Dec 30, 2018

Finding Fusterlandia

Every traveler, commoners included, occasionally comes upon a place that defies easy description.  During our daylong tour of Havana, Cuba, our stop in Fusterlandia was that kind of place.    

Without pictures, the best way I can describe Fusterlandia is to ask you to imagine yourself in a land that looks a little like Willy Wonka meets Mary Poppins meets Roger Rabbit’s Toon Town.  It’s a place where life literally meets art, and the art itself is larger than life.  

When you first enter the Fusterlandia neighborhood, though, you may think it’s a lot like any other residential area in Havana.  A little more colorful, perhaps.  A little more influence from the ocean nearby.  After all, most Cuban maps still name this as the Jaimanitas neighborhood where fishermen live near close to their occupation. 

How Jaimanitas became Fusterlandia, and ultimately a tour stop sensation, is a story at least 20 years in the making.  And it all began when Cuban artist Jose Fuster moved in.  Art is not a passion of mine, but it doesn’t take long to figure out why Fuster is very famous for his paintings, ceramics and sculptures.  Critics notice the incluence of Picasso and Gaudi, but to a novice like me, I just think he’s unique in his own right. 

After Fuster moved into what was a rather rundown area outside of Havana at the time, he began sprucing the place up – one house, fence, bus stop, park bench, etc., at a time.  The photo above, for example, is the neighborhood doctor’s residence.

Eventually, other artists got into the act and began contributing as well.  The Artists’ Wall is a prime example.  Today, Fusterlandia is a proverbial artists’ colony.  Artists’ shops are run out of their homes, and those shops are bustling with tourists brought here by tour guides like our friends at Old Car Tours.  

At the center of it all is the residence of Jose Fuster himself.  The main entrance is through the courtyard, and it's apparently open daily to visitors.  Yes, he really lives here and works on site.  Pretty amazing given the amusement park atmosphere you encounter upon arrival. 

Even the public restrooms are decorated appropriately. (Tourist tip:  In Cuba, be prepared by bringing your own toilet paper, or pay for a few squares on site.) 

In many ways, Fuster’s home is like a living museum, and that includes a gift shop of sorts.  We really should have picked up this book when we had the chance.  Good luck finding it outside of Cuba.

Once you get past the ground level, you begin to appreciate the scale of the Fuster residence as you weave your way through a multi-level maze of staircases and crosswalks. 

Every so often, our Old Car Tours guide, Jorge, would point out a specific sculpture or mosaic to describe how it had been inspired by important figures in Cuban folklore and the Santeria religion.     

Other works of art were more whimsical in nature.  Many of the sculptures on site were designed specifically to appeal and entertain the neighborhood children. 

Eventually, we reached the rooftop, which Jorge suggested was a perfect photo opportunity for me and Punky.  Of course, he was right. The view from the top really captured how Fuster’s imagination has influenced the entire neighborhood.  

Equally fascinating, at least to me, was the glimpse into the everyday life of Fuster’s neighbors from this vantage point.  I sure wouldn’t mind a backyard full of fruit trees. 

After we completed our tour of the Fuster residence, we took some time to browse the open shops on the other side of the street.  We didn’t leave empty-handed.  Punky found a couple of small canvas paintings to her liking, and I purchased a finely made leather wallet engraved with the Havana Club rum logo. 

The neighborhood’s own micro-economy extended into the street, with vendor carts set up with snack and drinks available to purchase.

Finding Fusterlandia was without a doubt one of the highlights of our time in Havana.  The place is both slightly offbeat and off the beaten path, and it’s easy to see why Havana’s residents are proud to share it with us.  I highly recommend a side trip here to anyone who’s fortunate enough to visit Cuba.

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