I sat down to a mountain of fruit in my Casa Particular that morning, my host Rafael was checking with all of the guests if they needed any help navigating anywhere. After he told the young Irish girl precisely where to buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus, it was finally my turn. “Uhh…” I stammered. I wasn’t really sure how this request was going to be received, as it can be a touchy subject.
“Do you guys have, like, a giant Lenin here?”
Somewhat confused (understandably), Rafael explained, “We have a Lenin, but it’s not giant. It’s normal sized,” He gestured with his hands suggesting a typical, near-life-size bust. “And it’s all the way out in Regla. It would cost you $50 to get a taxi there and back.”
Somewhat deflated, I fiddled around somewhat aimlessly on maps.me, looking for some alternative. I saw that there was a ferry across to Regla, that would potentially cut out a lot of the distance. I could feel Rafael was growing weary of my Lenin-based questions, so I decided to head out to the ferry terminal (Terminal de Ferris) and see what I could find out for myself.
On the day of Lenin’s funeral (27th January 1924), thousands of people gathered on Loma del Fontan in the Havanan municipality of Regla to grieve for the former Soviet leader. The Socialist mayor at the time, Antonio Bosch, renamed the hill Colina Lenin and planted an olive tree. It is heralded as the first monument to Lenin outside of the USSR.
Sixty years later, in 1984, a bronze relief of Lenin’s face was installed into the side of the hill. Designed by Cuban artist Thelma Marin, the face is surrounded by 12 white figures, intended to symbolise Cuban solidarity with the October Revolution.
Fast-forward to 2017, and I’ve just paid $1 CUC (the local’s pay $1 CUP but that’s a completely separate issue) to take the ferry across to Regla. It’s only about 1.5km from the ferry terminal to Colina Lenin, but it was about 37 degrees out. It also became abundantly clear that I’d left the tourist trail as every person I passed stared somewhat open-mouthed at the (almost unfeasibly) sweaty white girl trudging up their hill.
It took a little longer than I expected, but eventually, a taxi swooped past to holler at me. Frustrated, from having been completely fleeced by taxi drivers my entire trip in Central America, I barked “Quanto?!” at the seemingly unsuspecting driver. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. One dollar, it’s okay!”
He drove me up the hill to Colina Lenin and dropped me in front of an abandoned building. Everything I’ve read online about this place has suggested there was a museum on the same site, but all I could see was an abandoned building. Out the front, there was a small, white bust of Lenin. You know, like normal size. “Oh fuck…” I thought to myself. “Have I come all this way just to see a standard sized Lenin?”
I walked through the abandoned building (goes without saying, really) which seemed have originally been a school or kindergarten. Once I emerged through the back, there was still no giant Lenin to be seen.
I almost gave up, until I remembered that the pictures I’d seen had the Lenin built into the hill, and I was standing on a hill. I located the staircase and behold, giant bronze Lenin with weird white plaster figures, in all its glory.
As I walked back to return to the taxi (who had agreed to wait for me and drive me back to Central Havana for $10 CUC – fucking bargain!) I smelled something very funky. I turned back on myself and saw two dead roosters nailed to a palm tree. The only way it could have been more gross would have been if they were still alive, I guess. I’m not sure if it was related to Santeria or just someone getting their jollies, and no-one I consulted with afterwards could shed any light either. If you’re an expert on this stuff I’d love to hear from you (I think…). I was in two minds about even taking this photo but I thought I ought to for posterity’s sake. So if you’re offended by dead chickens nailed to palm trees, probably don’t scroll down any further. If you’re not offended, look closely and you’ll see nails that suggest this probably isn’t the first time this tree has had something untoward nailed to it. It’s the same palm tree you can see on the left in the photos of Colina Lenin above.
There are more weird, white, plaster people on top of the hill as well. They’re in significantly worse shape than the ones below, fawning over Lenin.
Also, if you know of any other giant Lenin statues, please let me know their precise location and any other supporting information you might have access to.