12 VISIT CUBA 2006
One Rueda group and only one place to go; Cuba! The eight men and four women though did not reflect the normal balance of our weekly Rueda night. Having booked a year in advance it seemed a long, long wait but it gave us lots of time to look forward to the two week trip; to read up, hear stories and slowly form a vision of what to expect.
Hotel Sevilla. One week in the heart of a culture and a people that is so removed from the UK that it makes you ask "What happened here and what will happen in the future?" And to think "I'm just so glad I've been here before anything changes for better or worse".
Firstly the food! It's food, nothing more, nothing less, don't expect anything else! Just check the addition on your bill, tell them twice that your pizza was burnt, and smile cos yer in Cuba and you'll love every minute!
A shaded afternoon or warm evening sitting in a bar listening to live music of such quality that it will make every cold beer or Mojito you drink taste like nectar. By the time you leave Cuba its music will be part of your soul, along with the imprint of the scene, over the rim of your glass, of Cuban streets and people.
Within thirty seconds of leaving the hotel (for some of us even before) you will be approached by a Cuban couple who can take you to a salsa festival or the best place to eat and drink. You name it and these guys can do it! Don't be rude, they are only trying to do what we do every day, be a part of the consumer world. Mind you they try real hard, don't be surprised to see them two streets further on where they will, by accident, bump into you again. Be nice and sometimes go along with it, you'll probably need a drink by then anyway. Plus, if you get the chance to see Los Van Van these are the guys that for $5 will get you to the front of the queue so you can have that life changing experience of the best table in La Casa De La Musica, a bottle of Havana Club with four tins of coke and all to the best music in the world. Period!!!
My most lasting memory of Havana is Habana itself. There's a warm feeling about the city, something you can take home with you, something that will never leave you because you've been there and lived maybe just a small part of it but from now on you have that inside. It's like nowhere else. If you watch the start of the film Buena Vista Social Club and sense the atmosphere as the motorbike drives through the streets past broken pavements and neglected buildings. Grandmothers sitting on doorsteps watching their grandson change yet another wheel on an old American car that's seen better days and all to the sound of Chan Chan, you will know what I mean!!
For our transfer to the beach resort of Varadero we booked a guide and a 4x4 for the day. If you want to know what makes Cuba tick this is the way to do it. The flow of information from our guide about the culture, industry, education, farming and welfare was non-stop. At times you could feel slightly awkward taking photos of other people's way of life, but don't be. Cubans are a proud people, a smile and a wave bridge many a cultural difference.
One happily accepted hotel upgrade to 5 stars shortly before we travel and our second week at the Iberostar Varadero started looking even more interesting. All of a sudden we were a world away from Havana. It took more than a few days to adjust and stop ourselves from making the two hour taxi journey back to the real Cuba where enjoying troubadours playing in every bar was our original reason for going. Having never been on a package holiday before, I couldn't quite get the idea of what was meant by "all in"! Not paying for 24-hour food and cocktails was a very weird feeling and at UK prices just the alcohol consumed would most probably have cost 50% of the holiday!
It did rain one day (and I mean rain) but luckily for us it was the day some local musicians came to play. So, tables were cleared and the alcohol-fueled Rueda began! Firstly the waitresses joined in. Next, a sheepish looking chef (obviously wary that his boss might turn up) found the courage to join in with a little help from one of the girls in need of a partner. The staff loved it. We loved it. Rueda, Mojitos and Cuba, what else could we possibly want?
Don't expect to find Habana in Varadero. A trip to the Mambo Club and having to threaten the hotel DJ with GBH if he didn't play any salsa was a Cuban as it got! It was a fantastic hotel complex with an incredible beach, but, apart from this, unfortunately, it could have been anywhere in the world!
10 Things you must do!
1 } Try giving an old lady a lipstick, or a child sweets. Take toothpaste and toiletries, just about anything will be greatly appreciated.
2 } Leave your perfume for the maid, or a treat for her children, it's worth it. The happier she is, the more sculptured your towel will be on your return to your hotel room. If you've never seen a bath-towel looking like the Taj Mahal just try leaving a gift!!
3 } Read everything you can about Cuba before you go.
4 } Dance to the musicians playing in bars. Take the broom out of your arse and dance with passion not clinical excellence, you are in Cuba! You don't have to buy their CDs but you can tip anyway. There's a 100% chance they're going to be so good they deserve it.
5 } Check the addition on your bill. They will smile, apologise and make amends.
6 } Look through the poverty, see the Cuban people as they really are, rich in life and folklore, and well educated (our guide could speak 7 languages). The appearance, posture and dignity of the school children put our country to shame, as does their health service. Totally proactive in health care not bureaucracy!
7 } Try a Mojito. The vegetation is for flavour not eating!
8 } Drink several more Mojitos, then at least there will be one person who thinks your Reggaeton is great!!
9 } See the sights. Take the trips. These guides know their job!
10} GO BACK!!!
10 Things not to do!
1 } Don't be naive ! Cuba cares about its visitors and Havana is a fairly safe place, but like any big city, if you have common sense, use it!!!
2 } Don't be mean! If you can afford a holiday like this then you can afford the pleasure of giving.
3 } Don't bother to look for Boots, Next or MacD's unless you've got time to waste!
4 } Don't be rude! If you want to, stay at home and do it! The behaviour of a few guests to the hotel staff made me want to crawl under a table.
5 } If you just want to sit by the pool then go to Spain! It's cheaper but more importantly, what's the point?
6 } Don't get involved with the local currency, you won't need it. Stick to the tourist's Convertible Pesos.
7 } Don't miss Los Van Van if they are playing, unless of course you have totally lost the plot! If this is the case, on returning home you should seek professional help or possibly exchange salsa, son and rumba for a more suitable pastime such as stamp collecting!
8 } Don't go without a guide book or map. This is just silly!
9 } Don't forget your camera.
10} Don't come home without the spirit of Cuba added to your salsa! This means listening to the music and not the 1,2,3! (Thank you Osbanis).
Cuba is a beautiful Country, full of beautiful people
"Thank you Jacqui, our leader, for guiding us (well most of us) towards the light and away from cross-body!"
The Cuban Country side.
Tip the maid and looks what happens to your towels !
Cuban Trip Pictures.
Cuban school children
Music is everywhere
Sharon on stage with Los Van Van !
It can rain but we had the band