By Orlando Matos, NBC News, August 12, 2014
HAVANA, CUBA — Four blocks – a half mile – does not seem big enough for more than two million people to have fun, but this is the space where habaneros are celebrating and seeking a distraction from their daily lives.
This is the capital’s carnaval, a century-old tradition which has been forced to adjust its scale due to a more modest budget brought about by the economic crisis. It’s not known how much this event will cost the city – these figures are not released – but it’s a very modest celebration.
Yet judging by the stream of people, the crowds are not paying attention to the carnival’s budget issues. It’s an opportunity to have fun at a price reasonably accessible to a population for whom elaborate entertainment events are usually elusive; they are more available to those with foreign currency.
“We came to enjoy,” said a couple from one of the stands in front of the passing floats and groups of dancers. “This is what there is,” said a group of young people.
Away from the stands, a crowd dances and sings along to musical groups taking part in the carnival’s so-called paseo or “walk” that extends to other parts of the city.
Havana’s carnival is not lavish, but there is variety and color in the different floats’ dresses and costumes and the choreographed pieces are full of rhythm. Most importantly, the infectious conga music makes everyone’s hips move.
Cuba’s carnavales are the most popular parties in the entire country, and Havana’s carnival can stand up to the one in Santiago de Cuba, whose fame transcends beyond the island’s borders.
The festival, which started August 8th and goes to August 17th, is a breather for the capital’s residents. It’s a time to leave behind any struggles with transportation, food, currencies and a struggling economy.
It’s a joyful break.