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First impressions if Havana Vieja.

One of my favorite quotes is:

 Dance like no one is watching,

Love like you’ll never be hurt,

Sing like no one is listening,

Live like it’s heaven on earth.   

Purkey, William

Ever since February I have regretted not having photos’ or a video clip of that ‘one night’ in Havana.

The one night that Laura and I found our brave-ness (or realized our stupidity) and ventured out of our casa after dark onto the streets of Havana Veija.  When the music started and the true side of Havana came to life. Where Cuban’s, young and old lived their lives according to this motto and where for one night, we too forgot about the world around us and enjoyed the moment.

There is so much to fall in love with in Cuba.  It’s simplicity that is wrapped up in so much complexity. Their love for EVERYTHING and absolutely EVERYTHING and of course their LOVE of Salsa.

I may not have the pictures to go with the written word, but not long after we returned from our amazing week in Cuba, I submitted the following to The Amazing Travel Stories competition…and was just recently advised that I won third place.  I hope you enjoy and can put your own photographs to this night!

A dream to dance

Author : Janine

I had watched him from across the room. I was relaxed and comfy on the brown leather couch. He was moving to the music and entranced in his moves and the way he guided his partner around the dance floor.

A and I had come here to escape the tourist flooded night spots of Havana Vieja. We had hoped for a place that was intimate, yet enabled us to experience the sensuality and thrill of salsa dancing. According to the guide, ‘Piano Bar Maragato was a chill lounge with cool music and a place that attracted s Havana’s well-to-do intellectual crowd’. After wandering the streets of Havana that day, it would be nice not to be harassed by Jineteros all night.

We had been told to come early, but like everything in Cuba, this bar also ran on Cuban time. It was just after 9:15pm when they opened the heavy glass doors. The room was cool when we entered; a small yet classy bar curled around the corner to our left, while comfy leather couches relaxed the atmosphere to our right, behind the intimate tables for two. The small dance floor, with its hard wood flooring stood empty before us.

We were amongst the first few to enter the bar and taking a seat at one of the couches and sipping our mojito’s, A and I reminisced about the last few days that had passed since we had arrived in Varadero. Our bartering skills to secure a classic car ride from Varadero to Havana for $75 CUC with the wonderful Rayner in his old dark blue ford. Arriving into the hustle and bustle of old Havana, where locals walked on the roads and the oneway streets between the two and three-story buildings caused confusion and mayhem to extranjeros like us. Sitting in our Casa Particular last night, too afraid to venture out into the nightlife, feeling sorry for ourselves and disappointed that we didn’t believe in ourselves to venture out and enjoy what Havana had to offer to us. To listening to the evening pass, the laughter of children playing in the streets below, the idle chatter as locals walked home and their voice’s echoing up the side of the stone buildings and in through our louvered windows, the sounds of bici taxis winding through the darkened streets in the middle of the night, their Cuban music blaring from their transportable stereos strapped just below the seat.

Music was playing, but the band had not yet started. The room started to fill. In front of us three young women and their male friend laughed in anticipation of the night ahead. A couple sat directly in front of us at an intimate table for two. The area beyond the archways further left of the bar had become crowded, and a young couple had taken to the dance floor. Their moves were swift and precise. Her hips moved with the sound of the music and he twirled her with grace and led her to the sound of the beat, as if at one with the music.

Before long the room was full, two African Cuban brothers took a seat beside us on the couch to our right, smiled and introduced themselves. The band began to play. The soft beat of the drums and the sounds of salsa echoing around the room.

One by one, A and I were both asked to dance. Our polite response ‘no, no, I not dance’ expressed with both a smile, a shake of our heads and our hands held up open in defense, as if apologizing.

Again and again we were asked, again and again we apologized.

The dance floor had filled and A and I watched in awe as the Cuban’s moved with the music, secretly wishing we had not been shy and cursing ourselves that we had not taken salsa lessons before tonight.

To our left, away from the dance floor a young man was moving to the sound of the music on his own, his moves almost choreographed to the sound of the beat, lost in a world where nothing else existed except for him and the music.

The guy I had watched earlier across the room had just re-entered the bar. Like a magnet he too started dancing to the music. At first it was slow, as if in appreciation of the music, in appreciation of the moves that his fellow Cuban was undertaking. In an instant it seemed as though they clicked. Together they moved in tandem, each edging the other on. The smiles on their faces reflecting the happiness they felt inside. The rest if the room seemed to empty as all eyes focused on them. Their moves somewhat striking, as if never attempted before As though they were meant to be here, meant to be dancing this dance.

If I wasn’t totally in awe before, I was now. As the song ended and they finished dancing, the others returned to the dance floor. I was wishing I had recorded this amazing impromptu performance, but for now it would have to remain a memory.

As the Cuban brothers left, two Russian couples took their spot on the couch.

Before long, A was again asked to dance. With her hands held up, her head shaking in the usual ‘no, no, I not dance’ we had become accustom to saying; one of the Russian women pushed her and said ‘you will love it’. It was all she needed to take the chance.

With A on the dance floor, and in a room full of mostly Cubans, I felt like a sitting duck. With comments like ‘your friend is dancing, why not you dancing?’ and ‘come on, I teach you dance’ it was getting harder and harder to say no. Before I knew it, the second guy that had been dancing to the left of us was standing beside me asking me to dance. I politely again said ‘no, no, I not dance’, when I felt A grab my arm and say ‘come on, this is fun’.

So amongst the Cuban’s, we tried our best to salsa. To be taught to dance to a beat that requires relaxation and movement of the hips. While we may have failed on the dancing front, we succeeded by laughing, by enjoying our partners, by having smiles on our faces and stepping out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. Now that; that I wish I had a video of.

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