Location: Santuario de San Lázaro, El Rincón, Cuba
Dates: 16 December
Level of Participation: 5 – walk, crawl or prostrate yourself if you really must
For a pilgrimage worth bloodying your knees to see, head for El Rincón on the outskirts of Havana to watch (or join) up to 50,000 faithful descend en masse on the venerated shrine of Lazarus, a saint known for his ministrations to lepers and the poor.
Once banned under Castro’s Cuba, the pilgrimage was given government approval again in 1961, and the more difficult the approach to the shrine, the greater the supposed rewards. People crawl on bloodied knees to get here, or walk barefoot for kilometres through the night. Some drag themselves prostrate along the roads, both on their stomachs and backs…all in the name of exorcising evil spirits and paying off debts for miracles granted. Along the winding route, offerings of candles, flowers and coins are made to the impoverished figure of San Lázaro, who is depicted on crutches, with his sores being licked by dogs.
Safety Advice: Recent accounts indicate that violent crime in Cuba, although still relatively rare, is on the rise. It’s most often related to lesser, petty crimes like theft, when a victim resists or fights back and the incident ends in an assault or worse.
Many criminals carry weapons such as knives or machetes, and frequently work in teams. This means that if you are targeted, you are probably outnumbered and you may be harmed. Don’t be a hero – if you’re confronted in a robbery don’t resist, hand over whatever the thug is looking for and get away as quickly as possible to someplace safe.
Incidents of sexual assault also occur from time to time against women, particularly at night and in areas that aren’t frequented by a lot of tourists. Much of the catcalling and whistling that goes on can be considered relatively harmless; however female travelers should be aware of their surroundings and try to avoid walking around alone.
Some career criminals commonly referred to as “jineteros”, spend the majority of their time on the streets trying to swindle tourists. They typically speak very good English and appear to be friendly and welcoming.
They may offer to help tourists by playing tour guide, or offering to get them deals on merchandise like cigars. What they end up doing is robbing you, so be cautious of anyone who seems overly friendly and eager.
Essentials: You’ll need to stay in Havana and catch a train out to El Rincón – on 16 December trains run all night from Train Station 19 de Noviembre.
Local Attractions: On a nearby hilltop at El Cacahual is the open-air mausoleum of General Antonio Maceo, the hero of Cuban independence.
More Info: www.cubatravel.cu
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