After breakfast, we head to small town of Remedios, which we are told is recognized as the 8th oldest city in Cuba, founded in 1514 by Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa. It is a lovely, quiet town that apparently comes alive each December when the Parrandas Remedianas Carnival is held.
Our tour leader today, whom we meet at the town square — Parque José Marti — is a handsome artist, unofficial "mayor" of Caibarien, and who has been actively involved with the Parrandas Carnival for many years. This central plaza, also known as "Plaza Mayor" was restored in 1970 and is surrounded by colonial buildings, monuments, trees, palms and a gazebo.
Remedios is the only town in Cuba with two churches on its main square. Across from "Iglesia Mayor" on the north side of the Central Plaza is Iglesia del Buen Viaje, which has been abandoned until repairs are authorized by the government.
Our first stop along this portion of our Remedios adventure is to the Museum of Parrandas where memories of past celebrations can be found in photographs, documents and hand-made objects, including a photo exhibit of last year's festivities.
According to tradition, when the bells toll at 9PM on December 24, two neighborhoods — San Salvador and El Carmen — meet up in Parque José Marti, accompanied by floats, costumes and banners. Since the Revolution, the Parrandas begins on the Saturday before December 26, the day on which the town was liberated by Che's troops and ends in a grand finale on December 24.
The San Salvador neighborhood is represented by the colors red and blue as well as the symbol of a rooster. The El Carmen neighborhood uses the color brown and the symbol of an Eagle. Each of the rival neighborhood floats features light bulbs that are collected door by door by team members who fan out across their neighborhoods. The two teams loudly confront each other, making public their year-long secret creativeness and efforts, in a fierce competition until dawn using musical instruments, noise makers and fireworks. The head of the losing team is thrown a fake funeral on the last day, which the entire town attends.
Our next bici-taxi stop was to the Parrandas workshop of El Carmen where this team designs and fabricates their festival float. There we met with several of the artists including the lead artist for the El Carmen team. Go, El Carmen!
The reason for our visit to Caibarién is to meet with members of an artist collective who have transformed a portion of a house into an exhibit space to sell their works.