Thirdeyemom

Exploring Central Havana’s Hamel’s Alley

On afternoon I decided it was time to explore a different part of Havana that I had yet to see, Centro Habana or Central Havana. I’d see enough of beautiful Old Havana and thought it was time to see the real Havana that has been untouched. Central Havana is the most densely populated part of town and unlike Old Havana, nothing has been restored.

I hailed a coco-taxi (a three-wheeled scooter) right from my hotel in Vedado and enjoyed a fun ride down the Malecón to my first destination in Central Havana, a special place called El Callejón de Hamel (Hamel’s Alley). I was in for quite a wonderful surprise!

Taking a Coco Taxi in Havana

Taking a Coco-taxi in Havana. (A three-wheeled scooter with a cover and room for two in back).

Centro Habana Cuba

Heading into Centro Habana (Central Havana), a more densely populated and rundown part of town with ramshackle buildings and potholed streets.

Centro Habana Cuba

I paid my fare which was much cheaper than a traditional taxi and wondered why I hadn’t tried a coco taxi earlier. It certainly was a fun way to see Havana! The neighborhood was dramatically different from the other parts of Havana I’d seen. Much more rustic, rundown with buildings in various states of disrepair. Yet it also felt more Cuban. More like the real thing.

In Central Havana, homes and buildings are not being restored like they are in Old Havana and nearby my hotel in Vedado. Instead, buildings are decaying, weathered and falling apart. Sidewalks are filled with huge gaps and the streets could use a good repaving. Yet,  the people are all the same. Smiling. Resolute. Frustrated. Resigned. Just like other nicer parts of Havana, Cubans sit outside on doorsteps chatting with neighbors and playing the guitar.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

I had heard that Hamel’s Alley (El Callejón de Hamel) was a treasure for photographers. Tucked away between two streets Calle Aramburu and Calle Hospital on Hamel this two block area is a phenomenal Afro-Cuban community art project. Created in 1990 by self-taught Afro-Cuban painter and sculptor, Salvador Gonzales Escalona, Hamel’s Ally is an impressive example of how a simple idea can transform a rundown place into a creative explosion of color, culture and art.

The moment I stepped out of the coco cab and set foot into this magical place, I was entranced. Entire four-story buildings are painted in a burst of color and designs reaching all the way to the sky. Whimsical sculptures are made out of recycled antiques into works of art. Inspiring quotes and saying are painted into the walls.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

The entrance to Hamel’s Alley. Unfortunately I picked the wrong time of day for photographs as the sun was shining a bit too much.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

The entrance into an explosion of color

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

As soon as I walked through the gate I was met by a licensed guide who for a few dollars gave me a tour of the place, pointing out the best works of art. For some reason, I had the entire place to myself, a rarity per my guide. If it had been a Sunday afternoon, Hamel’s Alley would have been jammed packed with locals and tourists alike listening to live Rumba music and dancing. 

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

A small Santeria store inside Hamel’s Alley offers special herbs, beads and deities based on the Santeria religion.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana CubaBesides the murals, there are interesting sculptures made out of antiques and other recycled objects such as bathtubs, typewriters and even old cars. Nothing goes to waste in Hamel’s Alley. There is also a learning area for children in the community to take their try at creating art.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

These are all painted bathtubs built into the walls.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

The place is enormous and there is no end to the murals. These ones go all the way up to the top of this building.

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana Cuba

El Callejón de Hamel Havana CubaI couldn’t get enough of this place but felt it was time to move on with my exploring of Centro Habana. I only had another hour until I had to go on our next people to people visit. We were having cocktails at our hotel with Cuban university students.

Stay tuned…

 

160 comments

  1. OMG! amazing..your photography, the colors, the way you capture Cuba and the tubs in the wall..Thanks for sharing and bringing me a taste of Cuba:)

    • Thanks Amy! I think I’m finally getting better at actually taking photos now when I travel as I think about what I want to share with my readers and how the pictures will help to tell a story. I appreciate your comments! 🙂

  2. Nice. Thanks for sharing. The first thing I noticed were all those old classic cars. But what a scene! That’s really cool, heads and shoulders about “our” building “art” of street gangs.

  3. Gosh, Nicole, these photos are STUNNING! I adore street art!

    Sorry to have been away all week. We’ve had friends visiting from the US and have had to do hostess thing. I’ve hardly had time to turn on my computer. Hope you are well.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Sounds like you’ve had a great week Kathy! I also am amazed and honored how you tweeted to freshly pressed about this post! 🙂 Can’t wait to see it live on the FP page!

  4. Whoa! What an amazing place. I don’t know which piece of art is my favorite…the bathtubs, the recycled sculptures, the quotes painted on the walls, the murals that reach to the sky??? I think I could spend a week there and never see everything. Now, I really have to go to Cuba. I’m off to Ecuador tomorrow. I can’t wait to visit my blogging friends…like Kathy above, and Lisa, and Nancy and John and Mary. I may not be able to respond to your posts, but I’ll keep them safely tucked in my emails until I return. 🙂

    • I bet you would go crazy there! Wow, I can hardly wait for you to meet all these amazing blogging friends!!!! I will be waiting to read the posts and see the pictures. What a great opportunity! I finally met Kat from Travel. Eat. Garden. last week. She lives in Duluth and was in Minneapolis on business. It was so fun to meet her in person!

  5. Not unlike Mexico, color seems to be a huge part of their lives in Cuba. Given the limited supplies available to them, you can see there are some very talented artists in Cuba. Thanks for sharing Nicole. 🙂

    • Yes indeed LuAnn! Color is very important and it is amazing how this entire two block area has been painted so wonderfully and with limited supplies.

  6. Mexico’s awesome. They seem to have culture there that corporate medium-sized towns and big cities in America just don’t have. I used to be super patriotic but now that the Old South, West, and North are largely dissappearing, I don’t feel very patriotic anymore.

  7. WOW WOW WOW! Brilliant captures! Love the colors and the subject matter. I’ve neer been to Cuba but these photos make me wish that I had been

  8. It’s really interesting to see how the locals turned unused tools and equipment into works of art. Give some colors and they create a beautiful scene that is Hamel’s Alley.

  9. What a unique experience! I think Cubans have just given us an idea on how to revivify old, gray parts of Manila… (I live there) 🙂

  10. Your touring of Central Havana gives me the same of sense of walking through “the hood” in New York. Like it’s the real New York. The playgrounds, the elevated train stations, broken concrete and desolate streets with high poverty and low income. The places tourists and people who live in neighborhoods with restored buildings avoid. The fruits of socio-economic imbalance and broken democracy. The real America.

  11. Wonderful post Nicole. The colors are amazing and your photos – Wow! You’ve really captured the flavor of the place. It’s such a great slice of life – one I’m sure many tourists miss. Thanks for stepping off the beaten path, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed again! 🙂 All the best, Terri

  12. Wow! What a treat, it is so amazing what creativity comes out of people when they have limited resources, sometimes less produces more. Thank you for sharing

  13. Oh, just fantastic documentation of the Callejon!!! I have been there – went on a day when there was some riotous musical happening, so crazy and memorable. But I think the art was a bit different then – chances are it is evolving all the time… Such a fun, colourful post – looking forward to more! 🙂

  14. When you get to something for real, instead of the ‘vision’ put out by the USA propaganda machine, it often comes as a great surprise. Thanks for opening a few ‘blinkered’ eyes.

  15. Beautiful photos and great insight, Nicole. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Have you read anything about Yoani Sanchez regarding Cuba? She’s a dissident blogger from Havana. I’m reading her book now, Havana Real, and it’s really eye-opening. Highly recommend it.

  16. Very nice! I have never seen this before. I enjoyed trip very much. It reminds me a little of La Calle Brisas in San Francisco – at least in the 1980s – when I visited. Safe journey!

  17. Wow! The feel of the place is wonderfully captured, your photos gorgeous. I’ve long been intrigued by Cuba and have never visited. It’s on my list of places to travel to. Thank you for this post, it’s the hidden treasures that make a destination so memorable.

  18. If been to that place, it’s really amazing, how creative the people are! Loved Cuba. People are so friendly there!and nature is wonderfuI, I think the world has a wrong view on Cuba. I hope things will be better for them soon. Nice pictures of Hamel. We have a travel blog called freeasbirds.com, feel free to take a look. Greetings, Lobke

    • Thanks for stopping by. Yes I agree that the Cuban people are lovely and I really loved it there. I just felt guilty about a lot of the situation that people have there but they are so warm and friendly despite the food shortages and difficult life. I will check your blog out! Thanks!

      • I totally understand.. but you shouldn’t feel guilty..thing that happened are in the past. It’s a good thing you reflect upon that and try to make people see Cuba in a different way. I know Americans are not very keen on Cuba and the whole history that ché would be a mass murderer. The thing is that the Cubans don’t see it like that. Every time we post something about Cuba, we get silly reactions from people that seem to be stuck in their vision about this country but don’t think about what has happened there. So I think it’s great that you do. So don’t feel guilty about it. Writing about it in such a positive way can change a lot! i can only say.. keep on spreading the word, you might have a bigger impact on it then you would imagine. greetings Lobke

  19. Oh my goodness, these photos are STUNNING!!!!! I’ve looked through them four times now and they’re getting better with each viewing if you can believe it! Havana has been on my list of places I’d love to visit since a friend went a few years ago, but you’ve just bumped it up a few spots!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I am so glad you enjoyed the post! I have many more on Cuba that I’ve written already so be sure to check them out. I hope you go there soon! 🙂 It is a wonderful place.

  20. bythetrail

    Amazing photos! Visiting Cuba has been on my bucket-list for quite a time now, and this post makes me want to go even more.

  21. Oh my gosh this place looks amazing!!! I desperately want to go there. Through the photos the feeling of this place seems so vibrant and alive, what an amazing and unique place!

  22. Love all your photos, what a magical place! I can just feel the rebellion in those murals and sculptures. Oh am
    Nod talking about reusing your old stuff – us Americans can really learn from these Cuban artists – it seems that nothing goes to waste.

    • Thank you so much! 🙂 Yes the Cubans are amazingly creative at using every single thing they have. Wish we were more like that instead of being such a throw away society!

  23. Hey! I’m trying to connect like minded bloggers via a Facebook group. I have create one which is called United Blogging Network. Hopefully it can provide a source that bloggers can provide mutual support for each other! Hope to see you there soon.

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