Date night in Cuba

Thanks for coming back to our blog – this week one of our daring twosome goes on a date in Cuba! 

We left off at our heroic return from climbing El Yunque on a couple of bikes in serious need of better suspension. As we waddled through the entrance of our casa – the bikes had done some damage to our lower halves – we were told our salsa teacher Johnny was going to drop by later. We thought we hadn’t scheduled another salsa lesson for the evening, but couldn’t be sure given our state of mind from all the bruising; so when Johnny arrived he was faced by a couple of rather confused expressions. Expressions which soon turned to amusement, when Johnny revealed the real reason for his visit – to ask Rosie out on a dateClick here for the soundtrack to the night;

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Now to give you some background, just before setting off to Cuba Rosie broke it off with her boyfriend after deciding that if she was to develop a deeper attachment, the other party had better be on the same page. She was pretty broken up over this one and – if you remember from the fiesta bus post – had sent a heartfelt message to which she had hoped the person in question would respond expressing a change of heart, but received no reply. Rosie still had strong feelings, but in light of this felt it was time to stop moping and have some fun.

She was also curious about this 3/4 sized but otherwise perfect looking man, so in another example of the extremely responsible behaviour Elle and Rosie have in common, agreed to go on a date with mr. salsa, alone, in the Caribbean.

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Johnny said he’d swing by to pick her up in a couple of hours, and once the door shut, the teasing ensued. Elle also expressed a little concern about the possibility of Rosie being abducted into the Cuban night, so Rosie promised she’d be back by midnight.

While this gave the semblance of some sort of safety net, in reality we had no idea where the date was going down, the police’s phone number (or if they even had one), and in any case no real ability to use our phones as calls cost about 4 pounds a minute. So in hindsight we realise this may have been rather dangerous. Anyway, luckily Rosie didn’t get abducted, so we can continue with the story.

Johnny showed up at the side door, and Rosie stepped into the night feeling empowered by her decision to grab adventure as it came. They walked down to the malecón and turned North-West, feeling the ocean spray as they passed numerous Cuban couples seated on the sea wall – most of whom did a double take when they saw this odd pair coming in their direction. But as they began to reach the city limits and the people started thinning out, Rosie was losing confidence. A few disconcerting thoughts raced through her mind, thankfully assuaged when she saw Johnny jump up onto the Fuerte La Punta (a fort built in 1803) and sit down, looking across the straights of Haiti.

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As Rosie drank in the view of that rolling sea, they discussed their very different lives – sparking up a cigar and playing music from Rosie’s ancient phone (the height of modernity in this forgotten place) as conversation flitted between the frivolous and the serious, with Johnny voicing the anti-government feelings suppressed by all Cubans in public.

Suddenly realising that time had flown by and it was nearing 1am, Rosie snapped out of the daydream and insisted Johnny take her back, setting a rapid pace in the direction of home. And that’s when Johnny said: ‘eres todo lo que quiero en una mujer’

Eres todo lo que quiero en una mujer

Rosie tried not to laugh, but it’s very hard to take that sort of thing seriously when you’ve known someone for two days, even if you have just been on a date in a romantic location. She managed to tone down what would have otherwise been hysterical laughter, but as any other self-respecting cynical woman would do, laughed nonetheless. He then asked if he could kiss her, which she politely declined. However, showing true Latin perseverance Johnny vowed to be at the bus station the next day to wave Rosie off, and to his credit was a gentleman dropping her home with a kiss on the hand. And a good thing too, because Elle was waiting inside ready to punish any misbehaving!

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Next week on our blog we leave Baracoa – find out if that was the end of Johnny, where we went on the next leg of our adventure and more photos and tips from Cuba!

El Yunque

Welcome back to our Cuba blog! This week we’re telling you about our painful trip up El Yunque!

We hope you enjoyed our run-down of Cuban chat-up lines last week – they’ll start featuring in an important part of our story soon, but first let’s skip back to where we left off.

Still not phased by Elle’s leg injury – which was now visibly enlarged and throbbing from our surreal night out in Baracoa – we pressed on with our plans to climb Baracoa’s infamous El Yunque mountain. Over breakfast, we asked our casa owner Arquímede to rent a couple of bikes for us to make our intrepid journey up the table-shaped mountain which is Baracoa’s crown jewel, immortalised by Columbus in his diary and named a paradise on earth.

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Thankfully, we opted for bikes with gears, because we don’t know if we’d be here telling you this story if we hadn’t. This ‘deluxe’ option cost us $7 CUC each, and boy was ‘deluxe’ an overstatement. When the bikes arrived, Rosie happily hopped on the prettier lilac one and tootled off. She soon regretted her decision.

By the time we reached the convenience store to pick up water – a 2 minute journey down the tarmac – Rosie was convinced her nether regions were bruised purple, and had a desperate look in her eyes.

In one of those moments of kindness which will never be forgotten, Elle offered to swap bikes and averted a potentially tearful meltdown in front of a group of Cuban truckers. This is not to say we had a comfortable journey from then on, but at least the stabbing pain was ameliorated slightly. So to summarise: do not go for the gearless bikes. If ours hurt that much, we can’t even imagine the excruciating pain which would be experienced without any suspension at  all.

We consulted the Lonely Planet, and set off in what we thought was the right direction. Let’s just say at this point, the Lonely Planet’s description is VERY vague, and there are no signs. It took us about ten minutes to figure out the right exit out of the town, and then some asking along the way to keep us from getting lost. It’s best to know some Spanish if you’re planning to do this trip by bike, because once you get out of the centre of town there’s some slightly hostile looking overflow where we felt we may be captured for ransom if we hung about for too long.

When we finally made it on to the open road for El Yunque we were in a familiarly delirious state, feeling simultaneously exhilarated and in significant pain from the combination of steep hills, potholes and juddering bike seats. This photo probably captures it best:

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Cycling past the Fábrica de Chocolate (the chocolate factory  opened by Che Guevara in 1963, and the only one in Cuba) inhaling the drool-inducing smell which wafted for about a mile down the road, we naively thought we’d got through the worst of it. We quickly discovered this was not the case when we turned on to the dirt track at the base of El Yunque and tried – often in vain – to cycle up the steep rocky road. There was another one of these moments:

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In sum, we wouldn’t recommend doing this by bike unless you have some kind of death wish to get fit in the most masochistic way possible.

We did however finally made it to the base camp, where you have to leave your bikes and continue with a guide. While we initially felt this cramped our independent style, the truth is that in order to reach ‘La Cascada’ (the famed waterfall we were aiming for) you have to turn off the main track at a point which would be impossible to find alone. And the guides are instrumental in ensuring this beautiful national park doesn’t get destroyed by littering visitors.

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We followed our guide to the waterfall, who upon stripping to our bikinis, asked Rosie if she was married. As a result, our ensuing photoshoot was initially a little awkward – he sat across from us, staring in admiration – but we decided to embrace it and had a great time at this absolutely beautiful, isolated location.

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Our journey back was equally painful – and involved getting Elle’s leg wound both significantly wet and dirty, as you have to cross a powerful river to get back on to the main track. Exhausted by the time we reached base camp, we reluctantly mounted our bikes again and started making our way down when suddenly, Rosie’s tire burst.

At this point we thought disaster had struck and that we would have to wait, forlorn, for hours to hitch-hike back to town. Left with no alternative, we did indeed have to catch a ride, but the universe seemed to be smiling down on us for the first time that day and we managed to hop into the back of a van within a minute – avoiding being left stranded on the otherwise empty road. We were pretty thrilled with our dice with danger, although in reality Cuba is one of the places where hitch-hiking is a legitimate method of travel and very safe. Locals are encouraged to hitch-hike due to the lack of public transport and get rides for free, but we gave the driver a small tip for his help and were dropped off in town in no time.

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Apparently we’d been out for quite a long time, as Arquímede and Barbara – our casa owners – were anxiously waiting for us at the door when we arrived. They seemed really shocked to see the blown-out tire, although in hindsight we were surprised the bikes lasted that long! They also said Johnny would be stopping by later in the evening.

Thanks for reading our blog! Come back again next week to find out why Johnny was coming over, and for more tips, photos and stories from our adventures in Cuba!

Buongiorno Principessa!

Welcome back to the ‘Love from Cuba’ blog! This week we’re telling you all some really key information. Enjoy!

The more linguistically astute among you may have noticed that the title of today’s post is not in Spanish. Apologies. What it is, however, is a chat up line that worked and led to a lasting beautiful relationship (ok, only in a film. Life is Beautiful if you’re interested. Brilliant movie, but bring a handkerchief!). Everlasting love was not something we found in Cuba – what we did encounter however, were Spanish chatlines galore. As laughing at them formed such a key part of our trip we thought we’d share a few so you too can have a laugh at the expense of some poor unfortunate chauvinists and misogynists.

So, let’s head into the jungle that is… The Mind of a Cuban Man!

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WARNING: The authors cannot be held responsible for any negative consequences arising from the use or misuse of the following information including, but not limited to, slaps, drinks thrown in faces and refusals of phone numbers.

So, let’s get started. The golden rule, is that girls LOVE being shouted at in the street. Sniggering, wolf whistles and calling out the following lines will get you laid.

  1. ‘Chica blanca (white girl)’ is a cracking start.  We really had no idea we were white and our sincerest thanks for that enlightening information.
  2. Try ‘Eres todo lo que quiero in una mujer (You’re everything I could want in a woman).’ There is no way that bad boy will fail.
  3. ‘Eres la estrella más brillante del cielo (you’re the brightest star in the sky).’ No, we’re no a giant ball of burning hydrogen and helium floating in space; but we appreciate the sentiment.
  4. ‘Principesa.’ We’re not heirs to any throne but we like to think that we’re princesses of your world. Or whatever.
  5. ‘oyeee blanca, ven aqui (Whitey, come here!).’ We will be over immediately.
  6. ‘has robado mi corazón (You’ve stolen my heart).’ This works best within the first few hours of meeting someone and girls will certainly believe you are being entirely sincere.

We had to admire their optimism.

Bonus points for anyone who can use one of these and get more than a dirty look!

Come back to our blog again next week for more stories from our adventures in Cuba!

Bailar bailar

Thanks for coming back to our Cuba blog!

Time for a night out! Grab a Cuba Libre and we’ll tell you all about it…

Despite being cleverly disguised as responsible adults we’d agreed to go to a salsa club with a professional dancer. There were several immediate problems with this:

  1. We were horribly jetlagged and absolutely exhausted. We were going to have to stay out..late??
  2. There were 2 of us and only one man to dance with.
  3. Elle could barely walk after the burn. The dance lesson earlier had made this worse.
  4. We actually had nothing to wear having worn all the going out clothes we’d brought with us already bar one dress.

The third problem went some way to solving the second but a night out was still clearly a terrible idea.

Obviously we went anyway.

We have no photos of the night (E does not take her camera out when drinking) so here’s the leg after a week of antibiotics and being rested because, well, why not?

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R wore the clean dress and E wore the dress R had worn the day before. Thank goodness for best friends/travel buddies who are about the same size as you!

Our handsome (but tiny) prince arrived and we walked out into the night…

What followed was a whirl of friendly Cubans, very strong drinks – a mojito in Cuba is 3/4 of a tall glass, straight rum – and R flirting with a certain dance teacher.

Eventually we found ourselves in a Cuban club (La Terraza Baracoa – a roof terrace with huge Ministry of Sound type speakers just chilling outdoors)  and R skipped off to dance. E took one look at her hugely swollen leg and, in an uncharacteristically sensible decision, decided to sit down for a bit. Correlation may not imply causation but it seemed pretty likely that the decrease in pain was due to the increase in alcohol consumed!

Sometimes standing out is not a good thing. This was one of those times. R was being minded by Johnny but E attracted a crowd of people including: a Jamaican who kept giving her rum and stroking her hair, a couple of very forward Cubans and a friend of J’s who just wanted to dance. When J and R came back to finally rescue E the group took a turn on a more isolated part of the dancefloor and whirled around a bit.

It turns out not all Cubans can dance. Some very painful toes were experienced that night…

E recovered from the unfortunate clumsiness of her dancing partner (and his tendency to stand a bit too close!) by telling him she didn’t want to dance, she didn’t like clubs or nights out and really she’d rather spend a night in with her boyfriend watching Game of Thrones. Being twenty had nothing to do with that…clubs just aren’t that fun! Derision followed but was mitigated by a session of spinning the dollar sign on his belt (Not a euphemism- he actually had a dollar sign on his belt and it could spin. We were amazed too.) and pretending we were impressed rather than bemused by it.

We don’t have a photo so here’s a weird looking dog we found:

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Since it was long past our bedtime we headed back to the casa for some well earned rest before a day of excitement.

Next week on our Cuba blog we’re pushed to the limit by intrepid hikes, false information and brutal injuries. See you then!

Caribbean nights

Thanks for coming back to our Cuba blog!

By the time we were back on Baracoa beach heading to town, dusk was falling and the view across the bay was as if out of an Impressionist painting. As we ambled along, perfectly content in our dirt stained, sweat drenched clothes, we saw a Cuban walk into the sea fully clothed to refresh himself. It looked like a baptism, and that was a little how we felt too. The beauty of this place was so profound, our lives in London were a distant memory which was rapidly washing away.

Check out these photos:

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We made it back to the exit from the beach, just past the baseball stadium that lies unrepaired from the battering hurricane Ike gave it in 2008 – to be safe, don’t walk directly under the overhang.

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As a side note, we should probably explain why there’s a stadium for a distinctly American sport, in Cuba. Isn’t Cuba the definition of anti-America? Well interestingly enough, Cuba’s national sport is baseball, and they also make a mean pizza. Baseball was introduced by American sailors in the 19th century while Cuba was fighting for independence from Spain. The authorities expected Cubans to attend bullfights, so baseball became a symbol of resistance. Now, Cuban baseball players are some of the best in the world and there have been a number of high-profile defections, with Jose Dariel Abreu signing a $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox earlier this year.

Back at our casa, we showered, ate another delicious dinner – this time fish in coconut sauce, typical of el Oriente‘s cuisine – and chatted about our plans for the next leg of our adventure as we waited for Johnny to arrive for our second salsa lesson. We worked on some more complicated moves and flips with him, and the two hours were just as exhilarating as the last time. By the time our lesson was over, it was dark and we could hear the bass reverberating from the street as another Caribbean night was set to begin.

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Rosie began chatting to Johnny, and he told her about a Cuban-American student of his who he wanted to introduce us to. He also invited us out to dance salsa with him and his friends at the club. Excited about speaking some English and our first night out in Cuba, we agreed he would pick us up a bit later and went to get ready. When Johnny returned, he was dressed in Mediterranean fashion – all shiny shirt and gelled up hair. We caught each other’s eye and wordlessly acknowledged our amusement, but decided not to insult our new Cuban friend – he obviously thought he looked like the shit.

We headed into the street – aware of the Cubans’ eyes burning into us – and walked a little up the hill away from the malecón towards Johnny’s friend’s house. On the way, we walked through a crowd of about a hundred people – men, women and children, old and young – all out on the street sitting or standing and talking in hushed voices. Johnny spoke to one of them and we found out this was a vigil, for a neighbour who had just passed away.

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We walked into an alley, up some concrete stairs and through an open front door. ‘Hollywood Mike’, a Cuban-American lighting technician in California, was sprawled on a faux leather sofa watching a movie. The apartment was small – the front door opened straight into the narrow lounge and kitchen, but the place was kitted out American-style with a flat screen TV and some expensive looking speakers. We excitedly spoke to Hollywood Mike, a laid-back dude who liked his beer, Elle – an engineering grad about to start a job at a car company at this point – bonding with him over cars as Johnny looked on in wonder on our suddenly fluent and animated conversation in English. Hollywood Mike’s Cuban girlfriend was not as friendly. Making no introductions, she glared at us with a sour expression on her face from the kitchen the whole time – Johnny said she was jealous.

Tune in to our blog again next week for more photos, tips and to hear about our hilarious time at the disco!