I had stayed in Santa Clara for 2 days, a day more than I had originally planned and it had been due to a massive hangover. While my Havana evenings with Mercedez had always been accompanied with ron (rum), never had they been severe enough to knock me out. Cubans are exceptionally warm and generous hosts and they share their lives, hearts and ron (rum) with people whom they like. My Santa Clara hosts had been a sedate elderly couple who had a huge orange cat (one I had feared a lot) and they had preferred its company over mine. Unfortunately they also had zero fluency of English and both being hard of hearing, neither of us had initiated much conversation. The huge striped cat had strangely taken a strong territorial dislike for me and had always resorted to hissing whenever I had approached my hosts.
While it had lead me to guilelessly avoid screaming into my hosts’ ears and enjoy tons of space, the evening without the familiar local touch, had been extremely boring. By the time I had woken from my siesta, the Cuban sun had turned mellow in the sky and evening noises had murmured across the neighbourhoods. After expertly avoiding the guardcat, I had enjoyed some peaceful moments in the casa’s sunny courtyard, watching blue green salamanders slithering across old stucco walls and contemplating on my evening plans. The breeze had been fresh and kiss soft when sheer boredom had drawn me out into the cobbled lanes of Santa Clara.
A laid back historical town, Santa Clara had been a very friendly place. Famous for hosting edgy annual youth festivals including a head banging musical events, sizzling hot rock shows and literature meets, it had been Santa Clara’s really racy drag queen parades which had pushed it into the tourist scene. The town’s brazen transsexual and gay communities had taken me by surprise since I had been under the impression that Cuba had seriously frowned on such matters. It had been a Saturday night and by sheer coincidence I had somehow luckily managed to stumble upon Cuba’s most happening party town. Santa Clara’s street parties had been of legendary repute and given its saucy tastes, it had been quite expected from the young free spirited town.
Dressed to kill and wary of unwanted attention, I had slowly ventured out of my casa and had headed towards the square where I had bumped into my co traveler from Havana, Stacy. A quiet Swedish girl, she too had been traveling alone and we had roamed around the square amidst roving packs of amorous lovers. The square had come alive with food stalls and as expected from a student town, it had been much cheaper with more fast food options. Burger men and pina colada vendors had sold their home made stuff next to the ice cream and coconut peddlers and refrescos and jugos de natural had been consumed in gallons. Fresh baking smells had provided unappetizing greasy local pizzas which had been loaded with pungent local cheese and deep fried paper thin omelets slathered within bread slices had made up paltry sandwiches. While after a few bites, I had given the food amiss, the jugo had flowed like water.
I had been especially fond of the sweet tarty tamarind juice and it had been the perfect antidote for that still sultry Caribbean evening. The sun had been setting slowly, lighting up the student town in a warm golden glow and street lights had danced in breezy strings. Music had poured from every corner and it had been an awesome mix of raggae, salsa and other Latin beats. Music bands had jammed from warehouses, shop fronts and side walks and people had swayed slowly to the groovy beats. Sweepers in snazzy attires and quintessential Cuban cigars had flirted with sprightly old ladies in heels and brilliant red forest fire petals had blown in the air. It had been the most magical sight and we had gaped in amazement as workmen, vegetable sellers and horse cart drivers had jammed, danced and swigged ron (rum) straight from bottles.
Cubans are most generous with their ron and they certainly have a huge appetite for it. I had often wondered if they had always carried a bottle of rum on their person (like Equadorians and their hot water bottles) and if every Cuban home had a neat collection of the molasses based alcohol. With the growing excitement fuelling us, we had wandered down adjoining alleys and boulevards radiating out from the square and everywhere there had been some kind of music being played. It had seemed as if with every bottle of rum being polished off, the Latin musicians had belted out songs, more romantic, seductive and drop dead intoxicating in their magnetic charm. With so much of fun and music in the air, it had hard to resist the requests for dances and thus had begun our Santa Clara evening of hedonistic frolic.
Dancing is a thirsty activity and add to that Cuban men and their saccharine sweet charm, it had been inevitable to not indulge in the super delicious, but deathly potent cocktails, being sold from empty coconut shells. The evening after a few coconut cocktails, had turned more raucous and slowly music had buzzed inside our hot ears. Dancing too had picked up speed, had become more competitive and by the time we had ventured into Santa Clara’s racy Club Mejunje, our brains had turned into fuzzy wool. Set in the tastefully restored roofless ruined building and a national institution of Cuba’s fiercely proud transvestites and homosexual movement, Club Mejunje had been the absolute highlight of our evening. We had loved its mind blowing positive (albeit adult) vibes and because of our solo woman travelers status, had been welcomed with open arms (minus the unwanted attention). It had been at Club Mejunje where we had let our hair down and had drank, danced and belted out really bad karaoke till past midnight.
The club had ended with a spectacular drag queen show, where (being the only 2 women) we had been invited to cheer the participants onstage and we had danced, sung and whooped until hoarse. With the club winding down for the night, we had no option but to totter back towards the square where the most incredible sight had met our eyes. The night had been a long one and it had already been past midnight, when the otherwise tree shaded, sublime square had turned into a sea of shimmying, swaying bodies. The whole town along with the neighboring areas had seemed to have poured into the square and skimpy barely nothings, high heels and toned excited bodies had filled every inch of the space.
A huge flat TV screen, tuned into some dance music station had been strung in a corner and the crowd had swayed to the belting beats in unison. Elderly couples had twisted and turned, mothers with babies on their hips had swayed provocatively and even the injured with plastered limbs had shimmied from their wheelchairs. Children in itsy bitsy adult clothes had danced like never before and even toddlers had moved to the intoxicating beats in perfect rhythm. Stacy and I had stood there frozen to our spot, unaware of our next move, since neither of us had experienced anything like that before. Standing next to the glamourous beautiful people we (in spite of dressing up) had felt as interesting as rusty old bicycles and after our entire night’s performance, had been sure that our dance moves had not been graceful enough to beat even the toddler’s hip shakes. Although the street food and drink vendors had either long gone home or joined the party, food, rum and cigars had flowed incessantly turning the square into a mountain of trashed bottles and cigarette butts. Acrid smell of forbidden stuff had emanated strongly and for once, during the entire evening we had been glad to leave the sea of dancing, kissing and groping human bodies.
Thankfully our casas had no curfew time and by the time I had managed to stumble back to my room, the Sunday sun had painted the eastern sky with lavender and pink. The angry orange guard cat had hissed at my late arrival and by the time I had crashed on my bed with a furiously spinning head, my arms and legs had been scratched into ribbons. It had taken some efforts to make my head be still and I had finally fallen asleep in a groggy stupor in the outrageous student town of Santa Clara.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE