Monday 11th July- We learn to Salsa, well kind’ve. 

We wake at 9am and remember breakfast is to be ready at nine. Ren is dead to the world. “Wake up sweetheart. I smile thinking she’s gunna feel like shit today. “Breakfast and we leave at ten remember.” Gilbert and I head downstairs. I’m feeling OK but am a bit nervous at what breakfast might be and how my tummy will take it. The avocado slices are fresh and creamy. Toasted bread. A plate of fresh fruit. Mango juice and strong sweet espresso. They really know how to make coffee here. The egg she has scrambled for us however is oily and the oil doesn’t taste fresh so I leave it on the side. Ren comes in looking like death warmed up but her eyes light up as she is full of her nights adventures. Andrés is a salsa dance teacher and they tell her she is like a pro learning the steps easily. Rosetta teaches English and both are great fun. Ren’s friend Kieran had told her if she invites someone out its expected she will pay for everything. Any taxis, all the drinks, the cover charge, the lot! Lucky she riffled my purse before she left and it is no secret as they coach her in how to order drinks for them. –

She meets an Aussie girl there who is on her seventh trip to Cuba and is now here studying Spanish. She says there have been so many changes in just the last few years and since the Americans have come in, they are seen as much easier money. Her friend is an Aussie working here as a tour guide for Aussie tours of Cuba. He has been told by different venues they don’t want him to bring anymore tours in. The Aussies are too cheap with their tips and they would rather have Americans. We have been tipping mostly quite generously but have felt a little at sea as to what is expected. The Aussie girl said it wasn’t expected in the beginning but more lately she will leave the remainder of change on the tray, though nowadays they might even tell you you should give more! They are surviving on the bare minimum and the tips are the little bit extra that helps. We are often asked what nationality we are and I’m wondering now if that’s a gauge to how much effort to put in. 


Andrés pops in and asks us if we want anything. I say I want to go out and eat a traditional Cuban meal. He laughs and says tonight he will take us. He knows just the place. Ren and I decide to get our nails done at the place across the road. I pick a colour and after she’s put that on, she goes crazy doing waves and adding glitter. I’ve hardly ever had my nails done in my life and now they look like they ready to party! A big fat tourist pops his head in and takes a photo of me and Ren having our nails filed. Ren looks up and yells back at him as he turns to leave, “We are not locals!”, but he is gone. Haha!


Wandering around is easy and you can hail a bike with a covered cart on the back of it anytime you are tired for just a couple of pesos. We manage to draw some more money out for tonight’s dinner. Everyone is complaining about the heat including the locals and over dinner they tell us it is the hottest time of the year and the quietest time for tourists. Andrés and Rosetta have taken us to a pretty flash place and a quick scan of the menu I can see this will take all of my drawn out cash, but what the hell, we wanted to experience real Cuban food. Food cooked traditionally and well. Just before we order the chef came out and chatted with Andres. They are neighbours and Andres tells us proudly he has won many awards. We start with a bucket of beer! I’m not a great beer fan but they are a couple of bucks a can here NZ and really refreshing in this heat. Entré was deep fried mashed vegetable which is not in the menu but Andres has asked for it especially. I actually don’t like it much myself, especially as they dip it in honey. The honey here however is amazing. Ren asks for the wine menu and we nearly fall off our seats at the prices before we can figure out what’s red and white. An average bottle costing $400 NZ! Andres must have noticed our glances at each other and says, “The wine here is expensive, no?” It is indeed but we search further and find a red for $22NZ which is not the smoothest I’ve had but I’ve had worse. 
We tell them to order whatever they want and all different meals so we can taste each other’s. I get braised beef which is tender and absolutely delicious. Gilbert gets pork, Ren gets lamb which hilariously is called ‘old cloth’ in English but it is separated as in pulled apart. Andrés gets fish and Rosetta gets something different. It all tastes amazing. The side dishes are interesting too. There’s a dish of boiled sweet potato, a dish of what looks like black bean soup, a salad type plate, white steamed rice, and my favourite which is rice and black beans. The meals themselves are huge and we have quite a lot of leftovers which Andrés asks to have doggy bagged. Yes!

I’m supposed to have a rum here and my days are running out but I can’t face the prospect and just the thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth. When I was about thirteen I got horribly drunk on black rum and was so sick the next day I have never been able to even consider a sip. The smell of it now almost makes me gag. So I take mine in a cocktail tonight after dinner down at the dance party Andrés takes us to, but not before me extracting more $ from the bank as dinner cost us our most expensive meal on our trip so far. It’s not so bad as all up is $40 NZ per head and we have certainly enjoyed the company and the meal. We nip home to get Gilbert out of his singlets and shorts so he won’t be refused entry and sit for a beer before heading off. 

The dance party is incredible. Heaps of people on the dance floor and all can dance amazing. A vibrant mix of people and clothes and Andres seems to know everybody. We find a seat in the back corner where the aircon is thankfully excellent and sit back with our cocktail to enjoy the spectacle. Andres and Rosetta get up to dance and they are easily the best dancers here. Other dancers watch them as they take the normal steps and jazz them further with shoulder shakes and twists of the body you would hardly think was possible. Andres was a professional dancer until a bad ankle injury made it difficult. Rosetta herself is incredible too and she moves to a hip hop tune like the music is pulsating from within her. Her dress is short, skin tight and as it rides up Ren says its like…’yeah, I’ve got undies, so what, it’s just a piece of material.’ By the time they get back to the seat they are both puffing. I saw them come up our several flights of stairs with barely a deep breath, so I know how physical this has been. 


Then Andrés and Ren get up and he’s easy on her but she’s blimmin good. Rosetta tells me some of those moves are quite tricky to learn but she slips into Andrés lead beautifully and moves like she’s had lessons. No I say she hasn’t had lessons but has always been a good dancer. Amanda the Aussie girl has had three months of lessons and is still struggling with some moves. Andrés tells Gilbert he is next. Gilbert laughs that he won’t be dancing. He is long past dancing as he has balance issues and Ren explains. Andrés sits back and looks doubtfully at Gilbert and then says he can teach anybody and he has had people with worse problems. We laugh as he adds he has a few tricks he can teach Gilbert. This is hilarious as Gilbert says he’d have to be a bloody magician as a few tricks are not going to help! 


Andrés tells me it’s my turn. I think he has a misguided view that Ren must have got her smooth moves from her Mother and while I love dancing this stiff old body isn’t as supple as it used to be. I’m pretty sure he will be disappointed. “Come on, he cajoles, what’s the worst that can happen?” I laugh and agree and get up. He takes it slow and gentle and I can feel his hand in the small of my back and his lead hand giving me direction. He tells me not to look at my feet but into his eyes as he pulls me in, and then to ‘let my body feel the music’. Ren’s desperately trying to video but I have got to capacity videoing her and them, and all she gets is a couple of shots which is probably a good thing. 


This dance party finishes at 1am and we are ready for rest but Ren and Amanda are not and the boys are lined up around us like bees at a honey pot talking about the club across town. “How often do you go dancing?” Gilbert asks Rosetta as we walk home. “Every night.” she answers with a smile. Ren tells the boys she must drop her parents off so she has a key to come back. It’s a bit of a joke but I get the last laugh as I tell her as we part. “Remember deadline is 6am….then I call the cops.” I don’t know how to use the phone and can’t speak Spanish so that’s going to be tricky. 

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