Our friends call from the door of our casa particular and we go out and join them, strolling down the rough cobblestoned street in our summer dresses. We have had a delicious three course dinner in our casa, and now its around 9pm, a bit early yet but its time for some rum and dancing.
Case de la Trova
We head to the Casa de la Trova. Trova is one of the mainstays of traditional cuban music, based on the original trovadores, travelling musicians who played guitar and sung. Its the style made famous to the rest of us through the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon. Now every town has a Casa de la Trova, a “house” for the musicians to play at. They have become much more geared to tourists than locals, but can still feature some great musicians and we want to try it out. We grab a table in the courtyard and marvel at the canopy of old vines that make the roof over our head, as we wait for our order of “bottle of rum and four cans of cola thanks”. I really like the music, but the overall atmosphere in the place is a bit flat. I think its because all the dancers look like they are concentrating on remembering their moves from dance classes, rather than just dancing for fun. So we finish off our bottle and move on.
Salsa in the town square, Cuba.
We want to try the african percussion bar next but its already full, its seductive throb of drums spilling out onto the cobblestones. We walk half a block back to the town square, set out with tables and chairs in the open air, surrounding a large dance floor in the middle, a band playing boisterously on the side. This nightly open air gathering is free, except of course any drinks we want to order. There’s a big crowd dancing salsa, and an even bigger crowd watching, generating quite a buzz, so we push into the crowd and find a few stray chairs and order more rum. Amongst all the dancers are several local couples who are clearly professional dancers, maybe dance instructors as well, and they vie for the attention of the onlookers. There is no outfit too tight, no look too smouldering, no salsa dance move too sexy. They completely ignore all the other dancers and conduct their own informal dance off, and it makes for fantastic viewing- we all pick our favourites and cheer them on. There’s plenty of locals as well as tourists in the crowd too, we are sharing a table with a group of them and many more are table hopping, and occasionally persuading us to get up and dance as well, although we are feeling quite intimidated, not having had our lessons yet!
Picture Postcard perfect Trinidad Cuba.
Trinidad is a small town of only 60,000 people, on the southern coast of Cuba, all cobblestones and worn pretty-in-pastel Spanish architecture. It is a picture postcard of what we all expect Cuba to look like. But it’s not flash and renovated like Havana; it has a bohemian character, a mix of the renovated, the well worn, and the completely derelict. It is made for gentle days and party nights. We spend the morning wandering the streets, visiting fascinating museums, sitting in parks, and climbing the old bell tower for the best view in town. For lunch there are the little illegal ‘hole in the wall’ pizza shops that pop up and then close down within an hour when their stock is sold – you don’t know where they are going to open next but you’ll recognise them from the queue. The pizza is delicious and about 50 cents each. We retreat to the classic Caribbean white sand turquoise water at Ancon beach, a couple of miles out of town on the coast, floating in the warm water and soaking up the sun. All too soon we are back in town for the evening, in our salsa class, sweating madly and getting excited when it occasionally starts to come together.
African Drumming in Cuba.
And after dinner in our casa we are ready for another Trinidad night. But we have a quick diversion first. We head across the road to a small schoolroom where the students are putting on a nativity play. The daughter of our casa is in a lead role, so we are here to be official photographers of the event, and promise to send back a CD with all the shots. Then its off out for the night. This time we head straight to the African drumming bar, and find ourselves seats at the front.The decor here is patio inspired, wrought iron furniture in bright primary colours, and another roof of vines. As well as virtuoso drummers and percussionists with a thumping beat, they also have an amazing dance troup, all incredibly fit athletic young men with six packs and dancing abilities to die for, and one token young woman. For some reason the guys in our group don’t enjoy the entertainment as much as the ladies this time.
Trindad’s nightclub in a cave.
Around midnight we head to the Ayala nightclub in a cave. Its an adventure just getting there, we scramble up a steep uneven dirt slope for a few minutes, to get to the cave in the hills. Part way up a police car at the top turns its headlights on, to light up the path, unfortunately it just blinded us instead but we made it to the top anyway. This hill is next to a dodgy part of town which is why there is a cop car keeping an eye on things, but its safe enough going up in a big group. I wouldn’t recommend it if there are just a couple of you – take the long way round the road instead. I thought Jorgito might be exaggerating but this really is a cave! First we head down about three flights of stairs into the cave tunnels and then we start to hear the music – follow the tunnels for a few more metres and we come out in an underground cavern. At one end is a large dance floor, DJ station and giant video screens, and around it are various levels of decks, with seating or bars. My entry fee came with a free mojito, which is a nice start. The whole set-up is cool, it has a retro 80’s feel with lasers and videos on the cave walls, but the music is not so good- a mix of 10 year old house music and latino boy bands, with a fair mix of madonna thrown in. Not very conducive to practising our embryonic salsa moves, so we only last a couple of hours before we scramble back down the hill.
Christmas Eve in Trinidad, Cuba.
Another day at the beach beckons, and we head offshore on a hobicat for some snorkelling at a reef close by, although its quite a windy day so it’s quite choppy and visibility is reduced a bit, but still worth a look. It also makes for a nice tailwind as we fly back to shore. The afternoon contains more salsa lessons and cervesas and canchancharas under the shade at the Daiquiri bar. The delicious Canchanchara is a mix of rum, honey, lemon juice and cinnamon. At sunset we scramble back up the hill to the old ruin (right next to the cave nightclub) to watch the sun set over the town and sea.
Today is Christmas Eve and we have been invited to a christmas party at the house of one of the local bigwigs, fittingly named Jesus. Jesus’ extended family has prepared a spectacular buffet of whole baked fish, roast turkey, soups and salads. We contribute our usual supply of rum bottles and cans of cola. The ubiquitous ghetto blaster comes and and much bad dancing ensues, salsa and not. At 11.30pm we head off to the big church in the main square, which is full of local families. Realising in time that we are (a) not catholics, and (b) quite drunk, we sensibly decide not to offend the locals, so we skip the midnight mass and head back up the hill to Ayala in the cave to dance our way into Christmas Day.