By Ciro Bianchi Ross Photos: Roberto Morejón & Courtesy of Publicitur S.A
The Hotel Santiago can be seen from everywhere in the city You don't have a glorious experience. It is enough to go to the Pico Real Bar on the fifteenth floor and you can drink in the whole city at a glance.
"When the moon has risen full, I'm off to Santiago, Cuba.” This sentiment by Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the great 20th Century Spanish poets, is not unusual, since almost everybody coming to Cuba wants to see Santiago. The most important city in eastern Cuba and the second largest in the country is famous for its historical rebellions and heroism and its present day hospitality.
The first impact this city will make on you is the people living in it The people of Santiago are sensual, imaginative, happy, talkative, and vivacious. The city was established on undulating terrain and grew in concentric rings adapting itself to the landscape. This resulted in a number of irregular streets that, when seen from the bay, look as if they were constructed like steps in an amphitheatre. The best surprise waiting for you in Santiago is the magic and charm of its history that began almost five centuries ago.
Santiago's legacy is manifest. It is one of the most ancient settlements in Cuba. Founded in 1515, it remained the capital until 1589. Frenchmen fleeing Haiti in the days of the revolution looked for shelter in Santiago. Many others arrived from all over the Antilles increasing its population over the course of many centuries. Santiago is the most Caribbean of all Cuban cities. let has always been centred more towards the Caribbean than Havana. It is a melting pot of cultures, a meeting place of many races. People gathered here from everywhere, the Spanish, Africans, French, Haitians, and people from the Antilles in general. The mix of cultures and races is more evident here than in the rest of the island with the black influence being considered the most vital element.
The music, carnivals, and religion in Santiago all have distinctly African roots. The French influence can be seen in the folklore. Spain influenced the architecture with its Moorish accent and in the food with their mild spices.
If you have the chance to become familiar with Bolero music and that incredible style of singing that was born in Santiago, you will begin to understand the depth of the charm of this city. And moreover, when you realize that Conga and Son were also born here, you will be immersed in the magic of a city of rhythm and music.
The people of Santiago speak loud and laugh louder. They live with their doors open to all. Céspedes Park in the heart of the city is a boiling cauldron of people all day long. The same can be said of Heredia Street, the city's main street, and the Casa de la Trova where people like to meet. Beside a tree or leaning on a wall or along Padre Pico Street with its 52 steps and 12 landings, a man can be singing his dreams to the wind with a guitar while another man with a drum is making people dance.
You may never know if there is a free spot open at La lsabelica but the trip will be worth it for a tasty cafe oriental. The coffee from Santiago is different from Havana‘s. It is stronger because conversations can take hours. The terraces at hotels, bars, and restaurants can have a more relaxed ambiance with interesting personal touches. You can have the best Cuban rum, known as the King of rums or the rum of Kings, everywhere in the city.