Half way through a road trip of Cuba earlier this year, on a tour called the Revolutionary Road, our bus arrived in a strange town called Baracoa. Situated at the far end of the island, known as the Oriente and the most eastern point, it is practically within touching distance of Haiti. This mystical place sits beyond the mountainous road, La Farola, in a gloomy, forgotten land. It rains a lot here, so the vegetation is lush and tropical. The flat topped mountain, El Yunque looms in the background, whilst the Atlantic Ocean laps its shores. Christopher Colombus landed here before the town was born in 1511, making it one of the oldest settlements on the island.
Walking around, you get a real sense of poverty; a trip to the ration shop confirms this. Down the road is a home for expectant mothers; such a paradox, for the country is still living on rations, yet the state looks after its own, for the care is free and good quality.
The real treasure of this place though, is the Casa de la Trova, where our group were promised a night of authentic Salsa dancing. Our guide, Erik, was going to show us his moves on the dance floor, assuring us of his expertise. The unmistakeable beat of the music lured us towards the door of the Casa. A man with crimped, oily hair, wearing a hat that resembled the one that Jim Carey wore in The Mask, ushered us in. He took our drinks orders “Mojito” we said, “Rum or beer,” said he. So beer it was.
We took our seats in the back row; like in an old fashioned tea dance from the forties, until our drinks arrived. Anticipation was building all around. A plump, black lady dressed in Caribbean head gear and scruffy clothes stood in front of the stage, where octogenarian musicians sat; one of them at least looked as though he would rather be somewhere else. She explained the story of the next song the band would play, in Spanish, so we couldn’t understand but it mattered not, but instead added to the magic.
This may be a spit and sawdust kind of joint but the atmospheric surroundings were perfect for the raw rhythm of the music that came from that ancient band. If they looked ready for bed before, they sure came to life once they picked up those instruments. Expertly and for the indeterminate amount of times they must have played, they delivered a sound as fresh and potent as I have ever heard.
Soon people were up on their feet, spinning and swaying to the rhythm, so fast, it took my breath away. I wanted to get on that floor but had to wait to be asked. I didn’t wait long before a local man took my hand and led me there. Feeling inadequately prepared, I tried to copy the steps and learn as quick as I could. He swung me this way and that and I started to get the hang of it. He pulled me close, then pushed me away, only to gather me back and all too soon the dance was over. I hung about on the floor in anticipation of the next dance, which came once the same ritual as before, was performed. Whilst this was going on, the huge windows, wide open, allowed on lookers from the street to lean in and watch. Then Erik, as promised, strutted his stuff across the floor, taking in turn, each lady from our group for a twirl around floor and leaving us wanting more. Intoxicated from the whole experience, I didn’t want to leave, but was dragged away by Mary, my friend, reminding me we had an early start in the morning.