¡ Viva Cuba !

Thursday 7th January 2010

 

It was a case of "early to bed, early to rise" this morning as we were sat eating our breakfast at 8am. The difference was quite startling. The buffet was well stocked and everything that was meant to be warm was warm, even the coffee. We were even greeted warmly by the staff and asked if we would like an omelette.

Julie hates anything eggy with a passion, (except for some strange reason fresh cold boiled egg with salad cream?!) the mere whiff of egg in the morning would make her want to vomit so I had two omelettes for breakfast. And the sun was shinning! Things were looking up.

We had no plan for today just head out into the city and follow our noses. Our tour began at the four lions of Fuente de los Leones fountain in Plaza de San Francisco.

It reminded me of a miniature version of Trafalgar square but with Nelson's column replaced by a marble mushroom. It was carved from the famous Carrara marble in 1836 by an Italian sculptor called Gaggini and modelled on a fountain in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain.
Plaza de San Francisco, Havana, Cuba
Fuente de los Leones fountain, Havana, Cuba

For years it had supplied the ships that docked nearby with their drinking water.

It didn't look like its pipes had seen any flow in a long time.

We walked past the statue of the Franciscan monk and his little Indian boy. In the end the cross proved to be no protection against influenza and all the other diseases introduced by the foreigners including colonial avarice which eventually annihilated the local indigenous people.

We continued towards the main entrance to the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis.

Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, Havana, Cuba

The interior looked impressive but on closer inspection the apse, the domed & columned area at the end of the church was suspiciously cartoon like.

It was definitely a work of artistic amazement rather than architectural achievement. A great optical illusion.

Immediately outside the basilica was another one Havana's numerous brass statues. This one was called El Caballero de Paris (the Parisian Gentleman) and was a tribute to a homeless person who roamed the streets during the 1950s.

El Caballero de Paris (the Parisian Gentleman)  Havana, Cuba
He was one of the city's most popular and best loved characters and died in 1985 aged 85. Today his statue promises good luck if you touch his beard or his fingers. Whilst we were there several people were having their photos taken holding either or both of them for double the luck. One woman was enjoying those fingers far too much.
Farmacia Le Reunion incorporating the Museo de la Farmacia Habanera, Havana, Cuba We took the next right onto Calle Brasil a long straight street that cut through La Habana Vieja leading us hypnotically towards the Capitolio. Our trance was broken only a few times.

Halfway down the street was La Farmacia Le Reunion incorporating the Museo de la Farmacia Habanera an old 19th century pharmacy which had been beautifully restored by Habaguanex.

We stepped inside, had a quick look around at the old ceramic jars for the potions and lotions stacked neatly on the shelves behind the dark mahogany counter. It still operates as a small pharmacy these days. It was surprising to learn that in its heyday it was considered the "second most important pharmacy in the world".

That sort of statement always makes me wonder who was the first? Boots the Chemist?

Another attraction down calle Brasil were the numerous classic cars. Given the lack of even the basic resources it was amazing how good a condition many of them were.

classic car, Havana, Cuba

This open-air automobile museum is something so uniquely Cuban.

I can't think of anywhere else in the world like it.

Before we reached the end of calle Brasil the street brought us to Plaza del Cristo a square that at first glance had nothing going for it.

Its centre was like a piece of wasteland and it had clearly been put to the bottom of the restoration priority.

A wooden park bench was too much to pass on the opportunity of a brief respite so we sat down for a while. It didn't take us long to discovered the hidden beauty of Plaza del Cristo.

In one corner stood the Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje a charming little church.

Plaza del Cristo, Havana, Cuba

Calle Brasil, Plaza del Cristo, Havana, Cuba

Directly in front of us was the most stunning facade we'd seen so far. It was just a town house like all the rest but the composition was perfectly Havana.

The faded blue colour of the distressed walls, the ancient oversized wooden doors with the smaller inner door left invitingly opened, the ornate cornice, the first floor balcony and other architectural features all combined to paint a beautiful picture.

It was certainly a reason to campaign against restoration. There was simply something magical about it.

After a few minutes we got back on our feet and continued down Calle Brasil.

The magic continued all the way down the street with the buildings literally being held up by wooden scaffolding looking so incredibly vivid and spectacular. Much of its allure had to do with colour and it reminded me much of India in that respect.

Within no time we had reached the end of Calle Brasil and were stood in front of the majestic Capitolio.

We resisted the urge to dive straight inside the incredible parliament building, deciding instead to hunt out some coffee first.

Called Brasil, steps of the Capitolio, Havana, Cuba

There were plenty of vendors along the Prado up towards the Parque Central selling hot dogs and burgers to the coach loads of tourist who disembark in front of the Capitolio. They had fruit juices to drink but not one of them had any coffee for sale.

One happy chappy cheerfully suggested that the nearest place for coffee would be one of the hotels but wouldn't I rather a smoothie?

We let him down gently and asked if we could take his photo which he gladly agreed.

I should have bought something from him really as he was so pleasant.

Our search for caffeine took us up to the Central Park. We knew that the Hotel Ingalaterre did serve coffee even if it was like tepid dishwater.

Not ones to pass on the opportunity to sit on a park bench however we firstly parked our bums down for while and people watched.

A corner of the park known as the "esquina caliente" literally the hot corner was drawing our attention.

It was filled with men ranting at each other in a ritual display of debating baseball.

esquina caliente, the hot corner, Havana, Cuba

It was fascinating to watch. They were all taking it very seriously.

Sitting next to us on the large concrete benches was a local Habanero who struck up a conversation with us.

He spoke no English and we spoke no Spanish but we got along just fine. He came across as a very proud gentleman who was strangely private yet open in equal measures.

Who knows, perhaps one day there will be a brass statue of him sat at this park bench.

We walked the short distance to the Gran Cafe El Louvre at the Hotel Inglaterra, separated from the central park by the busy El Prado.

Our coffee was hardly any better today but it didn't matter. It was a pleasant spot to sit and watch the traffic trundle past. With this being Havana the traffic was an attraction in itself.

Hotel Inglaterra, Havana, Cuba
coco taxi, Havana, Cuba

A new and funny sight were the coco taxis, three wheeled yellow egg pods, Havana's answer to the tuk-tuk. They whizzed past with their little sewing machine engines at full tilt.

Another odd sight which raised an eyebrow was that of a large pink bus with the number 666 on the back. It was obviously on its way to Hell, Havana.

Refreshed and ready for our next instalment we walked to the Capitolio.

As we climbed the steps towards the portico we noticed the ticket booth and that they were offering guided tours at only a small supplement.

The entrance fee was $3 and you were left alone to find your own way around but for only one extra convertible peso you could have the full guided tour.

There was such little difference that we decided to pay the extra. It turned out to be money well spent.

Capitolio, Havana, Cuba
Statue of the Republic, Capitolio, Havana, Cuba We waited for our guide in the entrance hall where towering over us was the Statue of the Republic, Cuba personified in 22 carat gold leaf. Apparently it's the "third largest statue under cover" in the world no less.

The whole length on either side was known as the Salón de Pasos Perdidos (Hall of Lost Steps) due to its unique acoustics.

Unfortunately we couldn't go tiptoeing down the hallway to test the theory.

Salón de Pasos Perdidos (Hall of Lost Steps), Capitolio, Havana, Cuba

It had been cordoned off presumably to stop silly tourist from trying to lose their footsteps on its polished floor. Our attention then turned directly above us to where the interior of the cupola loomed large.

It was minimally decorated but its simple symmetry was quite attractive. It did look a bit like a vortex or black hole.

I spent so long trying to get a decent photograph it had quite a dizzying effect on me. It began looking like the eye of a chameleon staring back at me.

Before I fell over our guide arrived and we joined a small a group of four elderly Canadians, in Havana on a day trip from Varadero.

The tour began right in the centre of the hall beneath the cupola where embedded into the marble floor was a 25 carat diamond that once belonged to the Tsar of Russia.

What lay there today was a copy after the original was stolen. It did eventually get returned, ending up on the president's desk without any explanation.

This was also known as Kilometre Zero, the point from which all distances were measured in Cuba. We failed to appreciate the significance of it but our guide seemed very proud of it.

We followed her further inside the Capitolio walking past a group of artists who were painting (and selling) their art work made from 100% organic materials. Or at least I think that's what she said. We were allowed time to browse which was about 10 seconds for Julie and I.

Capitolio, Havana, Cuba

The value of the extra peso soon paid off when we came to the National Library of Science & Technology. It was cordoned off to the public but we were allowed access to it.

It felt like a privilege to step inside. It was an amazing room filled to the rafters with ... well ... books as one would expect of a library. Over 300,000 to be not so precise, covering from floor to ceiling on two levels.

Moving on we followed our guide as she led us through the corridors of power explaining to us the Capitolio's history. It was inaugurated in 1929 and despite the string of dictators it served as the parliament building until the revolution in 1959.

We popped in and out of several large rooms where most of the furniture had the monogram RC on them which stood for Republica de Cuba. We then entered another room, one we wouldn't have been brave enough to open the door if we were on your own.

It opened into a very opulent gilded office decorated with glass chandeliers and golden candelabras, with an extravagant over-sized desk and an ornate gold leaf ceiling.

It was effectively the cabinet office where the top brass of the government met before entering the arena.

We followed in their footsteps as our guide opened a "secret" door into the inspiring Chamber of the House of Representatives. The door actually lead out onto the platform from where the president would address the house.

"Can you feel the power?" she asked.

We certainly could from this elevated position. It wasn't difficult to imagine this parliament full of controversy and confusion.

It all went to Julie's head as she assumed presidential status and sat in the seat of power.

We then all stood in the centre of the hall and looked up at the stained glass ceiling illuminated by the sunlight. Our guide pointed out one of the square panels and asked if we could see the silhouette of a sleeping cat.
It wasn't an optical illusion nor an artistic whim, it actually was a sleeping cat. It apparently regularly comes in to curl up in the warmth.
The House of Representatives took over the entire north wing of the Capitolio. Next we followed our guide to the south wing and the smaller Chamber of Deputies.

Along the way she pointed out some bats that were huddled in a corner high above us.

She then pointed out the bat shit on the walls. Holy macaroni, it was everywhere!

We hadn't noticed the mess before but once we were aware of it that's all we could see.

It was a constant battle to keep it clean, no sooner would one wall be wiped clear it would get splattered again.

We also popped inside several other rooms as we walked from north to south through the Capitolio.

Whilst they were all mildly interesting and quite decorative my attention was always drawn to the glimpse of the city framed by a window.

Each one offered a different view such as the corner of the Gran Teatro or the old town houses on Calle Industria.

There were also windows facing inwards onto an inner courtyard which gave for an alternative view of the great dome of the Capitolio.

By the time we had reached the south wing the Canadians had to leave. Their tour bus was scheduled to depart shortly and they weren't the quickest on their feet. Our guide delivered them back to the main entrance before returning to continue the tour with us.

Whilst she was away we amused ourselves by browsing a small souvenir shop. They had several CDs on display so I decided that I would buy one.

They had all the usual Buena Vista Social Club artists like Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portundo but I could buy them at home. I decided to buy some one I'd never heard of before called Hugo Chavez.??

I asked the young girl behind the counter if he was any good?

"Yes" she said "My father likes him very much."

Had I just bought Cuba's answer to Engelbert Humperdink? Super Smashing Great.

I asked for a second opinion when our guide returned. I showed her the CD and asked "Is he any good?"

"Yes" she replied "but he is from Chile"

I now began regretting my purchase.

We continued to browse the commercial wing and bought a pretty watercolour print of Havana's city's landscape done in a warm sepia colour. One for our growing collection.

Set up in the next corridor was an area given up to the works of a local artists. A carving of a nude was particularly eye catching. I thought of enquiring about its price. "That would look great at home. Somewhere to lay my hat" Julie reminded me that it would never fit in the suitcase.

Our final room of our guided tour was the Chamber of Deputies. It was a miniature version of the House of Representatives.

We hardly spent any time in it. I hope she didn't sense our boredom.

We returned to the entrance hall where we thanked our guide and gave her a little extra for her services.
"Have a nice day in Havana" she said asking "Where are you going next?"

"Barrio Chino" I replied. She looked surprised and said "Ah, you speak Spanish?"

"Oh no, not at all" I confessed.

It would have been like claiming to be fluent in Chinese just because I could order a Chow Mein in a decent Jackie Chang accent.

Walking from the Capitolio the beginning of Havana's Chinatown was heralded by a huge quarter gate spanning a street called Dragones.

It was such an unexpected sight right in the heart of the city.

It wasn't far before we arrived at Calle Cuchillo aka Bulevar de Barrio Chino a small side street filled with restaurants.

A more modest entrance gate greeted us when we stepped inside the colourful Little China.

Red lanterns, golden columns and green tiled rooftops all added to an authentic feel that promised a good Chinese meal.

There were plenty of restaurants to choose from but we had already done some research and were looking for one called El Gran Dragon.

The moment we stepped through the gate we were approached by a menu wielding waitress who we ignored with style, determined to find our preferred restaurant.

El Gran Dragon, Barrio Chino, Havana

We found it. It was the first restaurant on the left. It was slightly embarrassing when the waitress we had blanked turned out to be from El Gran Dragon.

We were shown to a table outside and handed their extensive menu, with the page opened at the pizza menu!

"Eh? What the ... ?"

Barrio Chino, Havana

We did find the Chinese meals, I ordered the vegetable chow mein and Julie went for a pork dish. Whilst the portions were plentiful and reasonably tasty they just lacked that certain Chineseyness.

It was a great spot to people watch. Tourists and locals alike walked up and down Cuchillo.

Julie noticed that you could spot a local Habanero by the fact that they would be wearing a denim jacket. We put her theory to the test and she almost got a 100% success rate (clearly using the assumption that if they looked Cuban then they were local!) Entire families, three generations from grandfather to mother to grand child were kitted out in blue denim.

What was even stranger was that is seemed to be isolated to Barrio Chino. Once we left the area the denim phenomenon wasn't as obvious.

We slowly made our way back towards the Capitolio.

As we left Chinatown, walking under the pagoda style gate, we came across what seemed to be a scrap yard for old train engines.

It was mostly hidden behind a corrugated metal sheet barrier but the front gate was opened. It was far tidier than a scrap yard, in fact the locomotives had been arranged with purpose as if they were museum pieces.

Cuba was apparently the first country in Latin America to have a rail network. These rusty engines looked like some of the originals!

It wasn't that obvious if we were allowed to enter or not so we didn't, moving on instead before dogs were set on us or something.

 

Retracing our steps we walked back through the small park besides the Capitolio where several future baseball stars were being put through their paces by their hopeful fathers.

We marched past Calle Brasil, Gran Teatro and Central Parque without stopping to admire the view, working up quite a thirst in the process.

We were making a b-line straight to El Floridita, the cradle of the daiquiri, the second Hemmingway endorsed bar in Havana.

He spent many an evening here tasting the variety of daiquiris concocted by Constantino the Cantinero. The barman created one in honour of his famous regular naming it a Papa Doble or better known as a Papa Hemingway.

It only differs slightly from the basic daiquiri recipe with the introduction of grapefruit juice to the white rum, maraschino liqueur and lime juice. All the liquids were then added to crushed ice and thrown into a cocktail shaker to be expertly blended.

Tucked away in the corner he still leans on the bar immortalised in brass.

We headed straight for the bar ourselves and ordered our daiquiris, a regular and a Papa. We needed to sit down especially on learning the price but all the tables were occupied. So we leaned on the bar Hemingway-esque sipping our frozen cocktails. I enjoyed the Papa variation although it was a little sweeter than the norm. I much prefer a zesty citrus taste.

Before we had finished our drinks a table came vacant and we claimed it first. Thankfully most of the clientele were elderly so we had a youthful advantage as we made a run for it.

We sat facing the bar which was great for watching how everyone followed the same pattern, entering through an arch of red and white balloons, heading straight for the bar to order their daiquiri, noticing the brass statue in the corner and moving closer to take its photograph before turning around looking for a spare table, eventually finding one, finishing their daiquiri then leave.

Just to be different we decided to stay for another round with Julie trying a strawberry daiquiri this time and I confirmed to myself that I did prefer the regular daiquiri.

All in all we spent almost an hour in El Floridita.

The drinks were too expensive to attempt to beat Hemingway's record of fourteen daiquiris in one session so we walked down Avenue de las Misiones to the next bar called Bar Monserrate.

We almost didn't find our way in as the entrance was cleverly disguised as a wall.

It was Julie who found the swinging saloon doors first.

We fell inside laughing our heads off. Fortunately the music drowned out our cackling. We sat down with a Cristal beer each to listen to the resident band just as they broke up for an intermission.

With our thirst quenched we went for a stroll around the area ending back in the sparse Plaza del Cristo.

Having entered from a different corner to this morning we had a closer look at the small church Iglesias del Cristo. It's diminutive size gave it a certain charm.

From the untouched Plaza del Cristo we rejoined Calle Brasil and walked back towards the fully restored Plaza Vieja.

Along the way we stopped at a gift shop. I wanted to buy one of those raspers, the instrument that gives Cuban music its distinctive rhythm. They're called Guiro.

The shopkeeper demonstrated how they should be played but I wasn't impressed by the quality of the rasp. He noticed that my interest was waning so he diverted my attention to two small pieces of polished wood and he knocked them together to produce another distinctive beat of Latin music.

The claves as they're known produced a wonderful percussive noise of clear tone. He handed the two sticks over so that I could have a go. I held the wooden bars and knocked them together producing a unflattering thud, a clunk that would ruin any song.

Sensing the sale slipping away he quickly gave me a lesson in clave playing. I watched carefully and then tried again, holding one bar lightly in my left hand, almost suspended above the palm held in place by my fingers alone. I then knocked it firmly in the centre.

Perfect. The sound of Cuba was released.

I couldn't not buy them after that performance!

A little further down Calle Brasil we passed an open door and peered in then continued on our way. After a few steps I thought to myself "That would make a great photo" and decided to return.
Three Amigos, Havana Inside was the foyer of a once grand town house. A mosaic monogram V.R. welcomed its guests and a swooping staircase with a delicate iron handrail came down from the first floor.
What made the scene more interesting were two men, one sat behind a plywood desk and another animated in conversation. I asked them if I could take their photo. They were to be so pleased to be asked! They put on great smiles, the one behind the desk sat up straight and the other guy, the one with a bottle of rum in his hand, proudly puffed out his chest. They even called out to a friend to join them for the photo shoot.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves sitting in another bar, the Austrian Taverna on Plaza Vieja, sipping homebrew pilsner whilst staring at the amazing cloud formations. Cumulus stripeyus I do believe.

The sun was beginning to set and the already colourful square was made even more beautiful in the warm light.

We were entertained by a quite scary soloist shaking her maracas vigorously and singing in the style of an operatic diva rather than a sultry salsa songstress. She kept us entertained at least.

Apart for drinking and listening to Kiri Te Kawana we spent our time watching the adventures of two stray dogs as they went from table to table on the scrounge for some food.

They didn't get anything from us, not because were heartless dog haters but because we felt it wasn't clever to encourage the stray dogs to pester the customers.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the mini-brewery but leave we did, completing a full re-trace of our steps by ending up where we began this morning, Plaza de San Francisco.
Perhaps it was approaching it from a different angle or that the reflected light from the setting sun lifted the Sierra Maestra Terminal building but the square looked much nicer.
Adding to the suddenly acquired romantic atmosphere a happy couple were having their photographs taken at the fountains.
We took a slight deviation from our return trail and took a short cut back towards the hotel down Calle Obrapia.

Still feeling thirsty we sat down at some tables in the street outside the cafe called Torrelavega. As it happened it had a very reasonably priced cocktail menu hand written on a white board outside.

Daiquiri was not on the menu so Julie had a Mojito and I tried a Cuba Libre which turned out to be rum and coke.

It had a great local feel to it. A mad dog barked at us from the second floor balcony and kids played with a football making their way down the street.

We watched the open kitchen busy making a snack for a paying customer who was sat in a small square opposite.

We were getting hungry ourselves but we had already made arrangements for our supper as it was included with the Club Tropicana evening.

All the while Julie and I were sat down we noticed that we were being sketched by an artist who was sat a few tables away.

When he had finished and was making his way over I was practicing my sincerest "No Thank You" but he put the sketches on the table, waved his hand to indicate "no charge" and walked away back to his table.

I knew that Calle Obrapia literally meant Charity Street but that was so unexpected.

But what a great tactic! The reverse psychology of not hassling us for money now made us feel totally inclined to pay something for them.

Julie's portrait had written on the top "Happy New Year 2010. Be Happy" whilst mine had "2009 Bye Bye. Who has much inside doesn't need much outside! E.Hemingway"

When he went inside to the bar I followed him. I ordered a Mojito and a Rum Collins and tried to pay for the coffee he had ordered.

I then tried to explain that my name was Colin as in the cocktail by pointing to myself. Their confused faces obviously meant they thought I was a nutter who had one too many cocktails. Then suddenly the penny dropped "Ah, Collins" and they all laughed. He introduced himself as "Rafa" and then introduced me to Iremelia the waitress and Lazaro the cook in the open kitchen.

I returned to Julie with our cocktails. A little later as we left we gave Rafa a few pesos for his sketches which he tried to refuse but we were insistent he accepted.

By the time we got back to Hotel Ambos Mundos it was 7pm which didn't leave us with long to get changed and back out again. Dinner was being served at the Tropicana for 8pm.

We were so hungry though that we ordered a cheese toastie at the lobby bar before we left. At the time we felt it was the tastiest thing we'd ever eaten.

We picked up a taxi from behind Castillo de la Real Fuerza and agreed a $12 price to take us to Tropicana. It was quite a distance away in the suburbs of Miramar.

Timed to perfection we arrived at club at exactly 8pm. We didn't really know what to expect although we had imagined that we would be eating our meal at our seats where the show would be performed.

That wasn't the case. The restaurant was to the left of the main entrance. We were shown to our table for two right next to the piano. Whilst it sounded romantic the piercing plinking plonking right down our ears was very off putting.

Things didn't get any better when the food arrived. My salad starter was three slices of tomato with a failed attempt at a coleslaw. My main course of stir-fry veg was so greasy that I couldn't eat it. I suppose I should almost forgive them for getting the vegetarian meal wrong, at least they had something to offer me.

They had no excuse however for Julie's lamb stew which was also inedible, grizzly and bland. We didn't even find solace in wine as we baulked at the price of $25 for the cheapest bottle.

"They can't go wrong with dessert, surely" we thought but the ok ice cream was smothered by this gloopy marshmallow. It was the perfect ending to an abysmal three course meal.

We then sat at our table for quite some time waiting to be shown to our seats for the show. Eventually someone arrived and delivered us to a long table set for a large group. We had paid for the "best seats in the house" which wouldn't be how I would describe where we were seated. There were plenty of vacant seats nearer the front. We were a little peeved to say the least.

A couple we recognised from the Virgin meeting on Monday morning joined us. They were called Sarah and Louis and they were from Bolton. It then dawned on us that this table was probably a block booking by Virgin and their customers would always be seated here.

When the large bottle of Havana Club Anejo 7 rum arrived for us four to share we decided to draw a line beneath all the negative experiences so far and settled down to enjoy the show from our in hindsight quite decent seats.

The show began with a fanfare and a flurry of feathers and sequins up to the left of us on a dual level stage that oddly reminded me of a shooting arcade in a fairground or even a platform game like Donkey Kong.

We looked around the arena and found it difficult to comprehend that we were actually sitting outside!

With the introduction over we eagerly anticipated the main performances. "Ladies and Gentlemen" spoke the compare "Welcome to Tropicana".

It immediately felt like 1950s Cuba, as if the revolution never happened.

The first wave of scantily clad women strutted on stage with a head full of plumage swinging to the sound of a big band.

In their wake followed a gaggle of walking chandeliers in sequined bikinis. It was all a little odd, a bit like Disney for Adults. It was mildly entertaining but even the red blooded male inside me found it a little boring.

Luckily before I fell asleep the excitement suddenly cranked up when powerful jungle drums began to beat.

There wasn't any sequins in sight as natives in ceremonial dress carried a sacrificial virgin onto the stage. What followed was an energetic re-enactment of a rescue mission or at least that was my interpretation of what was going on. It was a well choreographed performance of writhing bodies and I must admit it got me going.

I tried to get some good photographs but struggled because I had only brought our little snap shot camera with us.

The Virgin rep had informed us that there was two tiers of fees to bring in a camera, $5 for a standard camera or $25 for a "professional looking" camera. I obviously had delusion of grandeur about my camera. Sarah who was sat next to us had brought her digital SLR complete with a whopping great big lens ready and willing to pay the top rate but only had to pay the lower $5 fee.
All the excitement calmed down again as we returned to the more sedate dancing girls dressed in satin and frills. Despite not having much covering the whole thing just didn't do it for me.

There were a couple of other "Wow!" moments but they weren't extravagant dance routines. They were acts of unbelievable strength and dexterity. One woman bent herself into the most mind-blowing positions. I don't know if you've heard the expression "seeing your arse" but she literally did from several positions.

Another gymnastic performance had two Russian men balancing on top of each other.

The whole crowd let out a gasp when one managed to balance on one arm on top of the head of the other, without any strings attached!

We were very impressed.

One other act that wasn't all cha-cha-cha was a young A capella hip hop band. It may sound like a great idea but it wasn't. It was quite laughable. It reminded me of that actor from Police Academy making those funny noises into the microphone. They were taking it all far too seriously however which made me laugh even more.

The rum began talking as I blurted out "Hey, I can do that". I then accompanied their performance on the alto trombone.

The evening continued with more song and dance routines.

I found myself wishing it was over and eventually got my wish as the show reached its crescendo with an all singing all dancing finale .

What looked like the entire cast came out to sing goodbye whilst the show girls spilled down from the stage and danced amongst the crowd.
I was actually relieved that it was all coming to an end.

We left Tropicana picking up a taxi from the long line waiting outside. Our driver was very talkative although we could hardly understand him. As we drove past the Hotel Nacional Julie pointed to the huge Edifico Focsa behind and asked him what it was used for? He explained that it was used as a medical centre for Venezuelans to receive their vaccinations when they come to Cuba to live. I'm sure that's only partially true?

When we arrived back at Hotel Ambos Mundos we ordered another cheese toastie (we were still hungry!) before heading up to our room for a good nights sleep.

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