Cuba – the island of dance and love

In Cuba, everybody dance!

In Cuba, everyone dances!

Rum, cigars and cheap love – that’s the traditional gentleman’s set of tourist ideas about the Island of Liberty. But these associations refer to the real Cuban way of life like Red Square, vodka, caviar and bears refer to the Russian one. That is, it is there, but it is by no means the main thing for the inhabitants of Freedom Island. Unlike kindness, love to dancing and belief that right way of life can help anyone to live till 120 years old, – these are things the Cubans believe in sacredly.

Not long ago Cuba’s “Live to 120” club for long-livers was opened and welcomes interested people from all over the world. In fact, active old age is more the norm than the exception for Cubans whose average life expectancy has exceeded 76 years. The 86-year-old grandfather has once again become a father, while his young wife is only 20. This is nothing to be surprised about, the Cubans shrug their shoulders and happily congratulate the newly minted father, not failing to crack a few jokes about his manhood. A stout matron, who has long been a great-grandmother, goes dancing at a family celebration? And how else, because in a good company just impossible not to dance, especially when the music is cranking! You can’t get your work done in time, but it’s getting late? Don’t worry, tomorrow is another day, the day after that too, and during that time the work will be done or no one needs it, so why should you do it at all? There’s no such thing as “rush” or “burning at work” for Cubans. After all, life is long, so you can do anything.

In the rhythm of the rumba

In Cuba, everyone dances!

Cubans do not really imagine life without dancing. In fact, they don’t even think about it; they dance whenever there’s music. And when there is no music, you can sing something by yourself. People are always dancing — in the streets, in cafes, at night at discotheques, on beaches, at family celebrations and even in the workplace — just stomping their feet and singing in time with the music. Fitness is an alien concept for the Cubans. Do you ever want to go somewhere in a stuffy gym and exercise on machines or exhaust yourself with aerobics under the guidance of instructors? Never and no way! That is, tourists, of course, can indulge in the usual sporting activities outside the walls of expensive hotels, but the locals have no such “joys” – instead, they dance, swim, socialize with friends, walk and … dance again. Cubans and especially Cuban women are gifted with special grace and dexterity. By the age of 3–4 local girls dance as an average European girl can’t do even for several years of special choreography lessons. One of the most beloved dances on the island is the rumba. It can be called something like a common game or a form of communication – in the dance, the man shows what he wants from the woman, and the woman coquettes and sort of disagrees.

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The weekend excludes any unexpected business or urgent calls. Cinemas and cafes are crowded, family celebrations are in full swing, rum is flowing, lobsters, rice and beans, fruit, juices and ice cream are consumed by the ton, everyone is flirting and making friends, the huge halls of discos are moving to the same beat… And if the TV shows the Cuban favorite baseball, emotions are running high, up to and including fights! In short, the weekend is a celebration in the best sense of the word. Even if you don’t have much pesos in your pockets and you can only buy most things with coupons (and those coupons don’t guarantee what you need in the stores), nobody gets upset. You had to wait a long time for a bus and had a hard time getting on? No big deal, but at least you got to talk to your neighbors at the bus stop! In general, kindness, friendliness, and calmness of the Cubans could only be envied.

Medicine is on par.

Despite their modest standard of living, Cubans boast two things in the social realm — education and health care. Education in Cuba is free and requires only nine years of schooling but anyone can apply for admission to a higher educational institution and major in medicine. Children are much loved here, and their antics and grimaces are taken seriously. If you bring your child to work because you have nobody to leave him with, it does not shock any of your colleagues. When it comes to health, the socialist revolution has benefited the Cubans. In 1958 the island had only three rural hospitals, today the country has hundreds. Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate among the Latin American countries. As for life expectancy, we have already spoken about it, as it impresses not only the Latin Americans, but many Europeans as well. Another interesting fact is that the island of Liberty, despite widespread “tough love,” has one of the lowest rates of AIDS and HIV infection, 0.07% of the population between the ages of 15 and 49. By comparison, rates in some African countries are about 9% and in South Africa, for example, up to 40% of the population of that age are reported to be dying of AIDS. The Cuban government has spared no expense on medical care since the Revolution and the resulting local medical care is the envy of even the capitalist neighbors. Many tourists come here for their health care, as Cuban doctors developed unique treatment programs for retinopathy, vitiligo, psoriasis, drug addiction, Parkinson’s disease, alopecia, male sexual dysfunctions, glaucoma, and alcoholism. At the same time, medical workers are paid very little by European standards, if calculated in dollars, the salary of a doctor is less than $20.

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What is a must-see in Havana:

The 18th-century San Cristobal Cathedral, which, according to local legends, once housed the remains of Christopher Columbus;

Museum of the Revolution in the former palace of Batista, who was deposed by Fidel. For fans of Che Guevara, a visit there is a must!

The Malecon Promenade — patriotic Cubans consider it to be the longest promenade in the world. When it gets rough, the Malecon turns into a water attraction where the waves crash over the parapet onto the sidewalk. Hemingway’s villa in San Francisco de Paula — the house where the writer lived for 20 years — is being restored this spring.

Cleanliness is the key to health

Two things strike the eye of anyone coming to the island for the first time. The first is the dilapidation of the buildings, most of which have not been repaired in years. Of course, the tourist centers and resorts are different, but in the everyday life of Cubans, dilapidated houses and greenish statues are the norm rather than the exception. And yet — as everyone notes — the cleanliness is uncanny. There might be no glass in the windows (what for are they for when it’s summer here all year round, especially if the house is on the seafront, the waves and wind would soon rid the owner of glass anyway, so wouldn’t you rather replace them with shutters or wooden shutters? Typical capital apartment means walls with peeling wallpaper or shabby whitewash, high ceilings, old American refrigerator, TV of the same age, bookstand, table covered with old plush tablecloth with fringe and album with family photos, and lots of little things like decorative plates, souvenirs, and posters on the walls. Cubans themselves find it perfectly natural to wash three times a day — and change clothes at the same time. Both men and women are always neatly dressed. If you see a man in shorts in the street, he must be a tourist. Light shirts, long pants, and — definitely! — Well- polished boots and a white-tooth smile are the bare minimum for local gentlemen. In general, they’re very conscious of their appearance. And not only for him – the streets are full of old American cars, many of which are 40-50 years old, and they are still running and in excellent condition. What can you do, because of the economic blockade Cubans can’t afford new cars and make good use of what they have.

Sweet life

The international melting pot of many nationalities has given Cubans not only an easy attitude to the “national question” (it simply does not exist here, there are no national conflicts), but also a peculiar culture of food. The Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African, Creole, and other culinary traditions. The Spanish introduced salted dried cod (bacalao) to the island, and despite the abundance of fresh fish, salted cod still remains the most sought-after product. Thanks to African immigrants, the local diet is now unthinkable without sliced and roasted bananas. Strange as it may seem, Cubans are not too fond of vegetables, although they can’t do without beans eaten with rice or vegetable stew with meat, but they adore fruits. They make everything from freshly squeezed juices to sauces. Baked bananas are the mainstay and even chatinos, a light appetizer, are made on the basis of bananas. Respect meat, even the poorest Cuban can eat pork, poultry, or beef. They love coffee and they drink it in huge quantities all day long. Of course, the coffee is strong and very sweet, because the love of sweetness is a Cuban’s weakness. After all, this is where sugar cane has been grown for centuries and that has influenced the tastes of the locals-even the moonshine is based on sugar cane. Every meal on the island ends with a dessert, but don’t think it’s too bad for the Cubans, either the whole fruit or the pieces of it in a salad or a cake. Due to some peculiarities of socialistic system (ration cards) the majority of Cubans can’t eat sweets and cakes every day. But what an ice cream is there! Many tourists, and, certainly, Cubans themselves, believe that local gelado is the most delicious in the world. There is an entire institute on the island, which develops new kinds of ice cream, and about a dozen ice cream shops. Would you say that great ice cream is not a reason to come back to Cuba again and again? Then just listen to its rousing rhythms, swim in the ocean and smile in response to the Cubans’ friendly greetings — “Cuba Libra!”

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A little about bad habits

Rum is a Cuban national symbol. They sing songs about it, make cocktails with it, and of course, they drink it. Thus Cubans prefer not an elite Navana Club, but less expensive brands – Matalem, Caney, Varadero, Caribbean Club. A bottle of this stuff is not expensive (15-50 rubles in peso equivalent). As a rule Cubans drink rum in its pure form in street bars or in company right on the street drinking water or juice.

Cigars in Cuba are smoked by almost half of the adult population. The culture of smoking cigars has five centuries of Cuban history, and export of cigars and tobacco brings to the republic’s economy more than $200 million a year.

Cuba – island of happiness and freedom

It is a country, where the streets, houses, people, vegetation – everything is filled with joy and bright colors. Could it be that 56 gods, living in special clay pots, help Cubans to keep their spirits high despite all difficulties?

Cuban life

The fact is, however, that no one here could have used medication for stress and fatigue. In a country where the average monthly wage is ten U.S. dollars, one is used to deriving pleasure not from strolling through megamalls and sitting in offices, but from playing volleyball and rocking in Cuban branded chairs placed right on the sidewalks.

Rum and cigars are also mandatory attributes of “Cuban happiness. There is another national entertainment – kumbanchas.

Rum and cigars

Rum and cigars are obligatory attribute of Cuba.

It is a street party: loud music playing on the radio and couples, snuggled up to each other, dancing sexy frank rumba.

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Love for a dance and for life

Sex in Cuba is one of the elements of the national culture. And an absolute recipe for happiness. Cuban women love to flirt. And even in the villages, women of all ages parade around in tight clothes, radiating sensuality and confidence. The Cubans are full of gallant gentlemen, the mere sight of their plasticity and confident movements makes the butterflies in the stomach begin to dance forbidden dances.

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That said, one of Havana’s symbols is the figure of a woman who became famous for waiting four years for her husband from the war. The beautiful Isabella Bobadilla de Soto was faithful to him and died of grief after learning that her husband, the governor of Havana, had died. Such a touching story of love and fidelity…

Cuban pleasures

Most of all tourists are attracted to Cuba by the spirit of adventure. The reason lies in Cubans’ amazing ability to spontaneous, gratuitous fun, in their ability to enjoy life, despite the poverty, and to involve guests in a life filled with music and fiery dancing. The second reason is the truly extraordinarily interesting sights, which are certainly worth the trip across the ocean.

The spirit of adventure

Most of all tourists are attracted to Cuba by the spirit of adventure

Where will call your soul – to the crocodile farm or the Museum of the Revolution, on a trip to the National Park or a walk in a real cave to the Indians? Or maybe you want to enjoy a daiquiri cocktail at El Floridita or a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio (Ernest Hemingway’s favorite restaurants) or take a walk through the mysterious cave country near the town of Matanaza? They say that once you enter these caves, you can whisper any question that bothers you. And get a precise answer – straight from the depths of time. After all, these caves are no less than 40000 years old.

Cuban fortune telling by a seashell

Cubans like to read fortune. The gentlemen of the babalao do it. These seers can work as cab drivers or ice-cream makers, and at home, without prejudice to their main profession, they can predict the future quite accurately. They predict on seashells. They toss them up and depending on how the shell will land – “mouth” down or up, make special notes in the tables. Curiously, local clairvoyants guess also on the seeds of cola plants (the same from which they make a popular drink).

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A tree for the soul.

One of the main attractions of Cuba – seyba, a sacred tree. Many curious myths and beliefs are associated with it. If you walk around the tree three times and make three wishes during this time, they will certainly come true. If you walk around the seiba exactly 12 times at 12 o’clock at night, then from nowhere a small but very aggressive spirit with large black teeth will appear.

The sacred tree

One of the main attractions of Cuba is a seiba

It is a helper in black magic rites of the “I want to have everything and my neighbor to have nothing” series. The Maya believed that the tree had its roots in the underworld, its trunk in our middle world, and its top reached the upper, heavenly world. And the souls of the dead use the tree to ascend from the bowels of the earth to the heavenly realm and see the bird sitting on its upper branches.

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Flowers for Our Lady

Although Cuba is a Catholic country, at least 70 percent of Cubans believe in the cult of Santeria. Santeras worship 56 gods (orishas), most of whom have their “twin brother” among Catholic saints. St. Barbara, for example, is very similar to the orisha Chango, lord of thunder, lightning, fire, and war.

Every self-respecting santhero has an altar where he brings offerings of rum, cigarettes, flowers, and fruit. Santero believe that the orishi live in the stones, which are placed in clay pots, pour “nutritious” broth made from the Guinea pepper, eggshells, coconut oil, cocoa, and a piece of smoked meat of the Cuban nutria. A semblance of the santhero initiation rite can be seen in theaters, museums, and tourist centers. But to be present at the real ritual, you need to make a close friendship with the santero. By the way, you can easily recognize them: they wear white clothes and necklaces of colored beads.

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Ochun, or Our Lady, is the most revered orisha in Cuba. Her favorite color is yellow. So do not be surprised if you see Cubans selling yellow flowers near the local temples. These are for her. The legend says passionate Ochun, who knows all the secrets of love, sexually shakes her hips in a dance and seduces men with gestures and looks. She is the mistress of mirrors, the patroness of hairdressers, visagistes, and other attendants of beauty. A happy smile and a ringing cheerful laughter always accompany the dance of Ochun. And an offering to this goddess is a great bonus for your feminine magic.

In February and March it’s +25 degrees in Cuba, soft white sand on the beaches and wonderful diving. Cuba is a country where dreams come true, because as Che Guevara said, T-shirts and mugs with his image are the most popular souvenirs in Cuba: “Be realistic – demand the impossible!

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