Staying For Las Parrandes de Remedios

By BobbyRica | December 29, 2011

(Here’s a rather fun entry from a Canadian surfing buddy of mine who ventured into Cuba with his family during the holidays. As one would expect, things didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to.)

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My name is Craig, a politician’s aide by profession, family man and father of two. I thought I was going to get away from a winter Christmas by going to Cuba’s warm relaxing beaches for this year, but instead found myself doing and enjoying something else entirely.

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We were hyped up by our tour guide for sure. A giant street party marked by a few distinct phases that’s been practiced in Cuban streets since the 18th century. Fireworks, street lights and giant paper lanterns, called farols, color the deep dark sky come December 24 starting at 10 PM. It all culminates in a faceoff between float presentations between the neighboring streets of El Carmen and San Salvador. They call it Las Parrandes de Remedios (roughly translates to festivities in Remedios.)

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The family was not happy with the change of plans at first. To get there, we would take a week long trip well in advance of what everyone anticipated and skip Havana’s sunny beaches, for a three hour long ride just to get to Remedios itself. I managed to convince the kids with the promise of a carnival atmosphere, with abounding kid’s rides and street food galore (notwithstanding that Parrandas is technically not a carnival). The wife I had to promise a return trip for a private beach honeymoon, which might make me a little tight in the pocket, but gave me something else to look forward to the following year.

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What you don’t read in travelogues and blogs is that the revelry starts days before. Early on, my promise to the children was met as they got to try out various colorful rides, ate candy, colored popcorn and other things. I felt very much the budding amateur photographer, taking pictures of wonderful displays across the street, with smiling and welcoming Cubans all around. There really is something amazing looking at all these wonderfully elaborate constructions of paper mache, glue and dye take on all these faux-architectural forms.

Then came the big night itself. One thing the tour organizers hadn’t warned us about was the liberal use of alcohol in these events. Nothing untoward happened, but I was more than a little regretful I had brought my family along and would not be able to participate in that aspect of the celebration that much myself. Well, Maybe I had a little rum, it is a world famous import, after all.

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I really can’t give you a blow-by-blow account of the events that day, because of my little attempt at fitting in with the locals. Nonetheless, my loves assured that I was still very much sober enough when it struck 3 AM and the parades finally came in to display themselves and be judged. It was a tie! Again, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if that was a fair assessment of their presentation, given my state at the time, but there was definitely enough evidence, in the pictures and video my family took, and even some live audio my clever son decided to take and treat like a radio broadcast to use for a school assignment, that it was a grandiose time, one that felt more like a real celebration than what passes for Christmas in our shopping malls back home. it was then that Craig Manning the public servant became Craig Manning, videographer. Or something to that effect.

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We ended up going back to Havana and staying for Triunfo de la Revolución. To usher in the new year, Cuba celebrates the fact that it was in fact January 1, 1959 when Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista and install their current government. That was a grandiose celebration in its own right, but we couldn’t help feeling that it paled in comparison to the fun and spectacle we had experienced a few miles away and a week ago in Remedios.

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