I found myself wandering into the narrow Calle Heredia towards Casa de La Trova. A street hustler offered some cigars and another, some tours. I just smiled and walked away. Another man approached and this time, do you want some rum? Music was in the air in the Casa De La Trova. The small darkened but ambient room was filled with chairs. There was a small stage. Pictures and portraits, perhaps of popular singers and musician decorated the walls. An elegant lady, Maria, sat behind a small desk. She is the receptionist. Behind her, a barmaid offered drinks. The filtered light created a great atmosphere. A small group of musicians took to the stage. Soon Son, Salsa and Trova music filled up the room. Trova music is performed by trovadores – musicians playing mostly original compositions originating from this region. This is traditional Cuban music at its roots. I loved the music and the whole atmosphere. Musicians skilfully and passionately played the guitars, trumpets, double bass, trombones, maracas and bongos to the delight of the crowd. This was real Cuba for me and I loved it.
Alima, a professional dancer with a striking floral lycra pants sat beside me. It didn’t take long for the seated people to take onto the small dance floor. Every inch was covered with swaying bodies. Alima was in her element. Her movements synched with the music. The passion of the musicians and even the common dancer was evident on their faces and movements. I loved watching but certainly not participating. I have scaled vertical cliff walls, bungee jumped, trekked in treacherous icy weather, but dancing, certainly not! Lovely, Maria invited me to attend the night shows upstairs as I left the Trova. On the wall, these words were written – “Desmientan al que diga, que la trova ya murio, La trova no ha muerto, no”. I returned several times during the day, one to get out of the heat and importantly, to enjoy local music and watch the impromptu dances.
I could see a few people at the top of a church tower. For a small fee and a friendly smile, I was allowed to climb a circular step towards the top. The views of the city, Parque Cespedes and further beyond was fantastic. Here, I met Adrian, a young church volunteer. “Viva la Revolucion”, yes, but the people have suffered hardship and difficulty till today. We worked hard every day. I earned working at the shipyard for days continuously without going home and earned 25CUC a month. “We are paid in Pesos (CUP) but to buy anything, I have to pay in CUC. Feeding, paying the rent and taking of family is quite tough with these conditions. The country earned from the exports of cigars, sugar, rum and tourism. Furthermore, what about the proceeds from oil? There are still vast reserves. Where is all the revenue gone to? I know, to the top brass and politicians including the leaders. He was cautions to say if things would improve for the average Cuban. “A doctor earned about 35CUC a month. Yes, we are told that we have free education and medicines but what about the cost of living and earning capacity? I remembered Angelo’s words – “yes education is free but I have to pay for books and utensils. The teachers are not even in some classes. Yes, education is free in Cuba.” Adrian continued, the state propaganda is to fool the people of the reality. There is reality and there is reality!” This definition was clear in his mind. What you see personally is the reality. Not the reality of what you hear from the media. However, his expressions and words were real. This is the common view of young Cuban.
Adrian is a Jujitsu exponent and represented Cuba in the under 60kg category. He has even won gold medals. Is it a popular sport here? “No. When we have a demonstration, many people gather to watch. Quite a number are eager to sign up. When the training started, and after a week, most disappear. They don’t realise the hard work and effort required in the training”.
In my observation, although the Cubans have little, they seem to be happy at heart. “Yes, we are all in the same boat. What else do we have? We have happiness but nothing to do with the revolution. We are one people. We help each other when in need. If someone needs help, anyone or everyone will help. We are Cubans. I don’t think this happens in other cities or towns”.
Adrian continued, “most people just come to this tower and ask me questions about the sights, take a few pictures and leave. You are interested about me and my life. I appreciated this. We are friends”. He passed me his contact number. “I offer any help you want. To get to places, interesting sights, security or anything else. “Just contact me”. Nothing was expected in return. “Why, because you are my friend!” His gesture was genuine. A group of local girls interrupted. Pictures taken and off they went. I bid farewell to Adrian too.