid.
As our time with Damien and his family grew to a close, Adriana provided us with a wonderful souvenir bag and sent us back to Vedado. I still think about the experience, because it’s fresh in my mind and it was an actual experience rather than a “tour.” I’m definitely grateful to have been in her presence. Sometimes you meet people and they are easily forgettable. And then you have individuals like Adriana who have beautiful spirits that stick to you. And I’m beyond grateful for that.
After returning to Vedado, Gwanz and I grabbed a quick bit to eat and headed back to our apartments. I had plans to visit Soroa, but due to my lack of thorough research and my limited amount of pesos, I remained in Vedado. The taxi driver was nice enough to take me on the scenic route through Centro Havana while he sang along to the reggaeton that I requested he’d play for me.
I spent the remainder of the evening exploring the neighborhood, where I also discovered a Wi-Fi park. Gwanz met me here and we spent hours checking in and out with America while recollecting our Afro-Cuban experience earlier today. We wanted to learn more about Santeria, and particularly, Gwanz wanted to receive a reading from a “babalawo”. I low-key wanted the experience too so we decided to find one while we visited Callejon de Hammel on the following day.
If only we’d had someone to dissuade us. But the experience makes for an incredibly, funny fucking story.