WRITTEN ON 2ND FEBRUARY
We’d met Papo in a bar with his brother, uncle and a strange looking friend with an indiscernible name and a face taken straight from the Thunderbirds. Papo was (and will continue to be, unless he increases his rum intake further) a member of the Cuban national boxing team, aiming to qualify for the lightweight competition in Rio. On this occasion he offered to take us out horse riding. Ah yes, a gentle saunter through the hills and environs of Trinidad (the cobbled and colourful town on the south coast of Cuba) on a trusted nag we figured. So genteel. So tranquil. Upon picking us up the next morning at 10 am, they threw us up on prime animals clearly in training for the Grand National, handing us a bottle of rum in the process. This was Cuban horse riding. Cut forward a few hours and G and I found ourselves half-cut and actually racing a train to an upcoming crossing, tourists clamouring to take our photos from their carriages as Papo yelled encouragement with a further bottle of Havana Tres Anos in his hand. We sailed over the rails to whoops of delight and further toasts of dirt cheap rum (it’s 3 to 5 dollars a bottle here), our joy at survival barely concealing the agony in our backs, legs and groins. Papo then took us to a bar where they played ping pong (I had a queue of locals trying to beat me, an old guy with a top spin smash like Bowser eventually breaking the duck), and then took us through a brief sparring session, which proved a wonderful opportunity for the locals to laugh at my feeble upper cuts and jabs. I’m not sure but I’d guess the prevalence of good boxers in Cuba has something to do with the prevalence of salsa dancing – both require great footwork, rhythm and an understanding of the opposing player’s/partner’s intentions. Salsa dancing of course, appears to descend into dry humping and eventual pregnancy while boxing with a Cuban would be a short cut to altogether different kind of head ache. We stumbled home and got a taxi to Santa Clara, where purveyor of novelty T-shirts and decorative berets – Che Guevara is buried. Guerrilla mausoleums aside, we somehow managed to locate the only gay club in Cuba where I was harassed by a transvestite who resembled Iggy Pop. Following this, we discovered an open air reggaeton concert, which was absolutely manic. Reggaeton is terrible. It sounds like someone is breaking a computer while yelling about sex in a car. The 2000+ crowd were loving it though, taking the dry humping of salsa to a whole new level.
Now we’re on the homeward trajectory, a flight back to Mexico (and Gina) scheduled for the 5th. We stopped by the beach resort of Campismo Los Cocos, a bundle of cabanas just meant for Cuban tourists but willing to accept foreigners for a cheeky price hike. The place sums up this contradiction of a country very well indeed. The cabins are all identical, sitting neatly under palm trees and surrounding a gleaming swimming pool, more chlorine than water, with a beach nestled just beyond the trees. I imagine places like this were built with great communist zeal back in the sixties, offering an affordable weekend escape to hard working comrades in the city who needed time off from hammering the sickle in the name of Fidel and Che. In reality, a bunch of wasted teenagers were dry-humping to reggaeton music in the shallow end while the only open café served pizzas apparently made from prit-sticks and dead skin. G got his jacket nicked and we all got bitten by sand fleas. Strangely we’ve booked another night. Suckers for punishment or new followers in the communist dream? We’ll see if we make that flight to Mexico or not.