Here’s one aspect of Cuba that beats the hell out of all the other communist countries: It sure has better beaches than Eastern Europe. Ukraines go to the Black Sea – on July 15. That’s about the only time it’s warm enough. I made my first venture to a Cuban beach yesterday and decided it’s well worth putting up with Latin music.
Trinidad isn’t right on the beach. It’s about seven miles inland. You have to take public transport which is half the fun. I have now taken a city bus, a ’53 Chevy taxi, a pedicab and the carved-out husk of a giant coconut.
It’s called a coco taxi, very aptly named. It’s basically a motor scooter inside a giant yellow metal ball. Two small orange seats are behind the driver who goes no more than 25-30 mph, just enough for a nice breeze to cool unobstructed views of the Cuban countryside.
It’s a 20-minute ride from Trinidad to Playa Ancon. The hulking driver the color of a mahogany dining room table seemed to greet every driver of the horse-drawn carts transporting locals for two pesos (about 8 cents) apiece. The trip didn’t exactly remind me of a drive to Hawaii’s Koala Coast. Irrigation ditches. Dried-up river beds. Empty fields. This is where America’s absence is felt. Five years after the Castros die, this will be lined with McDonald’s, KFCs and Marriotts.
It’ll look like Parker Road.
I kept looking for the string of high-end all-inclusive resorts that have dotted the beach in Varadera in the north. But I only saw two. The only one near my beach towel was a big yellow, four-story hotel called Club Amigo. I could only see the other one from the road.
After the coco taxi pulled into the crude parking lot, I hoped the Castros would live forever and the U.S. never comes near this place. I walked 50 feet over the small arc of sand to see an incredible stretch of sand as white as sugar and as soft as powdered snow. Only a couple dozen people were lying in the brilliant sunshine, mostly locals and many under the few strategically placed bamboo-thatched umbrellas.
I rolled out my towel, put my daypack under my head and read “Cuba: A New History” for three hours.
The blue-green water was as precious as I’ve ever seen. It’s about 83 degrees and didn’t get over my head until I swam 100 meters from shore. I didn’t feel a single pebble under my feet. I didn’t even mind the cloud cover after two hours. I was in bliss.
It’s good Trinidad has a beach because for a town as touristy as this, night life isn’t much more than your average night in La Junta. Unlike Havana, Trinidad has no real bars. It’s all restaurants. There’s no long wooden bar where you can belly up and drink and talk to the bartender. I went back to the Casa de la Trova merely because the rum was cheap.
Eventually, I migrated back to Casa de la Musica where the same packed crowd listened to the same music. And I drank the same rum with a couple of weak mojitos thrown in. The music made my head hurt and making contacts was impractical. People who weren’t crowding onto the tiny dance floor watched the musicians play with the intensity of an English soccer crowd. I talked for a while to a Dutch family doctor who’d traveled all over Cuba with her frizzy-haired friend.
“I wanted to come before it all changed,” she said. It’s a common theme I’m hearing. It’s like the longer Fidel is sick the more Cuban tourism goes up.
I finally saw some interest on the dance floor later that night. A young lithe woman with her long hair in a tight bun (I think I heard her friend speaking German) was dancing up a salsa storm. She danced with about four or five local men, all black as the night. With each one she danced with the choreography of a pro. She twirled under their arms, she spun away, her free arm bent so ladlylike. She shook her butt wrapped in tiny jeans shorts.
The men were absolute masters. It’s clear the Cubans use dance as a means of expression and not means to a sexual happy ending. They were all perfect gentlemen. They never placed their hands too low or too high. When one finished he even gave her a two-handed high-five.
SUNDAY: A TRIP TO TRINIDAD’S AFTER HOURS CLUB