There is a bit of a buzz, even a little excitement, as we gather for breakfast. Today is our translator Dyana’s birthday. We discovered that she’s not celebrated her birthday since she was a child. Today she’s 43 years old. That’s way too long between birthday parties so today is going to be Dyana’s day!
So, at breakfast we sing Happy Birthday and give Dyana gifts with a distinctly Scottish flavour including a little cuddly highland cow, called Morag.
So, how would you spend your birthday given that you are stuck with a group of Scottish people on the final full day of their trip? That’s right. Smoking, drinking and dancing… but with a Cuban twist.
But first, some culture.
Old Havana is a city with two faces. We’ve seen the crumbling facade of beautiful buildings, glimpses of a past glory, but there is another side. The public and historic buildings are stunning and lovingly maintained.
The Capitol (Capitolio) is a copy of the capitol in Washington D.C., but bigger! There is something funny about that I think. But it is also a little sad given the state of the relationship between these neighbours.
Next stop, cigars.
Partagas are makers of fine Cuban cigars and you can’t really come to Cuba without investigating their national produce. The shop is cool to keep the cigars fresh but the air is thick with smoke from the shopkeeper’s huge cigar. The walls are lined with pictures of famous cigar smokers who have come here to buy supplies. Jack Nicholson, Arnie and Churchill (the Prime Minister not the dig!) are all there. We buy presents and souvenirs and then head off for the next stop on Dyana’s birthday tour…
Chocolate. Lots of it. Some of the gang took Dyana to a local chocolate maker and feasted on some HUGE chocolate cars.
While they were loading up on sugar Avril, Jen and I nipped round to the Plaza de Armas past the book sellers in the square and the Templete where Columbus is said to have landed and on to the cathedral.
My first impression was that the towers are too big for the rest of the building but I guess they would need to be to support the massive bells.
Inside the catherdal is fairly plain for a Roman Catholic cathedral. There are the usual side chapels and shrines but they are subdued and there is little ornamentation. The stained glass doesn’t depict religious scenes either.
We walked back through the newly renovated tourist area, met up with the group and headed back for our rice and beans.
The afternoon was Dyana’s next treat, The Museo de Bella Artes. Unfortunately only one floor was open, the one with modern art. Thankfully Matthew was on hand to provide a comedy guide to the exhibits. There were some amazing paintings, particularly the stylised image of Che and a portrait of a Rastafarian man whose name I can’t remember.
The Revolution is also celebrating a significant birthday this year. It is 50 years old this year and interestingly, the final work we saw was a collage of the word ‘REVOLUCIO ‘, revolution with the N missing. It represents the unending nature of revolution and we ended up having a great conversation about the political situation in Cuba and pondering whether the revolution had come full circle, back to a place where the people are once again enslaved, this time by an ideology.
Outside the gallery is a display of hardware from the revolution. There is the Granma, a little boat Che and Fidel sailed from Mexico to Cuba in to start the revolution, a tank, an American spy plane which was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis and a missile which doesn’t look as though it’s having any kind of crisis.
A birthday needs a birthday drink… so Dyana’s next treat was a pina colada at the National Hotel.
Dinner was a posh affair… lobster! With rice and beans, but it was still lobster!
In the evening we had a fiesta, obviously a Cuban party rather than a small ford car.
First up, party games. All I can say is that Cubans play some strange party games.
Next, singing. All week Angela has been trying to get Luis to sing. She’s heard him before on her last trip but he’s been stalling all week. It is finally time. He’s waited until our last night for a very special performance.
Luis has a voice to match his personality… smooth. A beautiful tenor. It’s been worth waiting for.
It wouldn’t be a party without dancing. Salsa first and Luis leads the way. He soon has us all up dancing, or at least standing on each others feet in time to the music. I’m not ashamed to say… I’m rubbish.
Ceilidh next. A progressive Canadian Barn Dance and a Gay Gordons are lots of fun and not nearly as sweaty as the Orkadian Strip the Willow.
It was a fun night that ended with us sitting up stairs telling silly stories which I’m sworn not to repeat… which is a shame because some of them are brilliant. It was great to just sit and chat and laugh and get to know the group a bit better.
And so ended our final full day. A day of birthday fun and smoking, drinking and dancing… Cuban style… with a Scottish twist.