The International Writers Magazine:Cuba Vacation
dancing in Cuba
Salsa. Cigars. Rum. Castro. When
you think of Cuba, are these not the first thoughts that pop into
your mind? Dont worry, you are not on the wrong track. Cuba
is truly wallowing in cigars and music. Rum is in every drink
mojitos with their juicy mint leaves, and of course, let
us not forget: the famous Cuba libre. Most importantly, President
Fidel Castro might be old, but he is still very much alive
and extremely powerful.
I went to Cuba
as a cultural tourist. Actually, to be honest with you, I just went
there to dance salsa, smoke cigars and party like a wild animal in heat.
I can tell you, without too many details or I might get myself
into trouble that I did exactly that. But I also got a little
more, than what I had bargained for. I saw the culture with its
ups and downs as well. Cuba, to me, was perfect in its every
first morning in Cuba, I awoke in a Victorian style place called
the Hotel Sevilla, that really sent me back to the Al Capone times
of the 1930s. That whole day, I walked the streets of Old Havana
the most interesting and famous area of the capital city.
There were many sights to be relished, such as an old fortress looking
over the waterfront. Most interestingly, however, were the buildings
that smothered the skyline of Havana. Beautiful as they were, they
were crumbling to pieces.
It seemed as though
these buildings had not been restored since their birth. It was truly
a saddening experience to see the sheer negligence of such wonderful
structures and architecture. Not only this, but the buildings were also
decorated with depressed-looking people in every doorway. Do you know
what most of them were doing? Nothing. They were just warming their
buttocks on the steps of the building, watching passers-by and smoking
massive cigars. Well, since the Cubans can boast of one of the best
health care systems in the world, alongside free education, I suppose
hanging out with a cigar tucked permanently into the side of your mouth
doesnt sound like a bad idea.
I heard music incredible sounds flowing down the streets.
I quickened my step to find where it was coming from, and I stumbled
across an entire salsa band jammed into a room the size of a closet.
They had all the instruments you can imagine from drums to
trumpets to trombones and even the maracas. Here I was, standing
on the street (the room was seriously too small for me even to step
inside to get a closer look), listening to the most miraculous music
coming out of the poorest of dwellings. This was the Cuba I had
expected to see. I must have stayed on that street for another 30
minutes, dancing with the random strangers who passed by. When it
comes to salsa, it does not matter, whom you are dancing with. It
is a pure form of passion for the dance. Close your eyes, and the
music will take you away.
Cuba is truly an
interesting country. It has the passion and the free-spirited culture.
The people are extremely approachable and friendly. Communism is also
still very much at large. It is shocking to see how little one can buy
there. The shops are completely empty, with random cans of beans sitting
on the same shelf as a packet of expired batteries or something obscure
like a lady shaver. It is very exciting, but make sure you bring lots
of spare batteries for your camera, if you are planning a trip. I made
that mistake and am paying dearly for all the lost memories I wish I
days in Cuba passed too quickly, and I tried my utmost to explore
every corner of their culture. During my walks through the streets
of Havana, I spoke to many locals, who also found it exciting to
hear the views of someone from the outside world. One man told me
that Cuba is like a beautiful prison. The island has such breathtaking
landscapes and nature. The beaches are pure white with crystal blue
waters. It truly looks the image of perfection. But how frightening
is it not that the people cannot leave the country.
There are only three
ways they can legally cross over the border to international waters:
Getting married to a foreigner, finding a job overseas, and finally
gaining an official invitation from someone to come to their country.
This invitation must, however, be personally approved by the big man
himself Fidel Castro.
He is so powerful, that the people on the streets are too frightened
to utter his name. They call him the "La Barba" (the bearded
man) or simply, "F". Some will not even go that far, and others
will boldly say his full name, whilst looking nervously over their shoulder.
Castro, it is whispered, is everywhere and hears everything. I could
not quite figure out, if they liked and respected him or if they, in
actual fact, feared and loathed him. No one was courageous enough to
tell me. But I got the feeling, that they all have a deep sense of admiration
for their leader who, as one of the very few in the world, stood up
to the super power nation the U.S.A. and is still standing.
This is only supported on the main roads of Cuba, which are plastered
with overwhelming billboards screaming anti-American political slogans
to the readers: "No tenemos miedo" we are not scared.
The billboards could sometimes be a bit ghastly to look at with
pictures of war and the like so I decided to simply enjoy the
pleasures of Cuba and pursue the real reason, to why I had come so far
to the enchanting Caribbean island: To dance some salsa! There are not
really any places to get information about anything in Cuba, so I had
to ask random people on the streets for the whereabouts of the salsa
clubs. I finally found one Casa de la Musica (the House of Music).
They have an afternoon session and an evening session. Apparently, the
evening session is mainly for the tourists who are lured into paying
rocket-high prices for the door entry and drinks. So, I elegantly skipped
along to the afternoon session. "Wow", is all I can say. Dancing
is my greatest passion, and I was simply blown away. The people can
move like you would not believe! It is as though every single bone and
muscle in their bodies is constructed solely to feel the musical waves
penetrating their souls. It was a magical experience, and even better
than watching was, of course, dancing. Within minutes, I was dripping
and slipping in my own sweat, jiggling away to the music of the night
(or, should I say afternoon). I danced for eight hours straight
Now, that I am back in Dhaka, my thirst to dance salsa has luckily been
quenched upon discovering that there is a salsa night every Friday at
a place called the Privilege Club in Gulshan. It is not Cuba, but it
will do. Salsa is something that must be tried at least once in a lifetime.
The next day, I had a new quest to embark on. Although my whole body
was sore and aching, and all I could think of was a massage, I had a
new goal. I was going to find a Cuban man, that I had met a year before
in Australia. He was a singer Luis Frank and I met him
during one of his concerts as the new lead singer for the famous salsa
band, the Buena Vista Social Club. But there was an obstacle: I did
not have his phone number, nor did I have his address. How was I ever
going to find him? The only way was to ask ever person I met, if they
knew him. I got a lot of blank stares, I can tell you that. Some laughed
at me, and others had actually heard of him, but knew not where to find
him. My quest was on the way to become doomed, when suddenly a random
waiter almost dropped his tray of mojitos in my lap, when I mentioned
the name Luis Frank. "Yes"! He exclaimed, "Luis is my
neighbour!" Is life not the weirdest thing? If I had had high blood
pressure problems, I would have been dead by now. His neighbour!
hour later, after an interesting ride through Havana on a Cuban
version of a rickshaw, I was standing on the doorsteps to his house.
The door opened, and a woman stared at me suspiciously. Uh oh, I
thought. I was probably standing in front of his wife, and I suppose
quite honestly, that it might have been a mistake to drop by unannounced.
She jumped on me, and all I remember, was being shoved into the
house and finding myself, standing in the middle of the living room
surrounded by pictures of Luis. Communicating in my embarrassing
Spanish, I learned the good news she was his mother. The
bad news was, that he was touring in Germany. What bad luck. At
least I tried, right?
Some days later,
I was coming back to my hotel in Havana, after spending five sun-hugging
days at a beach area, about a two-hour drive away, called Varadero.
In the reception, I noticed a shadow of a man, lurking behind the pillars.
How peculiar, I thought. He looked so familiar, and suddenly I realised:
It was him! Luis Frank was standing there in my hotel lobby, just waiting
for me. Is it not an amazing feeling to see a person in real flesh after
being completely positive that you would probably never see them again?
He whisked me away to stay at his house, and for the remainder of my
stay in Cuba; I was no more a tourist on a stray trail, but a friend
of a local. I saw Cuba the real Cuba and all I can say,
is that I cannot wait to go back.
© Marie-Louise Olson 2005
Beggars of Bangladesh
M -L Olsen
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