After just a week in Cuba I’d taken a hell of a beating: alone, humiliated, skint, sunburned and stupid. With the safety of hindsight, those were special days, the kind of days where you really learn about yourself. To me, those are the most valuable of all. Oh, and in case you haven’t spotted a trend by now, rest assured it gets worse still. Enjoy!
Woke up mortified and took an hour to build the willpower to show my face in Trinidad again. What a fucking mess of a night. Had eggs, bread, cheese, coffee and fruit for breakfast. Always such a good way to start the day.
Left the casa around ten to go exploring with no real agenda. Recognised more streets than I realised – I’d ran down them all multiple times last night searching for a place to wee.
Sauntered up to an old ruined church overlooking the town. Very pretty views. Then hiked a mile or so up a hill to a lofty radio station. Pissed it down halfway up and ran for shelter, accidentally stumbling upon the Disco Alaya – the rave cave I was searching for last night. Hid in the cave entrance from the tropical rain until it passed.
Set off again, but the rain came back, and there was no shelter anywhere. Actually heard the rain first – the roar of it hitting the trees on the other side of the valley. Tried to run but gave up and just got wet. Not sure why, but the rain here burns my eyes and makes my nose run.
So, blind, coughing, and spluttering, I trudged to the top of the hill, furiously vowing to never return to Cuba all the way.
It seems Cuba heard me, because waiting for me at the top was one of the most magnificent views I’ve seen. A smiling local came outside of his hut at the top and showed me around. He took me up a ladder onto the roof of one of the buildings for a breathtaking and humbling panoramic view of Trinidad, beaches, rivers, mountains, jungle, farms, and colonial villages far below in the valley. He gave me his binoculars – which I’ve never used before. Couldn’t believe the sights. Got some incredible photographs.
Bought a beer from him – a delicious Cuban lager called Tinima. He gave me a strange fruit to eat and showed me around the radio tower and his fruit plants. Said goodbye and tipped him, then wondered back down the mountain, my mood vastly improved.
My mood vastly deteriorated upon my return to my casa, as loneliness set in once more and I slid slowly into madness staring at the four pink walls encircling my bed.
After that, I grabbed some awful food, showered and headed out 30 minutes before sunset to catch the view. Planned to head for the hills again and witness the sunset alone, but found a rooftop restaurant with live music so thought fuck it. Had rice and pork, which was actually great – and comparatively cheap. The sunset over Trinidad was beautiful. Eating alone was a bit wank. Felt pretty low, wondering how I would ever make any friends.
Sat on a bench in plaza mayor and had a chat with myself. I need to make the most of this trip, lonely or not. Decided it’s a learning experience and just to enjoy it.
The steps off plaza mayor were rocking again tonight. Can’t believe how trashed I must have been – the show is absolutely wild and I remember none of it. Packed to the rafters, on the casa de la musica an exuberant salsa band performed in front of hundreds of people. The grinning singers hip thrusting would have made Elvis blush.
Salsa has a carnal effect on women that seems almost instinctual, despite the vastly different races, classes, and relationship statuses of the spectators. Cuban men offer their hand to any nearby women – the young and attractive ones first – and lead them to dance at the front, with varying degrees of success.
As time went on and the alcohol flowed I noticed more and more women standing up from their table, leaving tired looking boyfriends sitting, and chacha-ing by themselves until a fedora clad Cuban swept them away into the growing crowd.
I watched one lone man in particular, who sat nursing a beer for most of the night with a peculiar air of quiet bemusement. He looked like a Hispanic Keith Richards, with a thin moustache, long, oily black curls, and a dusty waistcoat. All the young Cuban men shook his hand as they passed. He finished his beer as the dancing was picking up and he was joined by a storming looking, cigarette toting woman, and together they breezed onto the dancefloor and tore it up with a fiery salsa. Interesting that in this culture the better you dance, the cooler you are. Back home I once saw a trilby clad man attempt the moonwalk in Oceana and get bottled.
Behind me, I heard English being spoken, and had a heart attack. I turned and met two Dutch girls, Kim and Royna(?). They’re travelling around in a car, and have been here as long as I have. Soon made friends, inbetween their frequent salsa excursions with a steady stream of eager of males.
Kim taught me basic salsa steps – she’s a good dancer and does ballroom dancing in Holland. If I have to salsa in public at any point his holiday it will be slightly less terrifying now I have had a brief lesson.
Ran back to my casa for more Cucs (sigh) and headed to the cueva or whatever it’s called to find the girls. Passed back through the plaza where the party was winding down and a Cuban teenager called me over and greeted me like an old friend. Asked if I remember him. When I apologised and told him I had no idea who he was, he told me we spoke last night when I was falling out of my chair steaming. He laughed at me and asked if I was feeling better today. Been here two nights and I’m already the village idiot.
Queuing for the cave, it happened again. A group of laughing French guys called me over to ask how I was feeling. Again, a guy I’d never spoken to. Nice to know that my horrified embarrassment was well founded. Jesus what is wrong with me…
The cave disco was fantastic. What I expected was an underground bunker, maybe a few lights on the wall. What I found was a vast cavern with a thumping sound system, packed dancefloor, two bars, and a DJ booth mounted high above. Partied with the Dutch girls who were being circled by swarthy men. My presence as a male helped somewhat, but Cuban males are nothing if not optimistic. Had an indoor cigarette just for the novelty – seems a mere cave disco just isn’t edgy enough for me.
Left after an hour or so as the girls were exhausted from all the dismissive waves and withering looks they were having to produce. Wondered back with a beer and agreed to meet at their casa the next morning.
Day 8: Cienfuckingfeugos
“The more I thought about the pink chicken I’d accidentally eaten, the more I panicked, half from fear of dreadful sickness, half of having to spend another night in Cienfuegos.”