HAVANA TIMES, April 8 — Sunday I went for a drive around the city. Lenin Park and the Escaleras de Jaruco were packed with people. In the food-stands were roast pork and fish (all sold in national currency); all around was music playing, people drinking rum and beer, and children taking turns to ride the horses.
Other Cubans took advantage of the weekend to experience their true passions: going out to dance, or to the beach, exploring caves, diving in the reefs, fishing on the coast, or maybe playing baseball, racing cars or organizing cock fights.
The discos were full of younger people, but these aren’t the only ones who dance. The whole city has been opened up for “disco-tembas”: places turned to by people between the ages of 30 and 50 to move to the “music of our times.”
But where people dance “for real” is at the Salon Rosado de la Tropical. On Sundays, beginning at noon, the senior bunch —some in suits, hats and two-tone shoes— show their moves out on the floor to the background of Cuban “son.”
The fact of the matter is that in Cuba, music is everything…
The concert by the Puerto Rican group Calle 13 was able to rally 100 times more Cubans than the sum of all of those who participated in the seven days of marches by the Ladies in White and in demonstrations against the government.
Baseball is the other great national passion. A baseball final can paralyze the country, as we saw when Villa Clara and Industriales locked horns. The following day thousands of people were authorized to leave their jobs to cheer for the capital’s team in the streets.
Beyond “the First Division teams” however, on all the ball fields we found along the way, and in almost every vacant lot, we saw people playing baseball. Without a doubt, no other sport sparks such fervor among Cubans.
Others who are dedicated to diving can be divided in two groups: those who use tanks and those who simply hold their breath. In general, those with tanks only dive to explore the depths while the other ones are underwater fishermen.
The danger of this sport has generated great solidarity among enthusiasts. Any diver who runs across another one in trouble underwater will try to help them, and on land they’ll strike up a conversation though they’ve never met before.
Those who love spelunking live to explore caves. They get to the caverns however they can – in old American automobiles, buses, trains and even hitchhiking. They take a backpack, a few cans of food and their basic equipment (a helmet, lantern, etc.).
In regions where there are caves, they know all the area farmers. On one occasion when I was accompanied by a group of spelunkers, we spent a couple hours greeting all the local “friends” before being able to start descending into the caves.
This past weekend there were also illegal car and motorcycle races, which are held even in the middle of the city. The participants had spent the whole week “fine tuning” the motors to achieve outlandish speeds for a Russian Lada or a Czech engine.
Meanwhile, in the backwoods, campesinos held cock fights in which bets could have been placed for thousands of pesos, cars and even houses. Stationed around the area are people who keep a lookout in case the police show up. A single whistle is enough to clear the place out.
Despite cold fronts continuing to come and go, people are already going to the beaches. Likewise, the Malecon is lined with patient fishermen by day and passionate couples who start kissing in front of the sea as soon as the sun begins to fade into the horizon.
Returning home, I found that my neighbors were drinking… and in the mortuary. One of the neighborhood’s big drinkers died of a heart attack, so his friends put a bottle of rum in his casket and toasted to their health the whole afternoon.
On Monday, however, the headlines didn’t mention any of this. All of Cuba is reduced to dissidents on hunger strikes and to the Young Communist League congress. Millions of Cubans and their lives remain overshadowed beneath the “political news” on any given Sunday.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.