Cuba, Page 3

Part IV

Every morning as I unlatched the heavy green gate that shielded my casa from Havana streets, the women were always sitting on the stoop next door. The older woman wore gowns that loosely clung to her shoulders while she leaned her chair against the cracking concrete wall of the building and observed commotion in the street, while her ‘daughters’ flocked around her in street chic outfits… waiting for men to flirt with.


As I made my way out of Industria and towards Havana Vieja, I was forced to pass gangs of men waiting with hungry eyes that stared me down while walking past them. Some were young and handsome, others were older and usually without a shirt; most of them would hiss and forcefully invite me to dance or even just talk to them for a minute. I did my best to avoid eye contact while I kept my pace, continuing my way past many women with electric blue shadow, thick black eyeliner, bold lipstick shades, and an excellently executed “resting bitch face”. And no matter where my curiousity lead me, I was never alone on the street – there were tourists everywhere and languages from all over the world flying through the air, while malnourished cats and dogs weaved between our feet. The main roads and narrow side streets were bustling with people, while colourful cars from eras long passed filled the streets and shared the roads with taxis of every kind – mini tricycle pods, bicycle carriages, horse drawn carriages.




There was hardly a day that I didn’t have to dodge the blind man manoeuvring his way through the crowds along Obispo. The homeless man with the toothless grin and the plump little lady with her injured leg never failed to show up in their spots along the makeshift corridor near Parque Central; same as the black woman with the big personality who sold little pyramids of Dulce de Leche and other quick snacks to patrons rushing towards their destination. Stairwells were lined with souvenirs, while young beautiful women shook their maraca’s to remind the tourists they were there. Well-dressed waiters and waitresses smiled from their post on the sidewalk, trying to attract new faces to the restaurant upstairs. And I’ll never forget the taxi drivers and their collection of colourful classic cars, parked right outside the Castillo de la Real Fuerza just in front of the Malecon.


How could I ever forget that spot — it’s where I just so happened to cross paths with Franz*, the charming tour guide / taxi driver who had relocated from his childhood home in Santiago de Cuba (or was it Cienfuegos?) to give Havana living a go. Although I asked nicely, he refused to chauffeur me to some of Havana’s cliche “hot spots” so that he could take us places that were more exotic, interesting, and culturally appealing: the Havana Forest and Hamel Alley.


Ask Franz, and he’ll tell you that fate brought us together – the first time we met, in front of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza and also the last time we just happened to bump into one another along Mercaderes – after I’d rescinded my decision to join him for lunch and an evening of salsa dancing at one of his favourite local joints. I left Franz in Cuba with a simple kiss on the cheek…

The heart wants what the heart wants – Franz’ wanted me, while my heart just wanted Havana.


I’m not kidding when I tell you that people in Cuba love love (and all the various shades within it). And while passion fills the air, all the in between is filled with excitement, drama, and all sorts of noise. Look up – you’ll see friends, couples, families standing together on their balcony… watching life unfold on the streets below them as they get caught up in conversation. Look around you – there’s men in worn out tank tops and flip flops and sneakers that have seen much better days, having heated discussions in the shade of store awnings and dirty glass windows. Look around any corner – women gather with full faces of heavy makeup and colourfully manicured nails, wearing wedges and too high heels to stumble along crooked streets that are muddled with oil spills, bits of garbage and puddles of other spills.

IMG_0375 (1)

The city is full of character… from the buildings to the people who inhabit them. There’s not a single day that goes by that I’m not intrigued by someone in the streets or lost without a muse for the next journal entry.

Cuba, Page 2.

Part II

Havana is broken, but beautiful.

Every building is missing a piece of it, though you’ll likely find it crumbled on the street below. Each floor has it’s own balcony, where light sheets flutter through an open window. If you look closely or stand and watch for awhile, you’ll see someone show face to just stand and watch the world happen below them. At first glance, the crooked streets look almost the same, but a closer look shows that each alley way in every direction has it’s own personality. Some streets have a little more excitement than others, same with certain doorways and window shops.


As I shuffled through the crowds, skipping to miss puddles of grease and mud, I instantly lost myself. Curiousity got the best of me, my childhood wonder took over and I let go of any expectations. Even with the sun beaming through the narrow gaps of buildings, I slid my sunglasses to the top of my head so I could properly witness the culture unfolding in front of me. Women, dressed in fitted and almost too small crop tops and tight jeans. Men, lurking along the sidewalk and stopping mid conversation with their hermanos to whistle or even shout (with no shame) “hey, baby!” as I continue walking past without hesitation. Admittedly, it initially caught me off guard and made me uncomfortable, but I quickly learned that Cuba is fuelled by passion and sexual energy. As long as I kept moving, every thing would be fine…

Part III

For a moment, I wondered if life ever stopped in Havana.

Turns out, the streets go quiet in the middle of the night and movement between them is slow moving until the middle of the morning. And even in it’s softer moments, Havana’s poverty manages to bring so much character, and I’m inspired to get moving and wander the streets in search of… something.

I mean, I was on a mission to find Hemingway’s mojito bar – La Bodeguita del Medio. And in a moment of uncertainty on the best way to walk there, I met “Tito” – a young, but gentle kind soul, who’s (as I realized later) main goal every day was to befriend tourists  in return for a few CUC (Cuban tourist currency). Admittedly, I was a sucker – but for the 15 CUC I sacrificed, “Tito” guided me through new streets and brought light to hidden gems for food, cigars, and Cuban history. And of course, he helped me push my way through the bustling crowd of thirsty tourists at La Bodeguita del Medio for a delicious, very much rum-infused mojito.


I ventured back to the same bar top days later when it was a little less busy and penned a few words in my journal, under the watchful eye of a handsome bartender who smiled while he poured me three heavy mojitos to help put my honest thoughts on paper. It was a special experience, and although he dared me to enjoy at least 7 mojitos just like the great Ernest himself, I politely declined and stumbled off my barstool and back into the deteriorating sidewalks with blushed cheeks and my heart smiling.

At some point throughout my Havana adventure, I switched from mojitos to daquiris. I patiently waited for a spot along the bar at El Floridita and ordered a grapefruit flavoured “Papa Hemingway” daquiri, before opening my journal again. Moments later, I met the handsome, curly-haired blonde American – and we spontaneously shared lunch on an outdoor patio (delicious octopus ravioli paired with a poor excuse for a salad, and mojitos – of course), then spent Valentine’s evening sweatily dancing the night away in front of live, loud Cuban bands at Casa de la Musica in Miramar. Worth the visit, but don’t waste your CUC on the Pina Coladas.


And at the end of the night, drenched in sweat and trying to rehydrate our systems after countless shots of rum, “the American” stopped me while walking along the Malecon for a kiss under the stars.

Because, after unexpectedly spending Valentines Day with a beautiful stranger in a city thriving with love, lust, and all things related – how could you not wrap it up with an ideal goodnight kiss?


Cuba, Page 1

Part I

Kissing an almost stranger on the Malecon at sunset was never on my (or his) bucket list. But it happened. With a rainbow of whimsical pink and yellow hues melting into the horizon, the twinkling lights of the city, and the romance that buzzed among other Malecon dwellers – it was one of those ‘perfect’, can’t miss, must do opportunities. A little magical, you could say.

Kind of like the entire Cuba vacation.


The magic started as soon as we made it through airport security and were thrown into the chaos of Cuban culture. Tropical heat, mixed with quickly spoken Spanish, and dozens of taxi drivers, tour bus leaders, and tourists from all over the world trying to pair up and find their way away from the faded yellow paint of the airport. At this point, it was late and dark and our driver spoke extremely minimal English. For the most part, the drive to our first casa in Varadero was quiet, but somewhere along the way we had a moment – and our well-dressed driver gifted me a traditional Cuban bill equivalent to 3 pesos. My first souvenir: a “welcome to the country I love” gift from the first of many dark and handsome Cuban men I’d encounter over the next 9 days.


Hours of travelling put us to bed almost instantly upon our arrival. The next morning, we were welcomed to sunshine, deliciously strong coffee, and the gentle smile of a warm host with breakfast: freshly cut papayas and pineapple, ham, cheese, and eggs – that we’d soon learn were staples for every meal of our entire trip. The next night as we laid in bed, our hosts were blowing their speakers listening to Elvis, Billy Joel, and even some of the  sing-along hits from “Grease” until at least 2AM. I’ll admit that Varadero hadn’t blown me away in one day, but if there was one thing I knew, it was that the Cubans knew how to have a good time with a little bit (a lot) of rum and good music playing on full blast.

An entire day of travel, followed by an entire day of mashing Spanish and English together and trying to find transportation between cities and one last place to rest our heads during this vacation had tuckered us out right from the get go. But my world had finally collided with Cuba… and I was excited.

Little did I know that Varadero had nothing on the stories Havana had waiting for me to live.