Recently, on a College of Charleston led, semester-long study abroad program to Havana, Cuba, I went on an excursion to the mountain town of Las Terrazas in the province of Artemisa, Cuba.
The excursion began on a Friday morning in late February at the corner of Calle 19 and B in Vedado, the Havana neighborhood we all lived in. My classmates, I, and our professor piled into a van driven by Jorge, a delightful Cuban taxi driver. We traveled west from the city of Havana on the highways for approximately two hours, and, by midday, we found ourselves in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range, located in the province of Artemisa. After driving through the twisting mountain roads, we came upon a town that appeared to be carved into the mountains. This town, called Las Terrazas, meaning terraces in English, derives its name from its appearance of being built into the side of a mountain at increments resembling steps or terraces.
Upon exiting the van, I was struck by how lush and verdant the town was. Interspersed with the trees and grassy spaces, apartment buildings and houses popped up on the mountain side. We began to trek up the steep incline, towards town. Eventually, we happened upon the home of Polo Montañez, a famous Cuban singer who passed away almost two decades ago. Since his death, Montañez’s house has been converted into a museum to showcase his achievements and to preserve his memory. After visiting Montañez’s house, we went to one of the apartment buildings at the base of the hill where a local artist recycles paper which he uses to make postcards and notebooks. This artist explained his process for taking old newspapers and other used items and converting them to new sheets of paper. Additionally, he showcased his printmaking abilities with beautiful images of birds, butterflies, and plants endemic to Las Terrazas.
After experiencing some of the culture of Las Terrazas, a few of my classmates and I rented a small rowboat so that we could explore the large pond at the bottom of the town. We rowed around the pond, talked, laughed, and looked at the tall pines that dotted its shores, until it was lunch time.
For lunch we took a short drive to Los Baños de San Juan, a small group of river shoals that are a popular swimming area for Cubans. Located on the bank of Los Baños de San Juan was a restaurant where we lunched on grilled chicken, rice, black beans, and root vegetables—typical food of the area. After eating and hanging out around Los Baños de San Juan for a while, the group was tired and ready to head home.
Las Terrazas will always remain a highlight of my trip to Cuba as it allowed me to witness Cuba outside of the capital city.