THE FAMILY OF WELL-DRESSED TOURISTS in front of us almost walked right into it, then flinched away, with much panicked tugging on arms. I got right in there to take a picture. “No,” a voice warned. It was a tall man behind me. “Mala suerte,” he said, wagging a finger as he continued around the corner. “Bad luck.” And then I realized: This wasn’t roadkill, this big healthy rooster with clean feathers, not flattened or matted. We were in Cuba, and this was Santeria.
Havana is a gorgeous shambles in bright Caribbean pastels—turquoise, pink, sea green, soft blue. Out along the Malecón, the city’s long seafront drive, old mansions are pinned together as close as clothes on a line. Moorish, Venetian Gothic, rococo, art nouveau—some restored, some wearing bright tatters of paint, others crumbling completely.
On the other side of the boulevard, a broad sidewalk runs along the choppy Straits of Florida. Couples cuddle on the parapet, jumping up and whirling away as a jet of spray explodes over the sea wall.
For most Americans, there’s something tauntingly provocative about a place your country has spent fifty years telling you not to go. Within weeks of the doors opening, we ducked through, Natalie and I, to see Havana while we could. In particular, we came to Havana hoping to find out a little about Santeria, the island’s homegrown religion. As it turned out, Santeria found us.