This “Town of bridges” is one of the cultural highlights of Cuba.
It has brought us the rhythms of Rumba, the conjunto son and through that the Salsa.
I can’t help but to compare this city to Santa Clara.
It’s a little more than half the size of Santa Clara and although they both have a delightful, laidback and friendly atmosphere, you can still sense a difference in the city’s heartbeat.
While the heritage of Santa Clara has to do with the 1958 battle, the roots of Matanzas derive from the cultural genre of music, dance and poetry. And the city has that extra touch of a free-and-easy humour, a lenient tone and an apparent carefree outlook on life.
Whether this state of mind is in spite or because of the harshness of daily life I can’t tell, but Matanzas has the greatest gift of all:
A light heart.
Matanzas has two big and contrasting churches.
In the town centre the “Catedral de San Carlos Borromeo” dates back to 1693. It used to be a beautiful and elegant church with frescoes on the walls, ceilings and in the big dome, but after years of neglect due to poor funding, the decay today seems irreparable.
What a pity!
I can understand why the communist regime “can’t afford” the restoration, but it’s hard to understand why the church-order hasn’t intervened from abroad.
If you look to the north of the city, you can see what can be achieved by a gentle restoration.
Hovering on the north as a landmark of the city, just above the Hershey railway station, lies the newly restored Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol. Even from the distance you can see the beauty of the church, and if you take the short walk up to the church, you’ll find the interior to be just as beautiful.
The 10 minutes’ walk to Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol took me into a part of town that doesn’t see that many tourists; so I became the target of many good-natured remarks from the local Cubans.
It could have something to do with the fact that I was in my tourist outfit including: 2 cameras, a sun cap, sandals, shorts, a T-shirt bulging because of the moneybag on my stomach and sunglasses that rested gently on a nose so red that Rudolf would have been bursting with envy.
I met a young guy sitting on a low staircase. He called me - with a smile, asking if I wanted to buy one of the four young, charming girls sitting next to him. The girls laughed, smiled shyly and apologetic at me, and then gave the guy some well deserved warning punches with a rather good fist and another smile to go with the punches.
Then there was the tall, elderly guy coming smiling directly towards me, trying to intercept me to ask for a dollar. I circumvented him with a smile and ten meters after passing me he turned around and shouted in Spanish; “Where are you from?” I shouted back; “Denmark” and he replied with a knowledgably grin: “Ah, I know that. That’s in Norway!”
Opposite the fire station downtown Matanzas you can visit the “Ediciones Vigia” where they produce small, decorated and handmade books primarily for export to Spanish-speaking countries. With the doors almost closed to keep the heat away, it’s easy to miss the slim entrance, but inside you can see a small exhibition of the books. The staff will only be happy to tell you about their work. They are clearly and rightfully so proud of their craftsmanship.
In Matanzas I met curious, warm smiles everywhere I went. Even the many vendors sitting on the stairway to their houses had the surplus for a smile. They sat there with a box beside them and tried to make that little extra by selling a lemon, a tomato, an orange.