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Viñales, salsa & rum

Week 4

rain 30 °C
View Cuban adventures on -inge-'s travel map.

Wow, so... lots has happened this week... but right now, I'm really tired from an all-night house-party last night, so this message will probably be a bit scattered.

Let me start with last weekend.
Last Friday, David, Sarah and I took a cab to Catherine´s place after class. Catherine is a Canadian friend of Bo´s, who has been in Cuba for 4 month to try and set up a choreography business here (she´s a dancer). Bo met us there and after about an hour, we set off in the hired car (alas, not a chevy, but some modern car from Cubacars). We drove to Viñales (Western Cuba, in the Pinar del Rio province) via Soroa (about an hour out of Havana) where we stopped for a swim at El Salto, a 20m waterfall. I saw my first snake there! But nothing to be scared of as Cuba has no poisonous snakes.
After El Salto, we drove straight to Viñales (it took us about 3 hours) which was a really nice trip, as the Viñales valley is really beautiful (country-side greenery with its magotes- boulder-like hills). We arrived at about 7pm, had dinner and found 2 casas to stay at for 20 CUC per room per night. The people were really friendly and after we´d unpacked, we checked out the village. It was very small and there wasn´t really much to do, but the houses were really pretty as they all had tarracotta rooves.
The next day, we had breakfast at 8:30 (pinapple, watermelon, mango, bread buns, jam, omlette, coffee) and at 11am, we met up at the other casa to go horse-back riding. The owners there had organised the trip so that we could go horse-riding for 3 hours, including lunch, for 15CUC. I was glad to discover my horse was relatively small and they were all really well trained (may be a little too-well trained, which took some of the excitement out of it). And in the end, we were probably only on the horses for about an hour, as we spent about 1.5 hours on a little farm (in the middle of the valley somewhere) with a farmer showing us how to make cigars, whilst eating pianpple and drinking coffee. He grew pinapples, amongst other fruits, and told Bo I had expensive eyes (as blue eyes are uncommon here). Bo saw it as a business opportunity and tried to sell me to him for TWO PINAPPLES!!! I told him that was far too little, so later they settled on the whole pinapple field. We then smoked the cigars he´d rolled for us and set off back to the village where we were staying for the most amazing lunch (roast chicken & potatoes, rice & beans, tomato & cucumber salad, watermelon/pinapple/mango).
After lunch, we drove (for about an hour) to Cayo Jutías- a gorgeous beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The sea was azul blue and beach had white sand- was really so beautiful! Unfortunately the weather wasn´t great though and about 10 minutes after we´d arrived, it started to rain. We got back to our casas at about 18:30 and had dinner waiting for us (lobster... life is tough!) Although we´d originally planned to drive down to ´Bahia de Corrientes´ to see the sea turtles laying eggs at midnight on Sunday, we decided to go back to Havana that day as we´d all run out of money (dammit!). We set off back to Havana around 12 noon and stopped off at ´Banos de Juan´ at Las Terrazas on the way for a quick swim. I really loved it there as it was full of Cuban families, spending their Sunday afternoon bbq-ing, swimming under the small waterfalls and jumping from the rocks into the water pools. We were back in Havana by 4pm (when the car was due) and Catherine dropped us off at our casas. Later, Sarah and I walked into Habana Central (via Hotel Nacional, conveniently missing the rain) to Catherine´s house to give her a bottle of rum as a thank-you gift for driving and sorting out the car.
So all-in-all, I had a really nice weekend. It was really good to be out of Havana for a bit actually- it gets a bit much here at times and it was a nice change to see some greenery and country-side (and to get away from the constant whistelling and name-calling!).

Other than Viñales, the highlight of this (and last) week has been salsa! I had my first 1.5 hour salsa lesson last Wednesday. Sarah and I had it at the same time with Eduany and his cousin ´Blackma´ (in Blackma´s tiny tiny living room). We kept bumping into each other, but I really really enjoyed it. I don´t think I´m a natural dancer, but the important thing is I had fun, right?). After the lessons, we all decided to meet up in evening to go to ´Cevre´ -at Club Almendares, a salsa club in Vedado. We took a Cuban bus there (completely FULL of people- got to smell lots of armpitts...nice) and had an amazing night! I´ve never seen such good (salsa) dancing in my life...not even in movies. Cubans just KNOW how to move in amazing ways...its incredible. I´ll film it next time i go there, as I just can´t describe it. On the way back, Blackma used the whole (typically Cuban) ´you are so beautiful´chat-up tactic... it didn´t work. Later it also turned out that Eduany had been quite pushy with Sarah (who has a boyfriend in England, but apparently that doesn´t count if he´s not in the country as what he doesn´t know, hasn´t happened)... so we decided to stop our salsa lessons with them, which was a bit of a shame as i really enjoyed dancing with them.

Instead, Sarah, David and I have started taking lessons from 2 professional dancers in Habana Vieja this week. I was supposed to go for my first lesson 3 days ago, but spent the day in bed instead with a stomach bug (all better now though) so I went for my lesson yesterday*** and really loved it. I took it at the same time as Sarah and danced with a woman, originally from Spain, but she's amazingly good and very patient/good at explaining how to dance. At least with her, I know the focus will be on the salsa, and not any possible 'fun' afterwards.

{*** after having been to the ´Jardin Botanico Nacional´(the Nacional Botanical Gardens) with my Spanish class. It was our last lesson (for this month´s group) so we went there as a little excursion. It was pretty big and impressive, but unfortunately all that we were told on the guided tour (by bus) were the different names of the trees, nothing else. But as a bonus, we had an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet lunch in the 'Japanese gardens' afterwards (for 18 CUP!!! -about 20 eurocents!!!)... crazy.}

After the salsa lesson, we went for a meal at an Arabian/Turkish restaurant (El Medina) to celebrate a friends birthday. The food was sooooo good! :-) After the meal (and several daiquiris), we went to Pedro's house party (one of the Cuban guys we met in the first week)- carrying 3 large bottles of 'ron'. The party was so much fun! Spent the whole night dancing on his balcony (at one point, I think there were about 30 people on his little balcony), listening to their live-music and drinking lots of rum... (hence my fragile state right now). I haven't slept yet, as after the party we decided to go to the Nacional to watch the sun come up over the sea on the Malecon. After that, and some breakfast, Sarah and I have just been lazy and spent the day by the pool (just for a change).

I guess the rest of my week has been pretty quiet though. We had Professor Fernando again this week (the dude who just can't teach... or, just refuses to explain any Spanish to us as he just expects us to understand it (and if we don't, it means we're lazy)... so I was a bit naughty and took a day off my course to be lazy by the pool instead and finish my 'Our Man in Havana' book.
I also went out for some rum and music on the Malecon on Tuesday (with Sarah, Pedro, Catherine and a random friend of Pedro's) which turned into a little drama. Pedro's and his friend got ID'd for hanging out with us, and his friend then got taken to the police station (purely for hanging out with tourists!). When he asked them why, they handcuffed him and it all got a bit dramatic... but within half an hour, the same police car came back and dropped him back off as he really wasn't bothering anyone and so they couldn't hold him there. Not a nice experience... but I guess its just the way things go here. Whilst he was being handcuffed, the other Cubans we were with hardly reacted at all- partly because if they did, they'd be arrested too- but also party because its something that happens quite often here I guess...

On a happier note (and highly important to report): I took my first cocotaxi this week!!!! (look them up on google- they're amazing!)- such a fun experience. Wish they had them back home... may be I'll start my own cocotaxi-business when I'm back in Holland and still clueless as to what to do with my life... good business idea? :-)
Going to check out a street party in Vedado tomorrow- apparently its really good & and is the place to buy music in Havana... then Monday, my 'new' course starts for 2 weeks... fingers crossed i won't have Fernando again....

Okidoki guys... that's the update for now. Hope you've all had a good weekend (update me!!!) & hasta lluego xxx

Posted by -inge- 14:22 Archived in Cuba Tagged events

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Hey Inge!!!! Love reading your stories - sounds like you're having a blast there! Can't believe though that you have already been gone for a month! Time flies! I was at the 80's and 90's night and was thinking that the last time I was there you were there too! It was great fun (as usual) but missed my dancing partner Ingetje! Enjoy your trip, time flies when you're travelling! And enjoy the rum (I believe you are doing so! - Rum in the Philippines was cheap too! like one euro per bottle!)
Take care and keep in touch with the Dutch!

by Simoontje

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