Dancing away in Havana

After a few years of Salsa practice in hip-stiff Switzerland, we decided to join one of the cuban dancing teacher at Salsa Rica, Ismaray, on a trip to Cuba. Ismaray is that kind of person who looks like she is dancing even while walking or writing an SMS :-). Body parts seem to be disconnected and movable at her will. Pretty much the opposite of me. Dancing, culture and concerts were on the agenda. What a revelation. Looking at how the Cuban dance, at the joy, spontaneity and energy produced on the dancefloor, we asked ourselves what we are doing wrong (and the Cubans most certainly did as well). When I started dancing Salsa about 3 years ago I had to overcome, over time, all kind of things to feel comfortable. Things like pride, fear, emancipation, or sheer disbelief that my feet were made for anything else than, well, to carry my body. During that week in Havana, I was thrown back exactly to that time. Back to square one, so to speak.

We had four days of group classes three hours each every morning. We left our home turf by looking into Afro-Cuban, Timba, Rumba, Son and Yambu with lovely and brutally honest Jenny. Jenny, a well-known professional dancer, tried hard to beat Switzerland out of us. She was sensual, flirty, female, secure and challenging.

Group lessons are great. But sometimes you want somebody to look at you specifically. So we decided to have a few private lessons. Yasuko started with Harold, a gentle, ever-patient Cuban dancer, among others with the National Folkloric Dance Group. He was an excellent teacher and even just watching him and Yasuko was interesting. Then with Yasuko we decided to have a class together and asked Yuko-san, a Japanese dancer/singer who lives in Cuba for more than 15 years to join. Picture this. Yasuko and me doing simple pasitos and “dile que no”s Herold holding Yasuko’s hips to change her moves and Yuko-san holding mine. I was happy not to have more than an old man as audience. It was a brutal back to square one. What we learned is that you do not make much of your upper body, you just move rib cage from left to right vice versa. Sounds easy, right?  Not really…

In the evenings, we typically went out dancing. Twice at the Casa de la Musica in Miramar. A well-known place where lots of famous musicians perform. For Yasuko and me it was a little too loud and the sound quality not honoring the musicians unfortunately. It was a bit like mashing all together, rather than being able to hear the different instruments. But then there are lots of little bars with live music in Habana Vieja. Some a bit touristy, but mostly a nice venue to practice those pasitos again.

Trinidad, a quaint colonial town

With our salsa group we visited Trinidad for two nights. It was unusually cold with wind and some of us were wrapped with fleece and heavy sweater for the evening dinner!

The group decided to have a relaxing afternoon beach outing to the Ancón Beach, after demanding (!) five-day dance sessions. While our Swiss group lazied around on the beach getting suntan, Philippe and I, non-beach-lying-around-people, went for a swim and then a beach walk. The water was refreshing!  In the evening we all enjoyed watching the sun setting over Mojitos…

The town was colorful with perfectly preserved colonial style houses. Yet it has a peaceful country feeling, local people passing by on the horses or horse carts on the cobbled streets and calling out to sell bread and sweets (white, brown meringue, overly sweet looking cakes, etc.)

After the group left again for Havana, we stayed on and we went up to the hill behind the town. The amiable guy who works at the radio broadcasting antenna let us go on the roof of the building and we had a sweeping view of Trinidad, the sea and its surrounding mountainous area. According to him, the surrounding area used to be sugar cane fields, with the white colonial house in the middle, which turned into a psychiatrical hospital now. 

On the next day we went for a two-hour hike to the Javira waterfall in Parque El Cubano (its steep entry fee at CUC 10 per person!). It was a well maintained path and we enjoyed an easy walk, appreciating quiet nature. It was refreshing to be in the nature and I (Yasuko) got my mountain fix – I am not a city person so I need occasional nature injection to keep going : -)

On our last evening we had dinner at the restaurant Cubita. For the first time since we arrived, we enjoyed excellent customer care paired with a good business sense. Not something very common in semi-socialist Cuba. To finish the day, we went to the Casa de la Musica, which, much more than a „casa“ was a stone stairway filled with people, music and dancing. For the first time, we could make sense of the rumba dance show. Thanks to Ismaray and her crew. 

Hiking in Viñales’ splendid Nature

After the hectic and very loud city of Havana, we welcomed the change of scenery – green lush nature (and a small town). Less hectic it is, no doubt, less noisy, not really. Just differently.  The roster crowing competition early in the morning, the pigs and the neighbor’s blaring TV sound in the evening told us, that we are still in Cuba.

We did an afternoon Viñales tour with Nicole and Zenon, starting with amazingly different piña colada at Finca Ecologica (take a piña colada and add mint, basil, lemongrass and cinnamon on top) looking over the Viñales valley. Also, visited a tabaco factory and farm. The tabaco farmer there was a quintessential Cuban man sporting a Panama hat, who delicately rolled tabaco leaves into cigars, dipping the cigar into honey before smoking.  

Apparently the tabaco farmers have to provide the Cuban government with 90% of their crops. They can keep 10% of the crops/products for their own consumption and sale. 

Another economic indicator: one of our guides used to be an English teacher and his monthly earning was CUC 25 (equivalent of US $25). It was hard to make ends meet so he became a tourist guide to make more money.  Most people try to do some kind of side-jobs in related to tourism so they can improve their economic situation.

Many of Cubans we talked to are welcoming a change in the political climate with the US. Opening the trade with the US means more tourists and more opportunities for better life.

On other days we hiked around Los Aquatios with a guide (we were with a very loud Turkish lady who talked non-stop : (  But the views over the valleys were making it up again.

On the next day we tried to walk the path from our casa to the Valle de Silencio with the help of a hand-written map by Papito. There is basically no real path and no signage and as usual we got lost after walking back on the ridge of the large boulders (or mogote) and maneuvered ourselves down a dense, steep and bushy hill. We finally made it down with only some scratches on our legs : ((  After hiking for 5 hours, we saw menacing heavy clouds approaching and unloading a torrential rain just minutes before we got back home without the need to shower anymore. 

Maybe because of walking in the intense sun for 5 hours and/or of getting completely wet in the rain at the end, Philippe did not feel well and he was in the bed for a day. We cancelled our beach outing and I was lazing around in the terrace, occasionally checking on Philippe.

Our Casa owners, Leybis and Papito, were super-friendly and we had a really good time (see our entry on Leybis). 

Havana in Ruins?

One of the most impressive things about Havana is the rich architecture. At the first glance, a building might just look like waiting for demolition. It is often at the second glance only that one can see the richness of details most buildings show. We were wandering around the town thinking that this place would be a renovation architect’s dream. Havana is like that frog waiting to be kissed – ready to be reborn into its past splendor.

Luca Kitesurfing upwind…

I started to kitesurf with Lia and Luca.They are both doing really well. The Playa Portillo next to Las Terrenas is a great spot to learn. Today we have a video of Luca doing some nice surfin’. I hope tomorrow Lia will agree to put the camera on her kite. And may be Tonton Philippe will have some pics of his considerably less successful kitesurfing as well… zut alors…

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑