Since arriving in Cuba I had been battling a serious love/hate relationship with the country. I had always anticipated that I would love everything about Cuba, but I didn’t. There were some things that I found confronting, confusing and at times frustrating.
One thing in particular was the language barrier and that was purely my own fault. I had managed to get my way through situations while travelling through Guatemala and Mexico with my limited Spanish, but Cuba was not allowing me to break through. The accent and the way the Cubans spoke was different and I struggled to understand and converse, which in turn left me travelling completely on the outside of the culture, something that I really didn’t like.
But with every hate, there was a love, and in Trinidad it was salsa! You didn’t need to understand Spanish to be able to dance and I was taught by some of the best teachers you could ask for – the Cuban locals! We danced at every opportunity we had – on the rooftop terrace, the steps of casa de la musica, in the streets, and at the incredible cave nightclub. And when the night was over, we slept and woke up ready to do it all again.
One of the things I realised on my first night in Cuba was that the people spent a lot of time on the streets, and it is even more evident now as I look back on the two weeks I spent there. It’s not that they were homeless, they just enjoyed being there – things happened on the streets.
It was where you sat and played checkers with your friends, where you stood for hours chatting with neighbours, where you waited for people to arrive home from their day, where you watched and whistled as beautiful women walked by, where you drank, ate, danced and simply sat and watched the world go by. And on my first night I did exactly that. I sat with the strongest rum and coke of my life, mesmerised as I starred down onto the street and watched what was happening around me. Kids playing, cars and bicycles streaming past, music flowing, people talking, laughing and gathering together as the heat of the day faded.
The feeling of returning to a place that I fell in love with years before was a little surreal. Antigua was the whole reason behind travelling through Guatemala, and as we drove down the cobblestone streets, through the colonial town the memories of why I loved it so much rushed back. The food, art, coffee, and culture, and after a few days of being there, I fell in love with it all over again.
I saw and experienced the town in all different ways, from getting my coffee at the same cafe every morning, to going to an after party once the bar closed at night. I dined in ‘the’ best restaurant in Guatemala, rode in tuktuks down the cobbled streets, sat in terrace bars that overlooked the town and talked for hours. I wandered the streets under the full moon, danced salsa, and drank dos cubitas at a bar that became my local. I explored a coffee plantation, re-visited the old convent, went to art galleries, and trekked up a hill and starred out over the town. I said goodbye to some much loved friends, made some new ones, and left Antigua feeling content in the fact that I had done everything that I wanted to, in the town that captured me years before and that I will always have a sweet spot for.
While in Chichicastenango I took the time to wander by myself – to walk through a market that was bigger than some of the towns that surrounded it. It was a meeting place of many communities, their main source of income or trade, and their way of life. It was an incredibly colourful place, through the clothing the people wore, the buildings they lived in, the food, textiles and art they sold.
In the midst of everything was a white church that brought a calming centre to it all. Where the women sat selling flowers, with the burning incense surrounding them. It created such a peaceful atmosphere, in a busy market place. Somehow in the labyrinth of all the stalls I ran into mi amigo, so we sat for a while simply observing, talking and philosophising as the people around us went about their day.