LOVE and FIESTAS
Valentine's Day dawned with a hot and hazy Cuban sky. On our second day atop a hill overlooking the little village of Chivirico, we already knew that Cubans know how to Fiesta. Our late night arrival at the small resort of Los Galeanos had been greeted by lively music wafting up the hill, and our waitress assured us that this was a nightly event.
Our first morning we looked down on a sleepy village waking up - uniformed children in happy groups skipping to school, ancient trucks packed with workers and headed into the mountains, roosters crowing awake their sleepy-eyed owners, neighbors, and tourists atop the hill. Small village life slowly stretched and yawned itself into the gentle action of the day. But by mid-afternoon, the ancient speakers were out, music wafted up the hill, and the beginnings of a Fiesta was underway for another night.
This wasn't just any night though. This was Valentines Day. This is the day when the famously passionate Cuban people combine Fiesta with love - romantic love, love for friends, and love for their family. This was a night to celebrate!
Myself and three friends and fellow photographers had already experienced such warmth and kindness from the villagers of Chivirico. Days spent photographing in the village gave me a sense of belonging. There appeared to be little barrier between villager and tourist. My constant request, "Un photo por favor?", was always greeted with a smile, and so often they wanted to share what little they had - an invitation to view their house, an offer to hold the pet parrot, to hold and photograph a beautiful Cuban baby, and everywhere, a warm 'Ola!' and a smile without reservation.
We knew we could not miss Chiviricos Valentines Day Fiesta, so that night, as the music wafted up the hill, we slowly made our way down. It was a moonless night, and we were guided by glowing floodlights to a party that warmed my heart. The villagers of Chivirico showed me partying Cuban style.
Scattered around on benches were mums and dads, dressed in their finest - women in lemon yellow and orange, stubbled husbands with hats and best shirts. Around them the children ran, or milled about, or giggled in groups. Off in the darkness a horse broke through the trees, full-tilt - wagon bouncing over the rocks behind, and joy-riding little boys having the time of their lives.
My little friend Jordana, met and photographed earlier that day, took my hand and guided me through the yellow light amongst the villagers, and talked non-stop, although I had not a clue what she was saying. Then she brought her parents to me and instructed their poses while I photographed. Then she brought her friend and mother for photos... There were more but I lost count.
The night wore on, the Mariachi band filled the air, and four exhausted travelers made our way back up the darkened hill with a new-found sense of what Fiesta is all about.
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