Location: La Havana, Cuba
I couldn’t sleep the night of March the 21st, I worked until midnight and couldn’t see the value of 3 hours worth of sleep, and I figured id catch up on the airplane. I couldn’t believe I had let more than a year pass in the United States, at first it was just to let all my visas reset, and not have to live jumping them all the time, but somehow I got sucked into the money and the ease of living in my own country, even though I couldn’t stay in one place in my own country longer than 3 months, like it had been programmed into my matrix.
My dear friend Scott let me wake him obnoxiously early and happily drove me to the airport. I boarded and landed in Miami a few hours later. The Miami airport smelled a lot like cocaine. The whole city probably still does. Once I arrived at the charter wing of the airport, everyone spoke Spanish, almost exclusively. I paid for my $85 visa, and immediately changed $1250 for a thousand Euros; Euros in Cuba don’t get an added fuck you America ten percent exchange fee. The flight was longer than I had assumed, they always say “just 90 miles off our shores” they were probably talking about the last tiny island off the keys. It was 200 and some miles, and about an hour in the air on an old jet who’s wings vibrated and shook with the turbulence as we climbed. The thought that almost always crosses my mind when I’m on an airplane, fuck it if it goes down, its worth the risk, its always worth the risk. If the people that know me best couldn’t grasp that if I died in some airplane over the straights of Florida on my way to a new and mind-boggling adventure, I would have to ask if they knew me at all.
In the distance I could see a green landmass with white borders, Cuba, coming in from the northeast. The land was sparse, green with lots of fields and very little rural homes, even on the coast. As we descended my heart started to race as my thoughts went to immigration, and if Cuban customs officers would jam me up. I was wearing smart dress and looked super sharp to conceal my tattoos. We waited for ten fifteen minutes for the steps to be brought to the plane while I chatted with a young Cuban man who invited me to his home and said anything in Cuba, York (pronounced with a “Ja”) he would be happy to assist. His name was Roale, about 24, and returning to Cuba for the first time since he left his country to see the Rolling Stones. Hearing my name pronounced that way reminded me of my Cuban, Spanish teacher from college, who I still would be willing to kiss the ground she walked on.
I deboarded the plane and the first thing I saw was Air Force One. President Obama, My president the one with whom I am so proud to have voted for, was probably on his way home from this historic visit, the first since Calvin Coolidge, who arrived on a battle ship after 3 days at sea, it took My President 3 hours. The air was cooler than I expected, which was welcomed. I was probably the last person in line for customs, which I knew was bad, my typical tricks to enter a country don’t work unless I’m in the center of the line. Soon I found myself the last person in line to enter Cuba, my heart was racing, so much money and time all I have to do is get past the doors in front of me, as I was called forward I was grabbed by the arm by an officer from behind, and in Spanish they asked if they could ask me some questions, I apologized and said my Spanish is very bad. I was expecting not a lot of English in the country, but of course, immigration could speak it. I was pulled aside to a corner of the building and asked questions. How many electronics have I brought from the USA? How much cash did I bring, until when was I staying, why have I come to Cuba? And on it went for about a half hour. I’m always cool under pressure, it’s the one time my anxiety doesn’t kick in. In the clutch I am the guy. I had the two officers laughing with nearly every answer. We actually had a good time. In the end they welcomed me to their country and gave me some advice, that included “be very careful with Cubana ladies” haha I smiled and said, Ill try, but I know I'm already in trouble.
The lady in the immigration booth waived me on in order to stamp my passport. She stamped my visa (a separate piece of paper) and I asked politely if she would stamp my passport. She warned me of the trouble in the USA; I said, I’m too proud to be here, so go ahead. She did, and waived me through. I did it, no sleep, travel exhausted but a wave of adrenaline washed over me. My head and most of my body shook a little as the goose bumps ran a course through me. I had to go through a security scanner once more before they would let me out of the airport, and there, I locked eyes with two of the most gorgeous afro-Caribbean women I have ever seen. Almost drooling, still looking at this fair skinned beauty. She said to me “enjoy Cuba” I said muchas gracias and out the airport I went.
Outside I traded 50 euro for 50 CUC (the Cuban Convertible Peso, which is for tourists, equal to the US dollar, not to be confused with the CUP, the Cuban Peso, which is for the people. I hopped into a cab; a little disappointed it wasn’t an old American car. And took the ride to town. The driver, who charged me 25 CUC to get to my casa particular (the Cuban equivalent of AirBnb) I had booked, he dropped me in the general area, unable to find it, as the owner didn’t give me the house number. I walked around, lost as all fuck for about an hour, before a Cuban man, dark, skinny and with a huge smile named Ling asked me for a light. He asked if I was American, I said yes and was hugged, kissed (in Cuba, they do a triple one sided kiss, completely unique from anywhere else I have been) and was congratulated on our new relationship, I returned the kind words and said, he is my fucking president. What do you need he asked me, I told him I was lost, and what I was looking for, his eyes lit up as he recognized the hustle. In most instances I would have waved him off and said thank you, but something about Ling, a lingering sadness in his eyes that kind of asked for help. I said yes please. He pulled his phone from his pocket and for the next two or three hours of being lost he was a great companion.
Ling worked for the government driving a horse and carriage, and while we hunted relentlessly for my joint, he explained so many things about the culture, and government of Cuba. We spoke about the differences to capitalism, and how much he loved his country. I was a little surprised about his national pride. But quickly understood why. We walked through the bright, dilapidated streets. The houses rang with music, laundry hung from lines above the streets and my adrenaline washed over me once again. I literally quivered with the excitement and shook the rush out of my arms. I asked Ling if I could buy him a mojito, he said yes, if you don’t want to keep looking. I said fuck it, lets have a drink. He took me to a local Cuban bar, 3 flights up on a rooftop, paved with broken tiles with giant murals surrounding us on the walls rising on either side. The streets of central Havana hummed with old cars and people yelling in Spanish, almost angry, a little like the way Arabic sounds, but with Spanish, I know how passionate they are, and I just listened and smiled. My mojito was the first rum I had drank in ten years, since my father and I went to Guatemala, every time I have drank it I have pissed the bed. But When in Rome aye?
Ling started to explain things about his country, “Jork, watch your wallet when with a Cuban lady.” I answered, “Ling, watch your wallet with any lady.” We laughed and knocked back our first two mojitos. They were better and stronger than anything I had tasted anywhere in the world. By the time the 3rd arrived, we were both speaking in Spanish, Ling constantly correcting me as I fumbled. He told me about the penalties for marijuana and cocaine. Both very stiff, one year for a joint, up to 25 for possession of cocaine. He explained that working for the government he typically got somewhere around 35-40 CUC (equivalent) per month.
Finally, the phone rang it was my casa particular. We had the address. Ling explained, by way of showing me a small government notebook with numbers scribed inside, how he is able to supplement his food stores for the month. Basically, in short, if he sells me cigars, his family can literally eat, his monthly rations are bolstered. After three hours and some laughs and drinks, I really wanted to help him. We walked toward my casa particular, and on the way stopped at a local home, where 20 or 30 boxes of cigars were laid out before me, Ling, explained how each one tasted and the process it took to make them. I really wanted the famous Cohiba Robusto, but sadly, I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment, I settled with a box of 25 Montecristos for $100. Ill say that again, Montecristos number 4 for $100. 25 of them. I couldn’t believe it. Ling walked me to my room, making double sure that it was correct, even scolding them for making me walk around for 3 hours. By this time, my Spanish had become pretty brave, as the air around me started to sink in, the culture of Havana like smoke filling my lungs and eyes. I thanked Ling: “Muchas gracias mi amigo Ling, Yo muchas afortunada concurso tu.” We exchanged numbers and I walked upstairs to meet the people of the house. I got the wifi code, sent word home, and with a toss of my bags, a quick shower I shot downstairs like a rocket, grabbed the first Cuban coffee I could find, then a redbull and marched straight to old Havana.
The buildings at first, in old town, every single one was worth photographing. Which I did. Old American cars whizzed by and blinded me with color. The buildings, the sounds of Spanish around me, the diesel smoke and colors, so powerful you could fucking taste them, it was completely intoxicating. I was drunk on Cuba. I got lost on purpose, so lost I had no idea of the direction I was going or why. My feet were already blistered, my thighs rubbed together with the humidity.
It was getting late, but those Cubans that I met assured me, it was safe, no crime, little drugs and no “problemas.” I met a man named Orlando, and his brother, Ernesto, both afro-Caribbean men in their 40’s, they offered to take me for cigars, I asked if I could buy them a drink. Soon after, in the smokiest local bar you could imagine, so local in fact that there was a yelling match about my entry. We ordered rum and cokes, and Ernesto left and retuned moments later from the cigar factory with Cohiba Robustos off the floor where he worked.
The boys cut and prepared my giant cigar, the fucking quality smoke of Havana, and handed it to me. As the fire burst from its end, and the smoke started to fill my eyes and lungs I giggled to myself, and per tradition, said out loud, I’m in fucking Havana!! “Salute!” Rang out from the other men through the smoke of the bar. Almost every man (about ten) came over to the table to say they loved Obama. Again, exclaiming he is my president, I got handshakes, photos taken with them and hugs and kisses.
Orlando and Ernesto told me many things, how great the hospitals and school programs where in Cuba. And how hard it was in a communist government. As he whispered to keep from being heard, he told me he loved his country, that he would never leave, but his family was starving, living off 5 kg of rice per month (for 5 people) no meat, plenty of fruit and some other things I cant quite remember as the night started to blur a little.
It took 3 rum and cokes to finish my cigar, a taste unlike any cigar I had tasted. Thoughts of course went to my father, which for the first time in my life, wish still smoked so I could send him a box of the best. I gave Orlando and Ernesto ten CUC each for milk and whatever their families needed and said goodbye; they thanked me for my generosity and gave me my kisses goodbye.
I walked back towards the hotel, finding a resturant on the way. I ordered pork and rice and a mojito. A mid 50’s man from the north of England quickly joined me. His accent brought me comfort and Cambridge was on my mind. How wonderful it would be to be accepted to the greatest university in the world, I thought. The man, who’s name I couldn’t quite decipher with his northern accent, regailed me with all kinds of wild reasons why things are the way they are. I was only able to join the conversation a few times with train track widths are exactly the same as a chariot from roman times. As we ate and drank, I sat and listened, while the subject turned from Cuba, to Churchill to Nazi Germany to Singapore. I listened and stared at the man. Again, ready, like I once was not more than a year ago, to learn, to absorb, to not be burdened by the culture of America.
The culture of America, where if you don’t know something, you’re quickly chastised with the phrase “YOU DON’T KNOW _____________?????” it’s the most disgusting thing about my country. It’s on the lips of everyone; ready to prove they are smarter than you are. Learning is the greatest thing we can do, there is a computer in our heads ready to process information, that’s what its for. Most every where else in the world, they don’t do that same shaming, they retort so politely, nearly every time, you don’t know?, let me show you. How fucking refreshing, and what a great environment to learn and grow for both individuals.
I went back to the room, a mile or so walk, where I doctored my feet and thighs. Drank a Cuban coffee and got back to the streets, by this time it was 9, and the sun had finally gone down La Havana started to glow. Glow with music and the pale lights in Old Spanish windows and stain glass above the streets. I walked to the Malecon, the avenue skirting the ocean, where joggers, couples holding hands and plenty of prostitutes strolled and hissed offering me their services. Some so gorgeous, I honestly had to thing twice, once with an Afro-Caribbean girl, so beautiful she rivaled Beyonce, I finally had to peel her off of me and explain that I didn’t have to pay for it, and hustled my ass away before I lost my sense of better judgement, Christ that woman was gorgeous. The ocean crashed over the Malecon wall, and evening became night.
I was lost again, and it didn’t matter, day one, you have to continue Edmond, make everyday two, you’ve only got 5. Not my typical adventure, so different than being able to say 3 months, I've got the time. Driven with those thoughts I found a bar on the Malecon, I sat down and ordered a mojito. I sat there alone for a couple drinks, and as I was about to leave a man and his wife, young beautiful local people joined me. We talked and drank as I bought round after round, laughing and excited about the prospect of open travel between our two countries. I was drunk sometime after the third cocktail at this bar, and on we went, soon joined by more Cubans, until our table was full, ten deep, all speaking Spanish, me trying harder than ever to make sense. About 5 my friends asked if I needed a ride home, I graciously accepted and they drove me back to my room, one of the ladies in the group had taken a shine to me, and got out of the car when we stopped and joined me for the night in my room. saying "help upstairs?" I laughed and said Si!, Ive lost the stationary!" i giggled being the only one who got the joke as we waved goodbye and made our way to my room.
The sex was more like dancing and I honestly could barely keep up. It was intense and her eyes never left mine, she gyrated and moaned until I literally couldn’t take it anymore and she left me laying on the bed short in breath as she immediately dressed her self and with a long kiss, snuck out of my room. Immediately I hit the bed, naked and exhausted, almost instantly asleep. I was awake at 0900; I stumbled out to the dining room where breakfast was being prepared. My head throbbed and ached like it was a few sizes too big. My eyes dark and bloodshot. Hemmingway I thought, suck it the fuck up. Cuban Coffee was in front of me; I don’t drink coffee, but anything to break this hangover. One, two, three shots of the sweetest strongest coffee and I was bouncing around the place like I was on crack. I showered, dressed and hit the road. Making sure to check my Tinder to see if I had landed a date yet. I got word from a Brazilian journalist whom I asked to join me to see Buena Vista Social Club or to head to the Tropicana. Since the internet is so sparse in Havana, all I could do was hit the streets and wait.
I walked back to old town, where I was looking for a bank to change the rest of my Euros. While searching for the bank in old town, I came across a book shop with a poster of Fidel that said “take up los armas” I went inside and inquired. They only spoke Spanish but I found it easy to explain “atiquitas posters a la Che.” Ernesto Che Guevara is quite the hero of mine. Doctor turned successful revolutionary, after seeing the injustice in the countrysides of rural South America. The man was brave, intelligent and willing to fight for what he thought was right. Fight for those less fortunate than the people in power. In a lot of ways I have always agreed with him, Communism has so many wonderful ideals, wonderful purpose. I can’t agree with all of it, but with a lot I do. Quite the opposite of my feelings about capitalism as I watch all the things that Marx warned about in the manifesto coming to fruition.
I was taken into a room in the rear of the building, where we must have sorted through a thousand posters from the late 1950s onward. A couple hours past and in the end, I left 200 Euros lighter and in possession of a poster of Fidel from the bay of pigs victory, one from the 1970s of a Kalashnikov stabbing through an army boot that said USA, and finally, the jewel, an old, dilapidated portrait of Che, that, as I was told, was hanging from every home in Cuba immediately after his death. Armed with my purchase, probably my number one thing Id like to return from Cuba with, I marched on, straight to the bank to change my money.
Inside the bank 20 minutes passed while I waited for my number to be called, and for 500 euro, I received 552 CUC, which, at 1.31 dollar to euro, was pretty weak. I left the bank and walked towards San Lazaro, where I was staying. On the way I passed La Floridita, the birthplace of the Daquiri, where Hemmingway famously drank 25 doubles in a row. A record still unbeaten today.
It wasn’t too busy, so in I wandered, found a seat at the bar and ordered a “daiquiri de papa Hemmingway” (a double) before my drink was in front of me the bar was packed. By this time it must have been at least 1100, and the tourists filled the joint, snapping pictures of themselves in front of the bronze statue of the writer in the back corner. I had a couple drinks, had a few conversations and off I went until I found a local market near the city center where I bought an old screen printed movie poster and some antique postcards, old coins and marveled at some of the old cast iron window and door finishing pieces. Then grabbed a pedal taxi to my room.
I found myself at my room, had a redbull, put on some more sunscreen, dropped off my treasures and headed back out to the streets. I asked two men for a ride in their classics, both told me no, for reasons I still don’t understand. I was armed with my laptop, finally finding a pedal taxi asking for “bar dos hermanos” he pedaled his ass off with the 100+ kilo American trying to distribute his weight for the poor man. When I arrived, I was lucky to find the corner table open. According to legend Hemmingway took up the corner spot to the right of the bar, where he finished most of the Old Man and the Sea. Sitting in the same place, I ordered mojito after mojito as I furiously typed about what you have read thus far.
The cocktails making me numb and the details peaking through as I relived my time in Havana thus far. After 15:00 I ordered some fish and rice to offset the spin, finished and continued writing. It’s been so long since I’ve had something worth writing about. A little ashamed that I never wrote about my time being home, and my time in Hawaii I learned my lesson, and stopped and realized that my goal in life might very well be to be the greatest traveler that has ever lived. Earth, space, travelers title belt. Easy.
I stumbled out of the bar a couple hours later, grabbed another pedal bike taxi, bought a pack of lucky strikes and headed for the room, hoping that I may have a date to spoil for the evening, that may even teach me to dance.
Seconds on the bed and I could feel my body wanting to give up. I did the footloose warehouse floor pop up and pounded a redbull and went to ask Abel, the manager of my joint where I might go for cocktails and pretty girls. He recommended Plaza Veija, in the southwest corner, there was a line to sit at the tables outside so I stood there and smoked cigarettes waiting. I spotted a skinny pale skinned, dark, modern hair cut beauty sitting with a beer at a table alone, I watched for a minute to see if a man would join her. Surely I wouldn’t be so lucky. The place with packed with couples, she looked over and did that crazy Cuban eye lock, she didn’t turn away it lasted for fucking ever it seemed, finally I walked toward her and she broke her gaze to the other side. I leaned in and asked if I could buy her a drink and if she was alone. "etas solo?" I kind of giggled and so did she, i told her "mi espanol es diaz anos, no nabla" we both giggled again and she greeted me in Broken English, but still better than my Spanish. After we got past the my Spanish/your English conversation, I showed her the dictionary and off we went. Drink after drink after drink and finally I asked if she would take me dancing. She bargained for a minute with the cab driver and I handed over some CUC. We arrived at a dark local bar in the center of the city, it was smoky and you could smell the sweat. I realized my phone had died at this point and couldn’t give a fuck if i woke up without a kidney on the beach the next day. Men and ladies packed the place dancing and hangin on the walls watching. After a drink she grabbed my hand and said “listos” before I knew it we were all over the place. I was trying so very hard to keep up. This woman could fucking move. I was moving to the rhythm, but watching her intently and drooling for more. Eventually our salsa, kissing and drinking, how the Cubans move, at first I thought everyone must have been entertained, but in Cuba, they’ve been dancing like this since birth, absolutely no self conscious thoughts and for that matter, and I don’t think they care that you don’t dance as well as them, its only rhythm and how it moves you. The later it got, the more the dancing became vertical sex, hot, sweaty and so close I could feel Lisa’s bones grinding against mine.
She asked me to come over sometime before the sun came up. My place was closer. We went and she insisted I take my clothes off before she would. That blew my mind a little but what the hell I thought. Lying there in my underwear and dress socks I watched this girl continue to move like she was dancing, like that was just her natural state. Moving like the music was still banging around inside her somewhere but slower and much more sensual. She climbed onto me and since I was at least twice her size, at first I approached real gently, she immediately let me know there would be none of that shit. I’d never seen a girl move like that, and I know I’m saying that shit again but Lisa fucked me like she loved me, like all she hadn’t had a lover in years. It went on and on and I kept trying to find positions to learn how we could move different together just as if we were still dancing. She came and finished me off with a blow job that was lovely. After cuddling and her head on my chest she got up to get ready to leave, she put her clothes on in the bathroom. While she was busy I slipped some money in her purse, not to pay her, but to help her. She was young, with a degree in economics and couldn’t find a job at the moment, so she was hurting. I gave her a couple months salary and hid it good hoping she wouldn’t notice. She didn’t, I gave her fare for the cab ride home and said I'd call her tomorrow, kissing her sweetly on her lips for the last time. Less then ten minutes later I was asleep, first real sleep I had gotten since I arrived, although I have no inkling of how long it might have been.
Morning came and the sounds of the buildings around us started to hum, I could smell the distinct smell of cuban coffee brewing and hear the Spanish yelling back and forth a couple floors down from me. The room was warm and still smelled like sex. My head was fucking pounding and my back, hips and knee and shoulders hurt like I was carrying the girl all round Havana the night before. I sat up and felt sorry for myself for a second before stumbling out for a redbull and a cigarette in the kitchen. My eyes fire red, one of the housekeeper ladies just looked at me and started giggling, and she was my favorite, really cute and full of pepper. We laughed together as she poured me some coffee then held up her arm and made a muscle and said “strong!” I laughed and knocked it back. I asked Alan (the casa particular owner), if he could set me up with a friend of his in an old American car to hit some sites. I wanted to see the cemetery, the house of Hemingway and go to the beach, he agreed and got on it. I showered and put myself together the best I could. Packed a few things and smoked a few more cigarettes.
A man named Boris pulled up in an American car called a rambler, who knows who made it, he just said rambler every time I asked. It was old and blue and had 30 coats of paint on it. It was fucking perfect. I hopped in and lit up a smoke and asked if it was “tambien” pointing to my smoke. Boris spoke almost nothing for English, which was good if it wasn’t for him speaking at fucking light speed. I had to laugh off almost 60% of what he said with “No Se” or just the courtesy “Si.” We drove straight to a cigar shop so I could buy a Cohiba Robusto single to smoke for the day. It’s the same cigar that Raole Castro gave to Obama when he arrived in Cuba. I grabbed another redbull and some water and started feeling back to my normal self. I lit up that Robusto and it was delicious. Boris and I whizzed down the pretty impressively maintained highway while I puffed on it, passing old cars and me snapping photos when I felt inclined.
We pulled into a Giant old estate with huge grounds that had a guardhouse at the entrance. I paid 5CUC to get in, and when I tried to pay for Boris they said no “national” same price for Boris but in the national currency. We pulled up and waded through the tourists. Inside was all kinds of African hunting trophies, that always turn me off a bit no matter who, where or when they were killed. But all the same, I was looking in to a perfectly preserved museum of the way Hemingway lived. Newspapers were still out from the last day he was there. Books and records in giant collections. An old dusty manuscript sat on a desk and I wondered what it might be. His boat was on the property, as was his cockfighting ring and giant swimming pool. What it must have been like to live in Cuba before the revolution.
With Hemmingway finished we bolted for the beach. It was quite far from Havana and came highly recommended by the locals. It was east, the name of the beach or town completely escape me. I ordered a drink almost immediately, smoked my cigarettes and laid out in the much hotter sun outside the city. I enjoyed the beach, bought peanuts from a lady passing by and sucked down mojitos while taking breaks from the sun to swim in the sea.
Once I arrived home, and with no date prospects for the Tropicana, I called Lisa, she didn’t answer, so I asked the girl at the front desk if I should keep trying. “No,” she replied and all of a sudden she started calling her friends to find me a date. I laughed a bit embarrassed, but I was too fucking tired to venture out to find one on my own.
I laid in my bed, aching and found sleep for a few short moments, hoping that it would sort it self out with a little luck and maybe some fresh eyes. I couldn’t sleep and just ended up checking my email to find that my application to Cambridge had been denied. I didn’t think about it and pressed the fuck on.
Shortly after that I realized tinder didn’t work, and was blocked in Cuba, along with all kinds of other shit via apple. Determined to salvage my day I had the counter guy call the Tropicana, with no date, and it was sold out. Still I wouldn’t be deterred I just ended up hoping to pay my way into the front on arrival with bribes or whatever.
I grabbed a Cuban sandwich and laid in my room, so tired I was unable to sleep. Heart pounding, head still throbbing and a little angry about fucking Cambridge. Not angry, that’s not the right word. With no plans until October the possibilities were endless. The pacific is the first order of business and when to cross it. Then where? Anywhere.
I laid there and breathed deep till sleep took me. Nearly an hour past and I awoke, startled with my heart pounding. All those rushes of adrenaline, everything that led up to this moment woke me up like a punch to the fucking teeth. My eyes watered, tears ran down my cheeks. Welcome to the crash, I went off my medication more than a week ago, my self diagnosed bipolar disorder totally manic depressive fucking brain chemical malfunction just did a fucking Bruce lee roundhouse back flipping space kick to my brain, like my head has just been caught with the right hook of a mutant hybrid Mohammad Ali and Mike Tyson. What the fuck I thought. I shook it off; face wet and stared into the mirror confused. I was coming off drugs at the time too, so I'm sure that didn’t help the situation. I grabbed a coke from the mini-bar. “Shake it off you fucking pussy”. You’re in Havana. “SHAKE IT THE FUCK OFF!” this time out loud. I pounded the coke and told myself it was fine. Fuck fucking Cambridge, fuck the fucking everything. It’s impossible to write how my brain reacts to such things, its like I mentally create adrenaline and I stack thoughts on top of thoughts simultaneously. Base-jumping from buildings. Why haven’t I done that yet? Is this all a reaction from my fucking last girlfriend? If I took enough speed could I destroy Wall Street? How I can fuck the rich over the most? I need to get on that freighter; it’s the only safe place for me. I should order some painkillers for when Gordon tattoos me. I haven’t fucked enough famous people. Jesus Christ I gotta finish the book project I'm working on. Book project?, you cant even finish a book for yourself! Write your own book you fucking cunt! I wish my Israeli girl was here. Allison would be more fun. I'm fucking insane. People don’t realize how much I love them. I desperately want to fight to the death. I need more money. I'm tired of tattooing. I’m so fucking lonely. You’ll be lonely forever. You must quit fucking so many women. Can’t chase your demons with women and broken hands Edmond! Burn it. All of it. I hope Mom and Dad don’t die soon. WHACK. My ears started to ring. WHACK. Again. My face felt hot and the tone in my ear started to dissipate. You’re all right I thought, its all the Rum, its like bourbon, too much and it sends you off the deep end, not good for your heart and shit. I pounded that coke to get me back “up.”
I stood up and landed, naked on the ground and knocked out 29 pushups. Heart kind of racing, finally in a good way. I turned on the shower, quieted my mind and thought of the monastery I imagine one day ill go too to find whatever peace I can find. I thought of my sister, coaching me through breathing. Ok I’m back I thought. Everything is exactly how it is supposed to be. I put on Alabama shakes and sank into the music. Tropicana, right. Showgirls, RIGHT. As the water rained down on me, I thought, its alright, no one goes quite as hard as you, its normal to expect a breakdown, anyone else wouldn’t even come to Cuba alone, especially since the travel restrictions haven’t been raised. I laughed to myself and thought, only today Edmond, one at a fucking time.
I opened the steamy shower and wiped off the mirror. I grabbed the sacred black small travel bottle of cologne and sprayed it on. Then, dried combed and fixed my hair. I found my slacks and tore the tags off. Less than a week ago they fit perfectly, now, drooping and sagging at my waist. Jesus I thought, you should probably eat. That’s the price of glamour I answered with the same thought. I changed the music. I needed to slow down in order to not get to the Tropicana too early.
I arrived at the world famous Tropicana after a longer than usual cab ride, the grounds outside were wonderful, full of neon and palm trees and all kinds of people dressed to the nines ready to experience the old Havana. Old Havana spirit was all stored in the walls and grounds of the Tropicana. Since 1939 it's been turning the world upside down. The energy was in the air before the show could start, a different world than mine, classy, sexy, elegant. A bottle of rum & a cigar came with my ticket; I bribed my way into the best seat they could muster, along the aisle, ten seats back on a riser. Ancient trees outside surrounded the stage and antique neon that glowed with an authenticity That Las Vegas couldn't touch. I ordered a mojoito before the show started. My heart was racing; my eardrums throbbed for reasons unknown. I knew, before it began this was where I needed to be, without the distractions of a woman, that this show would change me. Everything I try to be was here. Classic culture of ladies and gentlemen, from a time I could only imagine. Things were better back then, so much less complicated and pure.
Once the show began, within moments a single tear ran down my face. 3 minutes or less later, I understood sex and movement, color & the lifelessness of the United States.
The 7-year Havana club bottle of Rum that came with my table was quickly dissipating. As I smoked my cigar and sucked down the rum I thought: The next girl I'm lucky enough to fall in love with, will most certainly see the show at the Tropicana. The show was one of those things that I just don’t have the talent to explain, so please forgive me and enjoy the photos I'm posting here.
The show finished, and dancing started, I grabbed a cab & the remainder of my rum and went back to the casa. 2 minutes later I was walking down San Lazaro to find a place to dance. Before I could finish my drink, somehow I was dancing at the bar with a girl named Heidi. She was dark, Afro Caribbean and spoke better English than Lisa. I was completely entranced. Partially wound up from the Tropicana, I watched as the moves of this woman, a local, typical Cuban impressed me as much as the girls with the flamboyant outfits. She stared deep into my eyes, uncomfortably so, I stared back, the contrast between blue and brown mesmerizing the other. Our hips shook, tonight I moved better, I learning, or I was drunk, but either way I was keeping up. I watched closely the men of the Tropicana, they didn't really do much except toss a girl or get climbed on now and then.
The cloud of sadness disappearing the more I drank. The closer I got to Heidi the closer she came to tease a kiss, I took the bait and she retracted from me with a giant smile. By the 6th cocktail and the room spinning she walked me outside, and back to by casa, inviting herself in to make sure I was “tambien.” She had my clothes off in minutes. Stripped to my underwear and heart pounding she continued to dance and slowly strip. My heart kicked in to sober me up. The rest, well you can imagine. The rest I can leave to the earlier explanations of sex in Cuba. She was gone by morning.
The next day was the historic Rolling Stones free concert in the center of Havana; it was common knowledge that you would have to arrive early since the crowd was being estimated near 700,000-800,00 people. I was there around 0930 for a show that would start at dark, which meant spending the entire day in the blazing Havana sun. The gates were shut and the streets just filled with people, sporting flags and celebrating rock n roll and the new American/Cuban negotiations.
Around 11am they finally opened the gate and a dead sprint from the front gate commenced, people tumbling over as the gate was pulled away. People were hurdling fences meant to separate the crazies in the front from the easy goers in the rear of the show. After my mad rush to get to the front I found a spot next to one of the camera rigs surrounded by an iron fence.
As the day continued and my heat stroke built up the people at the show just continued to grow, it was free to all the people and people had shown up from all over the world. Cubans had Rolling Stones logos stapled to their hats, drawn on their shirts and the whole place was alive with this electricity of change. 5 long hours passed. It was 1630. 3.5 to go if they started on time. The crowd started to wake up & I started drinking once the crowd started singing along with smoke underwater from the monitors.
The drink kicked in and all of a sudden the wait and eminent sunburn didn't matter. 3.15 left. People started to dance and suddenly I wasn't at a typical show, the Cubans started their dancing, started screaming and the entire crowd moved with a rhythm like everyone knew what the person next to them was thinking.
2 hours left, the sun was chased to the horizon and my feet and back ached like I had actually done everything I have written here. I was fucking exhausted and just kept pulling on my rum bottle trying to offset the pain.
The music changed and I got that rush, only an hour to go. That hour passed slower than few I can remember. Then the video monitors filled with the Cuban flag and the lights dimmed and a video began of all the wonderful things in Havana and a myriad of all things Rolling Stones mixed in, old footage, new, and the crowd lost its fucking mind, me included, part of this mob, hungry for rock n roll, the crowd chanted frantically "ROLLING ROLLING ROLLING" and boooooom here came the boys opening with jumping jack flash, I couldn't see the end of the crowd in any direction and the whole place was pulsing. Rock n roll boiled through my veins, my whole purpose for living, eyes watering jumping signing, not giving a single fuck. Immediately after, it's only Rock n roll. When Mick sang it, suicide right on stage. I said aloud: Welcome back friend. The Cuban people had never had such a massive show, or group, let alone the greatest rock n roll band of all time.
I was sweaty, had been standing for 12 straight hours, I stunk; I was half drunk and couldn't think of a single thing but the waves of music crashing over me. Everyone in the crowd was happy, especially the tiny Cuban girls that couldn't see, who asked for a lift and I obliged repeatedly. Their dark thighs sweating between my ears, my traps and shoulders creaking like old giant wires from the strain. We all came together that night. It was on one of the most magic things I have got to witness. At $600 a day roughly, I would have happily paid double. I was there. I was fucking there. In Cuba when one of the great walls between the west and communism started to crumble. I'll tell the children that someday.
My body was starved, and the two giant Cubans didn't do much to offset how many calories I burned at the show. Aching, exhausted & staving I waited for my ride. After an hour and a half Cuban time didn't count, and I was ready to flag a cab, after ten minutes walking further, my driver found me. Drove me home and I went on a hunt for food. It was 130 by then. I caught a pedal bike by chance and he took me to the only place with food in Havana after 12. Barrio Chino, no Chinese but they call it that anyway. I ordered food off the menu, none of it was available so I said "pollo, anything" and tipped the girl nicely. While I waited I noticed a giant building sized mural of Ho Chi Minh
I slept till 11, broken. The estimated came in on the size of the crowd. 1.2 million people not counting the streets and rooftops around the area. I was on a plane home the following day where I wasn’t meant with any trouble from customs, other than an officer who asked if I had an extra cigar for him, which he refused when I started to pull it out of my bag.